We all know that wasted, poured-out feeling: You look at the brown puddle in the bottom of your coffee mug and think to yourself, That’s me. That’s how I feel right now, and you wonder how long you’ve been coasting along the edge of your endurance. We all know how burnout feels, and we’re aware that it can have damaging, long lasting effects on the mind and body—but how do we avoid burnout?
In medical terms, burnout refers to feelings of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Left unchecked, prolonged periods of stress, feelings of being overwhelmed or swallowed in work and other responsibilities, and the inability to meet the constant demands of life can fester, resulting in a basic inability to function.
Burnout is more profound, even more serious than it seems on the surface. It can negatively affect physical and mental health in a myriad ways, from fatigue, depression, and irritability to increased likelihood of developing heart disease, to high blood pressure, and mental health conditions that require medication–and it doesn’t stop there. Burnout can create pernicious social, personal, and professional consequences like the inability to “show up” for friends or meet personal and professional responsibilities.
Current research suggests that the average worker will experience career-related burnout by the age of 32, for reasons most often relating to overwork, lack of control, reward, community, fairness, and the affirmation of personal values.
For this post, we’ve gathered five tips to help avoid burnout and better manage stress.
1. The best way to avoid burnout is to keep it from happening in the first place.
Understanding the root causes of burnout and how it develops can save us the slow, painstaking process of recovery. Most often, burnout results from overextending, pushing yourself to work harder and harder as you neglect your own needs.
Knowing exactly what your professional responsibilities entail can give you the clarity you need to set clear boundaries and avoid working overtime on unnecessary tasks.
Taking breaks throughout the day can also help create healthy work-life boundaries and prevent exhaustion. When you find yourself getting tired, distracted, and needing a quick break, take a few moments to stand up and stretch or do a mini-meditation. When you need longer breaks (and you will), be sure to use vacation time to rest and reset.
2. Practice Mindfulness
A growing body of evidence shows how mindfulness can help prevent burnout: Mindfulness practices reduce stress and promote more positive emotions, improving self-compassion, allowing better self-care, and alleviating empathy- or compassion-fatigue.
Practice mindfulness by focusing your attention on the inflow and outflow of your breath and being aware of your emotions and how they connect to your senses and sensations in the moment. Meditation and yoga can also help you connect with yourself and process your thoughts and feelings without letting them overwhelm you.
3. Seek Support
The Swedish study mentioned above found mindfulness to be an effective counter for burnout, and the research discovered that compassion and group training are also successful prevention methods. Reaching out, connecting, and seeking support from friends, family, colleagues, or therapists can be powerful tools in helping cope with stress and find encouragement.
Having someone presently listen (without judgment) to what is causing you stress can take so much weight off your shoulders, but reaching out to support is just as important as reaching out for support. It might seem counter-intuitive that helping others deal with their own stress and negative emotions connected to responsibilities and workload helps you deal with your own issues, but it’s demonstrably true in many cases—provided you maintain healthy boundaries to keep you from shouldering burdens that aren’t your own.
4. Move Your Body
Exercise is a sure-fire way to alleviate stress and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. In addition to increasing your energy and productivity levels, exercise can encourage you to set goals that will give you back a sense of purpose, drive, and control. Moving your body through regular exercise can also help take your mind off work and promote a healthier work-life balance. Find what feels good to you, whether that’s walking, yoga, pilates, dance, running, or weight-training, all these types of movement can help better manage stress.
5. Find Your Purpose
Reframing the way you perceive and participate in your job can make a profound impact. Besides earning money to support you and your family, what else excites you about your career? Does it have a deeper purpose that impacts your day-to-day? Realigning yourself with your career goals and ambitions can help mitigate work-related stress and ultimately avoid burnout.
But if your workload is bound to cause burnout, reevaluating your options and setting boundaries can help permanently alleviate some stress. If you need, discuss your options with your supervisor or work together with colleagues to better balance the workload.
It can be difficult to devote as much time and effort to caring for yourself and your own needs as you do to meeting your work responsibilities. Sometimes we are made to feel selfish or self-centered in seeking to recognize and meet our own needs. Keep in mind that taking responsibility. caring for yourself, and advocating for yourself allows you to meet your work responsibilities and show up every day as your best self!
As you move forward in your life and career, keep in mind that these tips are easy to read, but they can by tricky to apply. Be gentle with yourself and remember to focus on progress more than perfection–Don’t add to your stress by beating yourself up when you fall short–just take stock and commit to do better next time!