Elizabeth Houghton, Business and Life Success Coach, Sutton Full Potential, shares ten top tips on how to tackle burnout
In early 2019, Anne Helen Petersen published a viral Buzzfeed article that sympathized with millennials. It confronted a frequent complaint – that millennials are miserable at “adulting” – the informal term used for activities perceived as responsible or grown-up. Petersen stated in her article that many millennials have this trouble because they are experiencing a unique burnout. This unique malaise makes mundane tasks, like going to the bank or returning an online order, feel impossible.
Burnout is the result of relentless demands on a person, which results in feelings of exhaustion and anxiety. Millennials are increasingly at risk because of the conditions they have grown up in. Smartphones create an always-on situation where they have to be available, whatever the time. Hustle culture is a rebranding of workaholism and has become an unhealthy standard of productivity and value. In this atmosphere, it’s no wonder that so many millennials are undergoing burnout. But let’s take a more clinical look at burnout to understand it better.
What is burnout?
Although usually pegged to what a person does for a living, excessive demands from family or a person’s own unrealistic standards can cause burnout. Feelings of exhaustion, alienation from activities, and reduced performance reign sovereign. The victim feels incapable of handling even the smallest tasks. Being fully alert is not possible because of the weight on the body and mind. Relaxing is impossible because the victim feels like she is constantly trying to catch up with her life.
While you are experiencing burnout, you can never be working to your full potential. The first thing to do is to prepare yourself to stop working. Let’s look at ten ways to combat this monster.
1. Take a break
Without making good on this first tip, you’re not going to make progress on any of the following. Listen carefully. You must take a break. Depending on the severity of your stress, it could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Decide that you need it and make plans for whom you need to let know: your boss, your family, your partner, anyone. Make arrangements to hand over or conclude any ongoing assignments so you can go on vacation with a clear conscious.
A consequence of burnout is constantly worrying about your to-do list, even if you are supposed to be in chill mode. So, we need to set up a system where we prioritize rest and recovery. This system looks like fewer obligations to others, so we can make space for ourselves. For it to work, we need to tell people to allow us to have that space. If we do not tell people around us we need support, we can’t blame them for not realizing the burden we carry.
Now that you’ve taken a break, start your break with a few simple disciplines that you commit to. If you do nothing else for the first half of your time off, do these. The first is to sleep at least eight hours a night.
The medical industry has recently come around to the science that it’s not merely “good-to-have” a good night’s sleep: it’s absolutely critical for our health. Poor sleep can be traced as the cause of a lot of health risks, from obesity and hypertension to depression and anxiety.
Get into bed, even if you don’t fall asleep immediately, at the same time every night with your gadget far away. Wake up when your body tells you to. If your body needs to fill its sleep deficit, you may find yourself sleeping more than eight hours a night.
The second discipline we’re going to ask you to commit to is that of movement. You don’t need anybody to tell you the hundreds of physical and mental benefits that exercise has. And we’re not going to tell you it’s going to magically cure your burnout. But it’s going to take your mind in the right direction.
Exercise has been proven to be almost 100% effective against stress. Scientific evidence continues to stack up that exercise can help prevent, and even treat, forms of depression. However, you don’t need to spend hours in a gym to get these benefits. A brisk walk, a short run, a cardio session, or even yoga is enough to give you the boost you need to get your brain on track to recovery. The key is to choose exercise that you love and that fits into your life. Start with ten minutes and build your activity level as your tolerance grows. If you can aim to get a sweat going, your body and mind will thank you for it.
4. Eat healthy
There are foods that affect your mood. When it comes to tackling burnout, you should be providing your body with adequate levels of nutrients to rebuild itself out of the ashes as well as combat stress in the future.
Omega-3s are a type of fatty acid found in foods like fish, chia seeds, and flaxseeds that supply your brain with healthy fats. They’re responsible for your mood, memory, and learning. Dark leafy greens contain high levels of folic acid that aid in serotonin production. Increasing your consumption of vegetables will aid your recovery.
Limit your consumption of caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars, and refined carbohydrates. Substitute with a piece of fruit and herbal tea.
There are a ton of apps out there to help you meditate. However, if you can find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes in the day, you’re all set. The simplest version is to close your eyes and focus on your breathing, without judgment or analysis. Every time your focus wavers or you start to think or worry, gently move your awareness back to your breath. Guided meditations are also great starting points for people who want to start with meditation.
This is the third discipline we’d ask you to actively commit to. Think of meditation as a bicep curl for the brain. Meditation is your mental gym. Meditation is a tool for gaining awareness of our thoughts. Through gaining awareness, over time, you will see yourself being calmer and more composed in your daily life. Commit to the practice for the duration of your break. 10 minutes a day is all you really need.
6. Social connections
Make time to connect with people who can support you. Stay away from people who emotionally sap you or rob your energy. While you’re recovering, you need to treat your attention and energy as a resource. Ration it carefully.
Let people know you need a break. Catch up with a group of friends over a coffee (virtual, if you can). Call your parents or your grandparents. Visit them if you can.
But if social compulsions are your primary stressors, take a break from them. That leads us to our next point.
7. Don’t spread yourself too thin
This time you’re taking off is for you. There isn’t anything you “have” to do. Except rejuvenate and recuperate. Only once your mind feels like it’s ready to take something new on should you give it a challenge. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed and land right back where you were.
Focus on the core disciplines earlier mentioned: sleep, exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. When that turns into a part of your daily routine, we can move to the exciting stuff.
Side note – brush your teeth and take a shower every day, no matter how you feel. It’s amazing how just these two things can alter your mood whenever you feel down or stuck.
8. Do something new
Bake banana bread, learn ‘un peu Francais’, draw a cat, knit granny squares. There are hundreds of ways you can use hobbies to build yourself back up again. The aim is not to reach an expert level. But you must get involved with something new at a low stakes level on a consistent basis.
Pick something that you can start today that you’ve wanted to try for a long time. Preferably something creative. If you’re a social person, joining an online community or club can be great for you while you’re pursuing this. Let this be a small manageable commitment. Decide what manageability looks like for you and stay consistent.
9. Detox from tech
The last thing you should do is use all your time during this break to watch Netflix, meme videos, and read celebrity gossip. There are lots of ways to limit your use of technology or get off it completely. The book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport is a great deep dive into how we can set the terms for our relationship with technology.
When you go for a walk, leave your phone at home. The world will not burn down if you do not have your phone with you for 10 minutes (or 30). While you pursue your hobby, commit to not touching your phone at all.
It’s estimated we pick up our phones at least 58 times a day and spend close to 4.5 hours actively using it. Every time we pick up our phone, we get a rush of dopamine that is almost like a drug. Doing this many times a day has become close to an addiction for our modern society. Start with small challenges for yourself so you get this under control.
10. Maintain a journal
The final tip is to use a journal to reflect. Write out how you feel and how your progress is going. Once a week, look back on your entries. Use the journal to write out any insights you notice about yourself. The quality of your thoughts is in the clarity of your writing. It’s not about grandiloquence or being literary. It’s about collecting your thoughts in a physical medium. In addition, writing in a journal can facilitate clearing your mind and creative problem-solving.
Bonus: be nice to yourself
Be compassionate with yourself while you undertake these ten strategies. Missing a day here and there is not a crime and it does not mean you will lose out on progress you have made. As you get better and healthier, you are also equipping yourself with tools that will be valuable throughout your life.
Getting support from friends and family can help. But sometimes, they can be overwhelmed by your situation too and not be completely objective. If you find you need professional help or support, get it. Counselling and therapy can come at a hefty price. But, if you can afford it, it will be worth making the investment. Don’t suffer alone. You just can’t put a price on your mental health and well-being.