Our 3-steps approach to prevent burn out from happening in your life
We hear about burnout, burn out, burn-out, a lot. But what is it exactly? In this blog article, we gathered elements for a definition, but mostly for prevention!
What is burnout?
Burnout happens when you experience constant stress. Stress is good (yes!) and it is important (and healthy!) to experience some levels of stress, otherwise, we would have no adrenaline (the stress hormone) in our bodies and would be likely to stay in bed all day, every day. Now, the challenge starts when we go from adrenaline rush to adrenaline rush (from a challenging work meeting to a difficult discussion at home or an unexpected call from a friend, for instance) and the adrenaline levels in our body never gets a chance to decrease. When this happens, we might feel constantly on the edge, never able to rest in our body and mind, and likely to develop what is called ‘chronic stress’.
Burnout can happen then, as a result of this experience of constant stress. One day, your body might tell you to stop, and rather radically. Some people who have experienced burnout share that they fell on the floor suddenly while walking to a meeting, that they reached their desk but were unable to turn their computer on… In these cases, the body cannot keep up any longer and forces you and your mind to slow down. We can compare this to being on a hamster wheel. While the hamster (our mind) keeps running, the wheel (our body) turns at the same pace without a choice. But if the hamster stops suddenly, the wheel is forced to stop, and vice versa and each needs to wait for the other to recover to be able to run or turn again.
You don’t recover from burnout with a few duvet days. Some people take weeks or months to feel better, and eventually go back to work (or not). That is the reason why we do burnout prevention, because prevention is always better than cure!
How can I recognise burnout?
Spotting the signs is always the first step in prevention. Verywell Mind identifies 3 main dimensions of burnout, that we can also call ‘symptoms’. If you experience these for a prolongated period of time (usually over 3 weeks), pay attention, because you might be on the edge:
Mental, emotional and/or physical exhaustion: when you feel constantly tired, physically, but also emotionally with for instance difficulties to deal with daily emotions, or mentally with maybe some difficult thought processes, a lack of clarity or an inability to step back and take some distance from facts and events.
Cynicism: when you become cynical, negative and critical about your job or common life events, when you stop identifying with your job or feel much less motivated to work.
Sense of reduced professional ability: when you experience a lack of creativity, think you are poorly performing or feel unable to meet the demand.
Why would burnout happen to me?
Burnout is often seen as a workplace symptom. However, as much as work is an important element, your lifestyle and your personality are as important and can lead to burnout, as well detailed in this article from Helpguide.
Work: when the demand is either too high with a lot of pressure and a lack of recognition or clarity, or too low and unchallenging.
Lifestyle: when you work a lot but also have many responsibilities outside of work (like taking the children to all the extracurricular activities or having responsibilities in various clubs), and overall don’t rest or sleep enough.
Personality: there is an element of personality in burnout that cannot be denied. Perfectionists who like to keep control, high-achieving people, or people pleasers who find it hard to say ‘no’, are more likely to experience burnout as it might be challenging for them to delegate or ask for help.
How can I prevent burnout in my life?
Now you are more aware of what burnout is and how it can manifest, let’s focus on prevention. Here is our suggested 3 steps approach to adopt whenever you spot the signs mentioned above.
Pause: we are always ‘on the go’ in this life (except we are forced to stop and slow down, like during this lockdown, which can also be beneficial) and doing nothing can be seen as being lazy. However, doing nothing for a little while can help you to be more productive, more creative and more focused when you resume work! One thing we usually suggest is to try ‘power moments’: do nothing, or 1 thing you like, for 3-5 minutes. It works really well with coffee breaks: Just. Drink. Your. Coffee. No phones or catching up on anything. It helps with productivity, clarity, focus and creativity! And it goes hand in hand with disconnecting from our screens and devices to manage the flow of information. > Here is our first step for you: When is the last time you did nothing for a little while? At which point during the day would you be able to take this type of short breaks?
Connect with others. When you feel overwhelmed, one way forward is to talk about your feelings and emotions as soon as possible. You can reach a friend, family member or a professional. Reaching out is key and can get you to easily de-escalate a thought process that otherwise could be harmful! > Now on the second step: try to identify your support network now: make a list of trusted friends, family members, colleagues… you would feel comfortable reaching out to in case you feel the need to talk.
Prioritise: Burnout is often preceded by a calendar filled with commitments from left and right. And this busy-ness prevents you from prioritising yourself, resting, pausing, sleeping... Yet among all these things, there are some that you can stop doing or stop committing to do. You CAN say no! Remember that saying ‘no’ to one thing is the opportunity for you to say ‘yes’ to something else, something for you. Saying ‘no’ to things that take your time, energy and mental space is the opportunity for you to spend this time doing things that you enjoy: things that make you smile, relax or disconnect from your devices. And remember: prioritising your wellbeing should not make you feel guilty! > Here is the final step now: What are the things you can say ‘no’ to? Try to think about the things that take up your time, your energy and mental space. What are the activities you would do for yourself, for your wellbeing? How would you prioritise yourself?
What can we do as a workplace?
Our 3 steps approach described above is an individual one, but could work at a team or organisational level. There are also some steps that you might want to take collectively:
Look out for each other. It is very often easier to spot the signs of burnout in others and not in ourselves. If you notice a colleague becoming cynical or doubting their performance, have a chat, start a conversation with ‘are you ok? is there anything I can do to help?’. Even though this colleague might not realise it yet and refuses help, you might have opened their eyes a little bit.
Put your ‘off’ time in your work calendar (for instance 30min after your lunch each day) to avoid distractions or meetings where you might feel unproductive or frustrated. Remember: take a break enables you to be more focused, productive and creative!
Create a culture of productivity, not ‘always availability’, because some of us are more productive in the morning, some need regular breaks, some are night owls... In one organisation, we all have different jobs and tasks, and different personalities. Focusing on the outcomes instead of the working patterns, and mostly on the wellbeing of the team members would eventually generate motivated and engaged teams and improve the bottom line.
Any other suggestions? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org !