By Jan Bruce
In honor of Stress Awareness Month, we've made it our goal to strengthen your resilience ("Do this") and hold the line against stress ("Ditch that"). This week, we turn your attention to banishing burnout, a non-negotiable for stress management.
Non-Negotiable: Banishing Burnout
There's a moment in the unpleasant process of burning out when you wake up with the sense that you can't do this anymore. You just can't. You're exhausted, angry, achy, anxious, and dull, and you can't remember what it feels like to be happy. And yet you do get out of bed, and you do go to your job or family, or whatever your main responsibilities are, because you also can't imagine doing anything else.
This is burnout. This is when the quality of your health, relationships, and work are likely to take a painful, possibly long-term nosedive. This is not a place you want to find yourself too many times in your life, but it's the (unsurprising) fallout from our pressure-packed, always-on modern lives. This is why banishing burnout may be the most important non-negotiable, and why it's worth preventing even when your candle is burning bright.
Make variety the spice of your life.
Burnout is more likely to happen when your activities have a drudge-like quality, meaning there's little variety in what you do and think about week to week. Sometimes this happens for a good reason, such as a big work project you must focus on or a family member who needs a lot of care. However, if you don't actively vary and enliven your days, they lose the flavor that not only keeps things interesting, but also keeps all your body and mind active and healthy. Here are two ways to ditch the drudge and get flavor back in.
Pie chart your life. At meQuilibrium, we believe there are six essential key elements for a burnout-proof life. They are:
- purpose-filled work
- wholesome food
- social connections
- connection to something greater than yourself
Picture your life as a pie chart divided into six slices, one for each (or more if you have others to include). Now color in the slices with how much each activity fills up your week. Which slices are full? Which empty? Have you suspected that you were lacking in one area--and now here's the proof? Use this information to guide you in scheduling your days. Remember, it helps to do this before you're in crisis mode; you're building up stress immunity with a well-rounded life.
Reframe the required. The daily grind of chores and obligations can certainly contribute to burnout. You can't cut or delegate some tasks, no matter how drudge-filled they are. What you can do, however, is reframe how you think about them. Take going to the grocery store. Your thought could be, "I hate this chore. It takes forever and it's always crowded. I am always freaking shopping for food"? But what if you thought, "I'm grocery shopping to get nutritious food for my family. It's not thrilling, but it is noble." This tweak changes a routine part of your day from a drag to a choice.
Stop believing you can get everything done. Occasionally, you do cross off every last to-do, and it feels great. More often, though, you don't. You run out of time. You do a slapdash job because you promised someone you'd deliver a product by an unrealistic deadline, and in one fell swoop, you've put the quality of your work and your reputation in question, and you are running on less than empty. If you manage your expectations for how much you can really accomplish, you won't be setting yourself up for burnout day in and day out. Here's how to start.
Make sure your to-dos are married to a goal. There's what you feel you should do (repaint the bedroom, lose 10 pounds), and there's what you really want to do. When your to-do list tops more than a page, stop and ask yourself what will you get out of each--and cross of the things that aren't worth the effort. The reason so many of those tasks pile on a list is because you didn't want to do them in the first place, or they weren't aligned with any larger purpose.
Accept your limits. Take some time to explore the negative thoughts and feelings that arise when you feel the urge to work-go-give-do. After you do, try admitting to yourself that you can't meet your impossible goals. Use that vulnerable moment to figure what you really need to do in order to be burnout-proof: ask for help, talk honestly with your co-workers or boss, and make a real assessment of how much you can do in the time you have.
Learn more useful information about stress and your health! Order meQuilibrium's new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, co-authored by meQuilibrium CEO Jan Bruce, Adam Perlman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer.