Learning how to avoid burnout is important for just about anyone with a job. Over time, work that we used to enjoy can become stale or overwhelming. This often happens when we move up in our career and find ourselves with more work or a routine that feels the same each day. The feelings of exhaustion and frustration that follow are typical of burnout.
When you begin to experience burnout, it can make you avoid work, question the value of your existence, and eat large quantities of Oreo cookies while watching bad television.
Is it possible to learn how to prevent burnout and stay in a productive rhythm? Here are 11 ways you can start safeguarding your life against burnout.
The Stages of Burnout
Most psychologists agree that there are 12 stages of burnout. While the early stages may simply feel like motivation, they can lead to overworking and running down your stores of energy. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, developing health problems, and feeling that you have no control over your work or life.
Here are the 12 stages:
- Excessive drive/ambition
- Pushing yourself to work harder
- Neglecting your own needs
- Displacement of conflict (blaming others for the stress you’re under)
- No time for nonwork-related needs
- Behavioral changes
- Depersonalization (feeling detached)
- Inner emptiness or anxiety
- Mental or physical collapse
If you reach the point of mental or physical collapse, you will have to work incredibly hard to regain your work-life balance. It’s best to identify burnout in the early stages so that you can correct course and get yourself back into a healthier routine for the long-term.
Here are some simple things you can try when you begin to recognize the symptoms of burnout.
How to Avoid Burnout
1. Schedule Regular Social Activities
Remember when you used to spend time with people you were neither working with nor in a relationship with? You watched movies, ate meals, played games, and went on trips. You had a group of friends that you could have fun with and rely on during hard times.
You can regain some of that emotional fulfillment by contacting some of your old pals and scheduling regular activities. Sure, rafting in Alaska would be fun, but a monthly brunch with people you don’t see every day will do just fine.
The point of this exercise is to expand your social horizon and crush the feeling that you’re stuck doing the same thing every day. It can also help to have people to listen to your frustrations and help you find useful solutions to get back on track. It’s likely they’ve had a similar experience, so listen and learn as you’re trying to figure out how to avoid burnout.
2. Follow a Fitness Plan
Over the years, many of us learn to deal with stress by grabbing a bag of chips and sitting in front of the TV. However, that’s obviously not the best way to go about it. Instead of sitting on the couch when you get home, put on your workout outfit and go for a run or put an exercise video on YouTube for a home workout.
If you want to avoid burnout, resurrect that New Year’s Resolution and figure out what it takes to get you exercising on a regular basis. One study looking at the effects of physical activity, mindfulness meditation, and heart rate variability feedback found that all three interventions showed “an overall beneficial effect consisting of reduced stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and improved psychological well-being and sleep quality”.
Reduced stress and anxiety are directly connected to holding off burnout, but don’t underestimate the power of better sleep either. Better quality sleep can also improve well-being, enhance your focus and memory, and improve your overall mood, which are all key when learning how to avoid burnout.
3. Pursue a Hobby
Pick a hobby that has little or nothing to do with what you spend most of your week doing, and pursue it with passion! A hobby that uses an entirely different skill set can provide your heart and mind with a satisfying break from the weekly grind and set you on a good path for increased productivity.
You probably won’t even need to worry about picking a new hobby. The one you abandoned when you sold your soul to the work week is waiting for you to return. Shine up those golf clubs, get out your canvas and paints, or take a book off your dusty shelf. Any of these will serve to pull you out of your work thoughts and into a more balanced headspace.
Nothing brightens the soul or warms the senses like giving to another for no reason other than to give. If you’re feeling run down by life, seek out somebody less fortunate than yourself and work to help them.
One study on older adults found that “volunteering slows the decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, slows the increase in depression levels, and improves mortality rates for those who volunteer”.
While you may not be an older adult, the same benefits can apply to you. Volunteering can help you minimize depression symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Reach out to your local soup kitchen or professional organization, and ask for referrals to local places that need your help. They’ll be glad to get you started, and you’ll soon forget about badly you thought you had it.
5. Write a Manifesto
Have you forgotten what you want out of life? It’s easy to lose track of time and even easier to forget about what makes us glad to be alive. It’s important to find this again if you want to learn how to avoid burnout.
What can you do to bring back that focus? Take a day or perhaps an entire weekend and write a manifesto, a declaration of purpose, or a vision statement for yourself.
The process will give you focus as you put your intentions into writing. You’ll also discover that stepping back and looking at your life as a whole has a way of putting the stresses of the moment into perspective.
If you’re not sure what your manifesto should include or even where your priorities really lie, check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment. It will help you get a fresh perspective on where your life currently is and where you want it to go.
6. Ask for Help
This is a tough one, especially if you’re a resourceful I’ll-do-it-on-my-own type of person. However, it’s worth the time it takes to ask for help making sense of something that’s been dragging you down. Don’t let your pride get in the way of finding real solutions to the challenges you’re facing.
Whether your struggle is with a particular project or with something general, like time management, asking for help from a friend or team member will get you to a solution faster than you could ever hope to alone. If you want to avoid burnout, you’ll need to swallow your pride on occasion and reach out for help.
7. Make Others Laugh
Humor keeps us sane, even through the most stressful of circumstances, especially when we are learning how to avoid burnout. Laughter is fun and a great way to reduce stress. Even better, finding ways to make others laugh doesn’t just reduce stress for all involved. It allows you to begin viewing yourself as a source of fun and laughter in your social or work group.
You’ll find it hard to entertain unhappy thoughts when the people around you are excited and happy to be near you. There’s no need to be a genius comedian. Start out by learning a few good jokes cultivating your natural sense of humor.
8. Make an Escape List
An “escape list” is a list of everything you’d need to do in order to escape a situation that’s driving you nuts. In a work context, your escape list might include things like turning in a final presentation or asking for a raise. It might also include smaller things like submitting your resume to a new opportunity or drafting a letter of resignation.
You might never follow up on the items in your escape list, but the process of writing one will help clarify in your mind that you are not truly stuck. Your options may be limited, but there’s always a way to change or improve your life. Realizing this can be key as you learn how to avoid burnout.
9. Embrace a Morning Ritual
Are you starting your day on the wrong foot by waking up late, rushing about, and skipping out the door at the last minute? Try slowing down your morning instead. Set your alarm a few minutes earlier than usual and spend the “extra” time sitting in a sunny spot in your living room with a cup of coffee and a good book.
As you slowly add more to your morning, you’ll develop a fierce attachment to “your” time because you’ve chosen to start your day with a focus on taking care of yourself instead of bursting out of bed like a bomb squad.
10. Stop Making Excuses
Is everything that’s dragging you down right now because of something your boss, partner, friend, or client did? Getting caught up in how much everybody else is screwing up will put you on the fast track to gray hair and a stupendous burnout.
Instead, accept responsibility for your part of the problems that plague you. Once you’ve given up on blaming others, you’ll start seeing more of the good in your life and the sordid claws of desperate, solitary thought will no longer draw you down.
11. Be Accountable
Accountability is something we’re all familiar with but rarely put into useful practice. You can use accountability to drive your personal development and avoid burnout. The trick is finding somebody you can trust to give you an honest account about what you’re trying to do and how you’re moving forward.
For best results, have your accountability partner NOT be a relative or somebody you’re dating. They typically won’t have the capacity for objective review of your progress. People who love you will often make excuses for you and you want to avoid excuses at all costs.
Learning how to avoid burnout takes time, and you’ll need to find what works for you and your situation. Burnout can happen to anyone, even if your job is enjoyable and stimulating overall. You may still reach a point where you feel that you aren’t moving forward and feel frustrated with your life.
It’s these times when you need to pull out specific strategies to overcome burnout and move forward in a more helpful direction. Choose a few of the above to get you started.