This month’s question comes from Sarah:
How do I avoid burnout in the long run? I find that weekends or rest days don’t take away from the overall burnout.
Thanks ever so much!
This is a great question and I think the answer will help a lot of people because you can also apply this advice when you want to reduce your overall stress levels, as well as more specifically for avoiding burnout.
Firstly Sarah, from what you say, it sounds like you might be experiencing actual burnout so I am going to say that you must check this with your doctor. If you are diagnosed with burnout, I expect you will be told to take some time off work so that you can focus on healing and recovering, which is very important.
However, I’m going to answer your question from the angle that you don’t have proper burnout and that, as you say, you want to avoid it in the long run.
The key here is in how you are living and behaving during the week outside of your rest days and weekends.
It shouldn’t be all or nothing, where you work flat out with little or no time for your wellbeing during the week and only give a thought to that when you’re not working.
The fact that you say “weekends and rest days don’t take away from overall burnout” tells me that this is probably what’s happening … (and/or you are experiencing actual burnout).
Finding time to prioritise wellbeing when working may seem difficult, especially when you have a big workload and perhaps, you’re also juggling work and childcare; however, there are MANY small but effective ways you can look after yourself and support your wellbeing whilst working hard.
This is about ‘healthy hard work’ as opposed to ‘unhealthy hard work’.
It’s also worth pointing out that looking after your wellbeing ties directly back to your performance in the long run. This isn’t only about your health and quality of life – this is also about your mood, your outlook, your ability to focus, your resilience to stress, your energy levels, your capabilities and level of competence.
So, the tools and techniques I’m sharing below can also be seen as high-performance habits:
- Eat enough and regularly: If you frequently skip meals or you’re generally not eating enough, your body will go into a stress response which can then cause anxiety, mood and sleep issues, difficulty focusing – all of which exacerbate stress further.
- Optimise your sleep: Ideally, sleep for 7-8hrs and aim to fall asleep between 10.00-11.00pm. Even one poor night’s sleep has an impact on our mood, energy, stress levels, the immune system, and the body’s ability to repair, detoxify and regulate insulin.
- The body thrives on routine: Try to eat, sleep, and drink coffee at the same time every day. When the timing of these elements changes on a regular basis it is actually stressful for the body, which can have a negative impact on mental and emotional health.
- No caffeine: Caffeine creates a stress response in the body. Within reason, this is okay when your baseline nervous system state is calm. But if you’re stressed or feeling burnout, I advise cutting caffeine altogether.
- Get overhead daylight every morning: Ideally within an hour of waking. This will regulate your circadian rhythm which sets the clock for every single cell in the body and is particularly important for good quality sleep and stable energy levels.
- Separation between work and home: It’s important for your home to feel like a sanctuary and a place to relax – this can be hard when working from home. Try to create a set-up where you can put everything work-related out of sight when you’re not working and create strong boundaries around when you’re in ‘work mode’ and when you’re in ‘home mode’.
- Practice daily stress relief techniques: Especially, before and after stressful events such as a presentation, a big meeting or hectic commute. A simple breathing technique is one of the easiest things that you can do anywhere, anytime.
- Create a solid structure for your workday: Structure is an anchor point that helps us feel more in control, which in turn helps us stay calm. Even when things don’t go to plan you have a pattern to go back to.
- Stay one step ahead of work: Like the previous point, this is about planning your workflow and days/weeks/months in advance. This helps to cultivate a proactive state, as opposed to living in a reactive mode, which is a far more efficient way to work and a less stressful way to live.
- Protect your mornings: Have time to yourself in the morning before you look at emails, social media, the news etc. If you must take care of children as soon as you wake up, then take some time for yourself once they are sorted and before you start work. Again, this helps you develop a proactive state, and you can cultivate a more optimistic mindset rather than being affected by what you first read, watch, and listen to – which will likely set the tone for the rest of your day.
- Take regular breaks throughout the day: To move, stretch, get away from the screen – this isn’t just for your wellbeing, this also enables moments of better focus and ‘deep work’.
- Build-in gaps between meetings: Even if it’s only a few minutes, this helps you reset and get back into a more proactive (less stressful) state. You can also do this when switching between pieces of work. Over the course of the day, these gaps will go a long way to reduce stress levels, especially if you also do something specific for your wellbeing during that time.
If you were a client of mine Sarah, I would also want to look at whether you need to work on areas such as time/energy management, people-pleasing, perfectionism, procrastination, workaholism, negative thinking etc. – all of which typically contribute to chronic stress and burnout.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that of course, we can’t keep up these healthy habits ALL the time – sometimes life gets in the way. But the point is that you are intentionally managing your wellbeing and stress levels throughout the day so that when you do fall off track you are able to get back on top of things asap because you know how best to support yourself.
In next week’s post, I’ll be sharing my own story of nearly burning out and the very real lessons I learned from the experience.