7 steps to returning to work without burning out

It’s back to work after the holidays – how can you keep your resolution to refocus without losing your mind?

The rock star anthem is “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” Sounds extreme, but sadly, it seems that the average corporate employee is trying to emulate them. Ask people how they are, and you will generally get one of two answers: “Busy” or “Tired.” The pace of life is outrageous; most people I talk to say they feel like they are handcuffed to a roller coaster that is stuck on repeat.
As a result, the burnout rates in business are rapidly climbing. So why is it such an epidemic? There are two big problems in the way we handle burnout:
• Putting it off – Many times in my conversations with people who are burnt out, I will ask, “What are you going to do about that?” Their reply is, “Well, I have a holiday in three months. I will keep pushing until that date, and then I’ll relax!” You can’t put off addressing burnout.
• Waiting for things to slow down – I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I will look after myself/relax when things quiet down.” With margins being constantly squeezed and the rise of leaner organizations, that ship has well and truly sailed. Don’t expect workloads to lessen; it’s simply not in our business DNA.
What to do?
Here are the critical components that have kept people free from burnout:
Step 1: Decide if you are serious about avoiding burnout
Notice if you are using burnout as a status symbol. Does exhaustion define you as a person? Unless you are stressed and exhausted, do you feel guilty and think you’re a slacker for not pulling your weight?
Step 2: Develop the capacity to say no
Your organization and leaders will always try to get more and more out of you. Don’t expect them to manage your burnout. It sounds cynical, but it’s just the way the world works. You have to be responsible for this. Develop the capacity to have some boundaries, and ways to say no.
Step 3: Do something that relaxes you each day
Like shutting down your computer, the brain needs the capacity to turn off and recover. Not only does this let the mind and body recover, but it also builds our capability to put the brakes on when we need it. Often people reflect on their holidays by saying, “It took me a week to unwind. I had a couple of good days and then started to worry about coming back to work.” We have lost the ability to go slow, and in some instances going slow seems to be punishment. The actor Will Ferrell put it best: “Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow internet to find out who they really are!” Doing something that relaxes you each day, even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes, builds up that muscle.
Meditation, listening to a relaxation tape, yoga, and deep breathing while stretching before bed are all great ways to recharge your mind and body each day. (Watching TV doesn’t count.)
Step 4: Each week, do something that gives you a shot of vitality
This is taking the daily relaxation principle and turning it up to 11. We all have things in our life that fuel our soul, whether it is socializing with friends, going out for breakfast, walking on the beach, doing yoga or being out in nature. It is something that not only relaxes you, but also juices you.
Step 5: Each month, have a day with no responsibilities
Our lives are so scheduled that there is always something to do. Psychologists report that children are experiencing anxiety in trying to keep up with a vast array of extracurricular activities.
When was the last time you had a day when you woke up with nothing to do and no responsibilities? Days like this are restorative and freeing. Each month, schedule a day that is responsibility-free.
Our research shows that a day like this is ideally spent by yourself. Busy couples with kids can get around this by taking turns with their partner and having the other person look after the kids.
Step 6: Every quarter, take a long weekend
Four times a year, take a day off on either side of the weekend and have a mini break, whether you go somewhere or simply stay at home. These regular mini holidays are great sanity breaks.
Step 7: Have an off season
All athletes factor in an off season, when they give their body and mind a complete break. No one can keep going all year. Australians have amassed a concerning amount of holiday leave. Don’t become one of those people who never take a holiday. Aim to wipe out your annual leave each year.
There you go: a seven-step process to eradicate burnout from your life. I have used this process with many executives and found that, no matter their external stress, it helps them dramatically reduce their chances of burnout. Go forth and recover.

This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Dr. Adam Fraser, human performance researcher and consultant. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.

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