This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it recognises burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis. It is now listed in the International Classification of Diseases, the WHO's handbook that guides medical practitioners across the world.
This was welcomed news from me as from suffering burnout at the end of my well-paid corporate career, I know first-hand the devastating effect it can have on your life. Creating awareness around the impact of burnout at work and supporting people to avoid it is the focus of my coaching and mentoring.
I help busy professionals - in particular women - by providing them tools and strategies to integrate easily into daily life to prevent burnout.
So, what is ‘burnout’ and what are the consequences to having it? How will it affect your life if you don’t take steps to avoid it?
If you are burnt out at work, here is a list of the possible negative consequences:
To avoid burnout you need to have a lifestyle that sustains your energy for work. Otherwise you could run on empty and if you’re running on empty your setting yourself up for exhaustion.
So, whether you are eating on the run, drinking too much, not exercising or relaxing or switching off. If you are neglecting your wellbeing then you will not be able to sustain a successful career because you will run out of energy and you will be more likely to have a short fuse.
Here are 5 Steps to Avoid Burnout at Work
1. SET BOUNDARIES
I get it. It’s difficult to change the way you interact with people at work and they are used to you doing things a certain way as much as you are.
However, if you are feeling pressured or overwhelmed at work, you need to take steps to set boundaries that protect you and your energy. By doing this you will be less stressed and it will increase your self-worth. And who doesn’t want that?
In their book "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life", Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend explain boundaries like this:
"Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t."
TIP: Start to notice how you feel when you say yes to certain people or situations. Does it excite you and feel you with glee, or give you a knot in your stomach and a sense of dread? If it’s the latter, then you need to find a way to to speak up or say no, as if you don't people will assume you are happy to continue as you are.
2. PLAN YOUR 'NON-WORK' LIFE
I’m guessing that your work schedule is planned out to the minute, with no question of where you need to be and when. In order to make changes to your routine you have to do things that create a new habit.
Try planning your ‘non- work’ life in your diary as much as you would do your work diary. This might seem too regimented and ‘business-like’ but you don’t have to do it forever. By doing this for a short time (I suggest 4 weeks minimum) you are supporting yourself to create a habit and train yourself to make time for your personal needs.
TIP: Don’t limit yourself to only planning exercise time. Get everything in there that you want to do for yourself or family. An hour reading time, Netflix binge or baking. Schedule it all in and create the habit of making your non-work time work for you!
3. DO EXERCISE YOU LOVE
If the thought of doing your current choice of exercise fills you with dread, you need to find another form that gets you excited. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore, it should be an easy part of daily life.
If you need a reminder of the benefits of exercise, the short version is: Exercise = more energy, more endorphins, better health, more productivity and supports a positive mind.
With the huge amount of choices we have to choose from there will be something for you.
There are no good reasons NOT to do exercise.
TIP: If you feel you need to combine exercise with social, join a team or club. Bootcamp, climbing, circuits, football, netball, squash - the possibilities are endless.
4. KEEP YOUR ENERGY CONSISTENT
What I mean by this is to find ways to live your life gives you energy consistently, rather than living through the rollercoaster.
I’m guessing that the energy you get throughout the day is the short-lived ‘nervy’ energy, that comes from caffeine. The problem with this type of energy is that you are likely to make a mistake because you could be edgy, impatient and irritable.
Whereas the energy I help you with is real energy, not energy that’s going to dip.
Try changing the below for 7 days and notice any differences to your energy.
Drink 2 glasses of water before you have anything else each morning. It cleanses your digestion and energises your system. Try adding lemon or cucumber if you like the taste.
Keep water on hand throughout the day and if you feel tired/hungry/stressed, drink one glass and see how you feel, before you do anything else (i.e. reach for the coffee/chocolate). You might find that you were just dehydrated and water was just what the doctor ordered -)
If our energy depletes throughout the day it can often be from sitting in the same position for too long or busy doing the same actions over and over. Studies have shown that the body responds to pattern interrupts to re-energise, so make sure you give it a good stretch or movement every once in a while.
If you manage a yawn, even better! Research suggests that yawning is the body’s way of cooling the brain and effectively “wakes” it up!
If you rely heavy on caffeine to get through the day - and your not ready to go cold turkey just yet - try swapping out your mid morning and afternoon caffeine fix for green tea or something else herbal.
Making green tea your new friend will have many health benefits, including improving brain function, reducing anxiety, lose weight quicker and prevent disease due to its antioxidant properties.
TIP: There are many, many flavoured versions of green tea available now. So if you’re not too keen on the taste, try a flavoured version.
5. THINK BIG PICTURE
Finally, have a Big Picture Plan for your career and life. If you don’t, you risk getting stuck with no passion or energy for life, which can not only contribute to burnout - but also affect your confidence.
We can get so bogged down in the detail of the day today, we lose sight of what we want and where we’re going.
Having a future goal helps keep you motivated, positive and excited about the future.
TIP: Think about what you would like to be happening for you in 3 years time. Write it down and be really detailed about everything that will be happening - what it looks like, what you will be saying to people, what they will be saying for you.
Then do the same for 2 years time - what needs to be happening by then for your to achieve your life goal in year 3. Do the same for 1 year from now - what needs to have happened to be on track for your year 2 and year 3 goals.
Doing this will give you a realistic long-term plan to help you make more informed decisions in your day to day life, with the confidence you are working towards something you want and that has value for you.
Avoiding burnout doesn’t have to be a huge, drastic lifestyle change. Simply becoming more aware and integrating some of the above energy-saving lifestyle habits will stop your from going too fast on the treadmill to be able to stop when you need to.
If you would like support implementing a lifestyle change to avoid burnout, a set of regular coaching sessions with me will really help you achieve this quicker and create healthy habits that last. To find out more, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a chat. The first call with me is always free :-)
Wishing you an energised week ahead!