Life is tough! We’re juggling excessive demands on our time, uncertainty about the future, tight budgets, skills shortages and to be honest, just about anything else life feels like throwing at us right now.
Maintaining your capacity to cope is vital – lose it and you’re in danger of crashing and burning.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion which will leave you feeling rock bottom, alone and unable to cope. Your mind and body have basically thrown in the towel and said, 'enough is enough' and it’s absolutely miserable – trust me, I have the t-shirt. It happens to the very best of us, particularly if you’re a highly driven, high achiever. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are my nine top tips to prevent burning out.
1. Take time out to eat regular nutrient dense meals
Obvious, I know, but taking time to eat often becomes the casualty of a hectic day. It’s no good eating a healthy breakfast at 6am then rubbish for the rest of the day. This will wreck your blood sugar balance and just add to the stress on your body. You need three good meals with complex carbs (something like brown rice, whole wheat bread), good quality protein (fish, chicken, eggs, dairy) and fresh fruit and vegetables. If you find it hard to find the time to eat then put meal times in your calendar!
2. Eat some fermented food each day
A quirky idea, but chronic stress alters the balance of good bacteria in your gut. Healthy gut bacteria are connected to a healthy immune system – something which is suppressed by stress. If you want to avoid going down with every bug going or ending up in your sick bed when you eventually have some time off, then this will help you. Live yogurt, Kefir drinks and sauerkraut are widely available in supermarkets and health stores. One tip though, make sure whatever you have isn’t laden with sugar – it’s best to keep it plain.
3. Stay well hydrated
What I’m saying here is cut down on coffee, cola and alcohol and drink plenty of water or caffeine-free drinks such as Red Bush Tea. Caffeine provides no nourishment, it merely stimulates the brain to give you a sense of motivation and reward. Annoyingly, this is temporary and just as you feel you’re coping, you crash back again. Worst of all, this is an addictive trio and they affect your sleep cycle, leaving you craving more to function.
4. Tune into your stress triggers
This means knowing what fires up your stress response and has you feeling worried, fearful, irritated, emotional, angry or anything that’s out of character. You need to take control of yourself and this begins with understanding the triggers and how you’re reacting to the them. Is it the organisation’s rules and processes? Is it people? Is it family? Is it a worry? Only by doing this can you hope to change your reaction. After all, it’s not the trigger that’s causing the problem, it’s how you react to it that is. Time to see things from a different perspective.
5. Be honest – are you addicted to pressure?
Many of us are. It gives us such a buzz. Email, meetings, social media, phones, busy, busy, busy, no time to stop! Living like this is unsustainable. You might think you’re coping but you’re fooling yourself and you may not be totally to blame for this. As a survival mechanism, stress hormones switch off the part of our brain where we do our logical thinking. You’re not thinking clearly (even though you think you are). Listen to what people are telling you, they have a much clearer picture of what’s what. All you have to do is listen and act on their advice. Simple!
6. Do everything you can to sleep
It may seem a waste of time but it’s vital for cleaning up the brain tissue and processing the emotions from the day. There are the basic sleep hygiene tips such as making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet but the best although probably the trickiest tip is to switch off all screens two hours before bed time. The blue light emitted by digital tech inhibits the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. I call it a digital sundown.
7. Make time to recover
We spend our lives in permanent ‘on’ mode. Just like your phone, your body needs recharging and this means taking some time out to rest and recover. It doesn’t matter how you do it so long as it’s something that switches off the work chatter in your head – playing sport, a bike ride with your pals, becoming engrossed in a good book or music. If you feel you haven’t got the time right now then you’re likely to be in an over-stressed state so make an appointment in your diary for recovery time…and don’t allow anything to cancel it.
8. Have an annual MOT
This means visiting the doctor or if that’s a scary thought, go to a local supermarket pharmacy once a year for a check on your blood pressure and various blood markers such as cholesterol and fasting blood sugar. These are affected by the ‘fight or flight’ response. Your body thinks you’re in grave danger so is altering your physiology to prepare you to deal with the danger – such as raising your blood pressure. Of course, in reality, our day-to-day pressures are rarely life threatening and by regularly triggering the stress response, you’re putting yourself at risk of a variety of long-term health problems. You need to find out where you might be at risk and nip it in the bud quickly. Think about it - it’s not such a bad idea. We MOT our cars, even service our home boiler, why not our own body?
9. Have rituals in place to switch your mind from work mode to home mode
It’s no good getting home and continuing to think about work and behaving as if you’re still there. Home and your loved ones are an equally important part of your life so put in place rituals that help your mind switch from one to the other. Have a point during your commute when you switch from reading emails to reading a novel, or take your tie off before you come in through the door or drive around the block before coming onto your drive….and if you work from home, walk out of the front door and come back in the back door. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that clearly tells your mind that that was work, now this is home.
How to Prevent Burnout... And Reignite Your Life and Your Career is published by Filament Publishing, £14.99.
This article was originally published in November 2017.