While we all experience periods of intense stress during the course of our lives, it’s when things begin getting on top of us – when that stress starts seeping into all aspects of our lives and relationships – that it can be a sign our stress levels are too high, and we may be heading towards burnout.
Caused by excessive, prolonged periods of stress, burnout is a combination of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It can affect not only your energy levels but your productivity, mood, even impacting your relationships with colleagues and loved ones. No matter how passionate or hard-working you are, you can still fall victim to the stress and fatigue that leads to burnout.
High-achievers can be particularly vulnerable, as their ‘can-do’ personality, own high standards, and even higher personal goals can lead to missing vital warning signs that they need to slow down and take better care of themselves.
Reducing our stress and facing the things that are causing us to feel emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted is vital to avoiding burnout. The more we ignore or try to deny things that are affecting our mental and physical health, the more likely they are to become overwhelming and harder to address.
We share four simple steps you can take to avoid burnout, put your well-being first, and keep hold of your passion for what you do.
Do you know the difference between stress and burnout? Discover the signs and symptoms of burnout you need to look out for1.
1. Take care of your basic needs
it sounds simple, but it can be easy to forget or to put our own well-being on the back-burner when we have a lot to do, and not enough time to do it in. You need to make sure you are eating, drinking, exercising and sleeping. Creating a simple, sustainable self-care routine can help with this.
Make sure you are sleeping enough to feel well-rested, not to just get by. Try not to skip meals, but aim to make healthier choices where you can rather than opting for quick convenience. Remember to drink plenty of water, and avoid too much caffeine or alcohol where you can.
Making time for exercise doesn’t have to mean booking time-consuming or expensive classes or club memberships. Even small additions, like adding in a 10-15 minute walk during your lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or parking further away from the office or shops can be simple ways to squeeze in a little more activity. You may be surprised at how much of a difference these small changes can make.
2. Learn to say no
For such a simple word, saying no can feel impossibly hard. High-achievers may find it difficult to sit back and let someone else share the load, whilst those who experience low self-esteem may worry what others think if they refuse. Anxious people may worry about worst-case scenarios of what will happen if they don’t say yes to every request.
Try to remember: each new commitment and responsibility adds to your cup. Just like with a cup, you have a finite capacity for taking on new projects and responsibilities. By learning how to say no, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and having all of these stresses overflow.
If you’re struggling, ask yourself – what could actually happen if you were to say no? Logically work through the list. Are the potential outcomes as bad as you thought? There will always be new pressures and tasks we can’t say no to, but by learning we can say no, we can get a better idea of when to say no and how we can manage our own workloads even more efficiently.
3. Discover your own definition of relaxation, create a plan (and stick to it)
Reducing feelings of stress isn’t just about following a set list of relaxing activities and hoping one of them sticks. When we’re busy, the first things to go are often the things that could best help us to release some of that additional tension and pressure.
Think back on what has helped you to unwind and recharge in the past. Could you bring this back into your life without additional stress or tension? If not, is there anything else you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t got around to? If you are really stuck, here are a few simple ideas to get you started, along with five apps that can help you to feel less stressed and rediscover a more positive mindset.
What feels relaxing for one person can be emotionally draining for another. Try a variety of different options to see what works for you. Developing your own stress management strategy could include anything from meditation and yoga to weekend hikes through the wilderness or midnight runs for charity. Relaxation doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Find your own zen and embrace it.
4. Surround yourself with positivity and challenge negative thoughts
Have you ever noticed how your friends’ moods can affect your own? Being around people who have a positive mindset can help us feel like we have more energy and enthusiasm ourselves while spending time with negative people can feel draining and like we are being dragged down.
If you’re struggling to cope with stress, try and take a break from any negative influences where possible. If you find yourself struggling with your own negative thoughts, try and challenge them. Face each negative thought face-on, and try to figure out what may be causing them.
Maybe you’ve started thinking Monday mornings are the worst; why? Are you giving yourself enough time to prepare for that weekly meeting you know happens every Monday, or could you take some time the Friday before so you aren’t dreading it quite so much? Perhaps you’re taking your work home with you, so by the time Monday rolls back around you still haven’t really had a day off. Identifying the cause of the negativity can help us to not only face and overcome it but to better deal with future stressors and worries.
If you are worried you’re on the path to burnout, it may be worth considering talking to an expert. Admitting you need help and support can seem like a huge step, but there are a variety of trained experts who can offer help, support and guidance towards creating a more sustainable, stress-free routine.
A counsellor can help you get to the root of your work-related stress. Providing an outside perspective, a counsellor can offer a professional, non-judgemental space where you can explore the difficulties you have been experiencing, begin to understand what may have been causing you stress and start towards overcoming these problems.
A life coach may be another option to help you achieve a better work/life balance. Tailoring their advice and guidance to help you, they can help you to better understand your feelings, recognise and set your own goals, and signpost the next steps you can take towards making big life changes.
With the help of a coach, you can learn to recognise and tackle the signs of burnout, set healthy boundaries, and feel confident to speak up when you begin feeling overwhelmed. They can introduce you to healthy stress coping strategies while sharing small tips and ways in which you can improve your effectiveness at work and at home.