Understanding and Preventing BurnoutSep 19, 2021
Understanding and Preventing Burnout
Where to start when it comes to stopping burnout in your life
Each and every one of us are going through something right now. We're all experiencing everything that life is throwing at us a little bit differently.
Some of us are dealing with kids going back to school, in person or virtually, or maybe a combination of both. There are those of us that are trying to figure out return-to-work strategies, if we’re even going back to the office at all. Some families are trying to deal with both adults working from home at the same time and deciding what the long-term work life balance looks like.
Some of us are trying to determine how to grow our businesses and thrive in crazy economic times, and I could go on and on, but you get the point — life has dealt us an unexpected hand of craziness and challenges right now. Our current circumstances create stress and anxiety for all of us, and all of these things and other, unspoken circumstances can all lead to some level of burnout.
In doing some research on this topic, I discovered some research behind burnout that sorts the phases of a burnout into five stages that occur on a spectrum. The first stage is where we are when we’re at our best. This stage is called enthusiasm — where you've set your personal and your professional goals high, you're investing a great deal of energy into them, and basically you’re feeling incredibly optimistic regarding your life circumstances and what you’re doing.
A step down from the enthusiasm stage is the second phase of burnout: stagnation. In this stage, your life and work balance has become limited, and you're struggling to simultaneously take care of the business, your family, and stay on top of your your personal priorities. Trying harder really doesn't seem to change anything in the stagnation stage, so you're having limited success and disappointment is starting to set in for you.
And then comes the third stage, and that’s frustration — where you experience an unexpected failure and begin to feel a sense of powerlessness. From your perspective, your efforts really aren’t paying off in any tangible way, at least not in a way that’s visible to you or to others. You're not receiving enough acknowledgement or praise, and your circumstances and frustrations are starting to make you feel incompetent, question your skill set, and made you start to believe you are incompetent. This phase of burnout affects us both personally and professionally, since it may lead us to question our self worth.
The fourth stage of burnout is apathy — where despair and disillusionment occur. You see no way out of your current situation, you become resigned, and you're indifferent. And finally, the fifth phase of burnout is intervention, where you’ve finally reached a place of absolute helplessness and you are actively experiencing burnout, which prompts you to look for and accept help.
When you think about these five stages as a spectrum, where are you currently? What are you experiencing right now? Burnout can happen whether you're fully employed, unemployed and looking for a job, stay at home with kids, or whatever your circumstances may be. Burnout can happen in our life under almost any circumstance, especially if we're not paying attention.
So, how can you prevent and avoid burnout? If you could see it coming and predict the signs of overwhelm in your life and your business, perhaps you could prevent the spiral from ever happening. Based on my experience and some additional research, I believe there are six practices we can each implement in our daily lives and into our habits:
Yes, take a time out or a break! Especially in moments you experience any of the symptoms of burnout listed above. By taking a time out, you give yourself the gift of space and time. Time away just to clear your head, deal with your emotions, and take a breather. Lots of times, this helps us remember that what we’re overwhelmed over isn’t worth the stress, or perhaps that we got angry too quickly. An example of this might be, you’re feeling frustrated after a Zoom call with a client or your boss. Get up, walk away from your computer, leave your phone at your desk — and go take a walk outside to decompress alone. We all know that being in nature has many benefits — and releasing frustration fast is one of the key components to taking a break outdoors.
And it probably is a really good idea to schedule regular breaks throughout your day. If you often find yourself feeling frustrated midday, then schedule a break for yourself and rearrange your schedule to accommodate that need. And what I mean by that is just take a pause — block out time in your calendar for just 20 minutes to yourself. It will change your outlook and help you come back to the workplace refreshed.
Adjust Your Mindset
This can be really hard for a lot of people, it isn’t automatic, and it takes lots of practice. If you're in a place where you're telling yourself, “I'm just not good enough, I can't do this, this is not possible, or I’m not worthy,” — you are stepping into your own limiting beliefs. When you recognize this, you should take a minute, take a step back and adjust your mindset. You need to get rid of the negative self talk.
It’s time to re-frame — “I can't do this” turns into “I will do this,” or “I’m confident in my abilities to get this done.” Take those negative thoughts and turn them into positive affirmations or declarations. By doing this, you change the negative energy into a positive re frame and remind yourself of the truth. This creates the motivation and confidence you need to move forward.
Accountability Partner or Buddy
What? An accountability partner? Yes, find somebody that you can talk to on a scheduled, regular basis — someone who can support you and talk through whatever you’re dealing with in your business, a friend you can mutually support! The idea here is to design your accountability relationships to function like a partnership, so it’s a two-way street.
I've had several accountability partners over the years, including one partnership that lasted for over a year during a season of intensive growth and strategy development for my business. We all need someone other than our spouse, partner, or boss to hold us accountable, to remind us of what we need to get done, and to challenge us. As you discuss each other’s businesses, you help each other understand what prevented success, what ideas were quatifiably successful, and then how to move forward. Put your accountability dates in your calendar, let them become a stone in the river of your life that every other event gets moved around. Schedule your calls on a regular basis, reserved with intentionality for 1-hour each. Try it. It will have a positive impact on you, your life, and your career.
I’m really surprised at the reaction I get from people when I suggest they journal their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. You’d think I was asking them to eat some strange, exotic food or go on a blind date! However, this is a really powerful habit for you to instill in your life. I promise you, you’ll be amazed at what you discover, how your thought processes change and adapt more quickly, and the outcomes that become possible when you explore your thoughts and dive deeper through journaling.
I journal every day, and one of the things I make sure to include each day is my wins! Whatever happened that day that was a win for me, whether it was as big as landing a new regular client or as small as my kids doing the dishes — big and small wins, both personal ones and professional ones get jotted down in my journal. As seriously as we all take disappointment, as hard as we try to avoid making mistakes, and as hard as life has hit us lately with stressful pandemic, economic, and societal circumstances — acknowledging your wins and celebrating them is important. It contributes to a positive mindset and helps you adapt to your circumstances. Try 15 minutes of journaling once a day for one week, and see what self discovery happens.
Surround Yourself with Success
We’ve all heard it before — successful people surround themselves with successful people. Look around, who are you surrounded by? What impact are they having on you? Are they encouraging your dreams, challenging you to do more and better things, and emphasizing the wins in your life? If you look around and you see negative impacts and emotions stemming from the interactions with your social circle, if you find that conversations with your “friends” constantly bring you down or make you feel complacent and mediocre — it’s time to press pause on that relationship. I’m not saying completely walk away from them, but limit your exposure to them and surround yourself with people that support you, lift you up, encourage you, and celebrate you.
If you follow my column, you know I’m a huge proponent of regularly, thoughtfully expressing gratitude, because it’s so important to recognize the good things in our lives! Seriously, there is some circumstance in your life, some challenge you’ve overcome, something that has changed in you — and it’s something you used to only HOPE for in your life! And now, it’s here. Each and every day, we all have things we can be and should be grateful for, but we miss them, because we don’t seek them out — or worse, we are blinded by the negatives and can’t see the gratitude.
Right now, stop for just a second and think about what’s happened to you in the past 24 hours that you are grateful for — then right it down in your journal! Was it an unexpected call from a friend you haven’t talked to in a while? Maybe a text came through that made you smile, or a loved one gave you an amazing, unprompted hug.
Gratitude exists in your life — look for it and name it. There’s an old saying, “What gets measured gets improved,” and I firmly believe that if we’re measuring our gratitude, the good things in our lives will not only increase, but we’ll keenly increase and sharpen our ability to spot those good things and live joyfully because of it.
Some of these six habits, you’ll want to do daily — like taking a time out, adjusting your mindset, and journaling. Other habits, you might implement once a week or every other week — like accountability meetings. And even some habits, like surrounding yourself with successful people and creating an uplifting environment in your life — these may take some time, strategy, and patience to implement. Incorporating intentional, profitable habits into your life can provide a level of success and high performance that you may never have experienced before, and hopefully you see the results as quickly as I and so many of my coaching clients have experienced, as we’ve discovered the freedom of (usually!) preventing burnout before it happens.