- Some people have become nearly numb to the threat of burnout, and too exhausted to change.
- Small shifts can have big, positive impacts on lowering stress.
- Simple tools, such as reflecting and enlisting support, can recalibrate balance and keep burnout at bay.
Pushing ourselves past healthy limits—whether through hours worked, sleep deprivation, or robbing ourselves of fun and time to rest—is not a badge of honor, despite society’s persuasive messages to the contrary.
We risk burnout when we do not replenish our physical, mental, and emotional reserves on a regular basis.
There are, of course, periods in our lives when things are particularly intense. This is fine as long as it is short-lived, with a definitive end point. Whenever possible, however, we should be living our day-to-day lives in a way that is sustainable over the long haul—with adequate sleep, reasonably healthy food, hobbies, rest, connection, play, and a relative degree of life balance.
The signs of impending burnout often mimic symptoms of depression: loss of pleasure and interest in previously enjoyed activities, decreased patience and tolerance, increased irritability, and sleep disturbance—difficulty falling asleep, restlessness, or sleeping too much.
Our immune system may be compromised due to chronic stress, we may find ourselves becoming sick more often, and suffer from aches, pains, headaches, or digestive ailments.
How we view the world becomes more negative and pessimistic and worry can increase. Overall, we are in no way the best version of ourselves if we are nearing the point of burnout.
Even if we recognize the signs, we can feel overwhelmed by how to change the current conditions, and therefore end up checking out or numbing out by default. We may drink alcohol, overeat, oversleep, zone out on screens, or remain busy nonstop. It may be challenging to offer ourselves permission to slow down, to rest, to take time off from constant productivity.
Fortunately, making small positive changes can have a substantial effect on preventing burnout or pulling us back from the brink.
10 tips to keep burnout at bay:
- Stop and breathe. This sounds so simple but can be challenging when our M.O. is running on the hamster wheel of busyness. Taking a few breaths counteracts fight-or-flight, our body’s reaction to stress and perceived danger. Do this regularly.
- Acknowledge and accept that the balance is off. Only when we pause to recognize what is not working well in our lives can we go about the process of altering it.
- Consider why it is so important to create better balance. Do you want to be a more patient parent? Be happier and once again enjoy hobbies you’ve missed? Feel more energetic and healthier? When establishing new habits, we may need to periodically return to our “why” when faced with our own resistance to change.
- Identify the area of life in which imbalance is most pressing. Time with kids? Time alone for a little self-care? With your partner? Sleep? Eating healthier? Identify one micro-action step towards balance in this area.
- Carve out small, simple ways to put your own oxygen mask on first. These need not be expensive or time-consuming. For example, wake up 10 minutes early to read or meditate, take a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, or set up a weekly phone call with a friend to chat.
- If you’re not sure where to start, first brainstorm one huge list of possible changes—from simple to outlandish—then identify one or two small, totally doable habits you can begin with immediately. As impossible as some situations first appear, there are always helpful tweaks that can be made.
- Enlist support. Speak up. Loop in your partner, friend, or family member who can lovingly keep you accountable, offer up encouragement, or share some of your responsibilities. Our loved ones cannot read our minds and may not realize we are struggling.
- Take regular five-minute mindful breaks in the midst of your full day. A mindful break can be as simple as stopping to take five deep breaths and stretch, eating lunch away from your desk, or turning off the radio and phone during part of your commute.
- Identify what fills you up (or what used to), what puts a smile on your face or increases your energy. Figure out a way to carve out just a few minutes of your day for these things.
- Finally, assess how the conditions deteriorated to this degree. Are your expectations too high for how much you believe you should accomplish? Are you operating out of guilt? Fear? The idea that you should be able to handle it all without burning out? If so, think about what you would tell your friend in the same situation. You deserve the same kind treatment you would offer her. Be kind, firm, and encouraging with yourself.
Congratulate yourself for your efforts—every small change matters on your path away from burnout and toward overall life balance.