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3 Ways to Beat Burnout

 

What is burnout?

Are you feeling more cynical? 

Less energetic? 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that your overall effectiveness and productivity have dropped.  

Do you feel like you work all the time but don’t get done what needs to get done? 

While some of this might be managing your own {or others} expectations, there could be another factor at play.  Burnout.  Yes, it’s a real thing.  Scientifically and medically proven, burnout is the state of emotional mental and physical exhaustion brought on by long-term stress. 

Here is what I find most fascinating about the research and information I’ve been digging into.  Most of us think that once the stressor – the thing, person or situation – that has been causing us stress has been removed from our lives, we are no longer stressed.  Does this sound familiar?  I thought it was true and have now learned that that belief,  couldn’t be further from the truth!

The Stress Cycle

Understanding the stress cycle is the first key to beating burnout.  Our bodies were designed to keep us safe.  Our biology doesn’t know the difference between living in caves and living in our modern-day world.  When our brain perceives something that is a threat – this could be anything from an interview, a crucial conversation or a conflict – it floods our body with adrenaline, glycogen and cortisol, preparing us to run away, fight it out or play dead.  

In our modern-day world the interview, crucial conversation or conflict cause the same physical reaction as coming around a corner in the woods and meeting a bear.  When we meet the bear we make a split decision to run, fight or freeze.  Our bodies are primed for this, we don’t actually have to think, we act!  If you need evidence of this in action, see this recent story of a hiker who encountered a mama grizzly a couple of weeks ago.   In taking action the grizzly moved on, the hiker was safe and the stress cycle was completed.  The hiker’s body allowed him to take action and complete the stress cycle.  He was able to leave the situation and return to safety. 

Here’s where things go drastically wrong in our modern world.  In our everyday situations, conversations or conflicts we encounter we don’t always allow ourselves to react, leave the situation and find safety.  In short, we don’t complete the stress cycle.  We get caught up holding onto the stress and carrying it around.  So over time, more and more ‘stress residue’ builds up in our system and we eventually can’t handle it. 

This is called burnout. 

There is too much stress residue in your system and it’s time to clean it out. 

Clearing out the Stress Residue

Overcoming burnout isn’t about ‘self-care’.  Inside their groundbreaking book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski explain that it’s NOT the number of spa days, or vacations we take that determines our ability to manage stress, rather it’s about taking specific actions that allow for the discharge of cortisol, adrenaline and glycogen and that sends a signal to your body that you are safe.

Here are the top 7 ways to complete the stress cycle:

Exercise. It’s true, you’ll need to get your heart rate up though! 20-60 minutes daily and make sure you break a sweat.

Breathing. Not breathing to stay alive though, breath with intention.  Slow, deep breathing reduces anxiety and signals to the body you are safe.  Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds and pause for 5 seconds.  Repeat this cycle 3 times and notice the calming effect.  You can do this as many times a day as is necessary.

Get Social! Positive social interactions signal to the body that you are safe.  So even if you feel like staying in and watching a movie, spending some time with friends or family that is positive and nurturing will go a long way to completing the stress cycle.

Laughter. Deep belly laughter that is real, spontaneous and authentic.  The kind that makes you want to snort or pee your pants, you are laughing so hard!  The laughter that might lubricate a social interaction or conversation doesn’t count here … it has to be authentic.

Kissing and Hugging. A hug that lasts 20 seconds or longer, or a kiss that is 6 seconds or longer, signals to the body that it is safe and allows the stress cycle to complete.

Crying. Yes, letting those tears roll and feeling the full depths of your emotions releases the chemicals produced during a stress cycle and indicates to the body that all is safe.

Create! Artistic expression encourages us to connect with our big emotions and express them in a way that is safe.  Drawing, painting or writing are all great ways to complete the stress cycle.

3 Ways to Beat Burnout Everyday

Once you’ve cleared your residual stress build-up out of your system, you’ll want to take a few additional actions to ensure that you don’t end up burnt out again.

Boundaries. Setting boundaries on your time and energy.  Be clear about what is acceptable and what is not.  Over time, your actions will teach people what is ok and how to treat you.

Rest. Rest – not just sleep, but REST is key to being able to regulate our emotions and complete the stress cycle.  Since the beginning of the pandemic the average workday has increased by almost an hour and most of us aren’t taking the time off we have coming to us.  Book a few days off, take a staycation and allow yourself to truly rest. Disconnect completely for an hour a day.     

Support. Making new habits isn’t easy so don’t think that the same thinking that got you into burnout will get you out.  You can’t muscle your way through this.  Build your team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, doctors and therapists to ensure you have access to the support you need.  It’s going to take time, new habits and new thinking to build a sustainable approach to managing burnout. 

 

In short, we must learn to manage burnout and close out the stress cycle. 

We cannot simply tell our bodies they are safe and free from stress  — We must show them.

 

Disconnect from technology.

Spend time in nature.

Laugh with your loved ones.

Hold hands with someone you care about.

Ask for and receive that 20-second hug.

Your life depends on it!

Additional Resources

If you’re wondering if you’re at risk of burnout, take this quick and free assessment.  It’s never too late to start taking proactive steps to manage your health. 

If you want to further dive into this topic here are additional resources:

I write these articles to support leaders in becoming more effective by embracing all parts of themselves and increasing their capacity to practice empathy.

Thank you for being here.  

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InsideoutEmpathy

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