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Avoiding burnout

with Holly & Co resident coach

If you’re reading this article, chances are you have recently made a discovery. You might have been trying to work out why you’ve been a bit snappier than usual (sorry Post Office Queue Lady), or how even after an exhausting day you still spend hours staring at the ceiling when you should be sleeping. If within the last two sentences you’ve stopped to check your watch or your inbox (and feel slightly nauseous after doing so), there is a high probability that you are burning out. You have a thousand pots on the boil, being everything to everyone and trying to do it efficiently, effectively and constructively — which is no mean feat. However, if that roaring life fire inside of you is spreading rapidly, getting out of control and in danger of razing everything to the ground, don’t worry, you’re not alone and furthermore, you can prevent it. 

According to Indeed, 67% of all workers believe burnout has worsened over the course of the pandemic¹. Never before have we had to battle with such chronic uncertainty and anxiety. The good news is though, burnout does not have to be a long-term condition that you will suffer with forevermore. Our resident business psychologist and coach, Kate, shows us how we can start identifying and disrupting the habits that are keeping us stuck, focusing on what energy sources keep us functioning at our best and how we can put boundaries around the ‘non-negotiables’ in our week.

Calm your nervous state

It may seem simple, but a few long and deep breaths can work wonders to relax your nervous system. A long intake of breath sends a signal to your brain to calm your body down. Your racing heart rate will decrease, and your blood pressure will lower. When you are stressed your brain’s frontal cortex, the hub of creativity, is compromised and your ability to make logical or innovative decisions becomes threatened. Research shows that over 70% of us are not breathing properly². Human beings tend to breathe shallowly, which limits the range of motion of the diaphragm and the lack of oxygenated air can cause significant anxiety³. Recognising the red flags your body sends you when you are stressed and immediately responding with some guided breathing exercises can be a speedy solution to help prevent the maintained tension which leads to burnout. If you’re searching for effective breathing exercises, head to Holly’s IGTV where she did a breathwork tutorial with Mind You Club founder Sophie Belle. A few minutes a day will help keep stress at bay.

Disrupt harmful habits

What habits in life do you find constantly serve to trip you up? The festive season for example, is a time where we cleverly disguise the tasks which lead to exhaustion as ‘traditions’ that must be adhered to at all costs. Sending Christmas cards is a lovely way of keeping in touch, but in a year where you’ve been in constant firefighting mode, staying up into the midnight hours penning a thoughtful card to your second cousin’s neighbour is not going to be doing you any favours. “Oh, but I’ve done it every year!”, you cry. Part of avoiding burnout is to review the things in your life that are causing unnecessary stress and take proactive steps to alleviate those pressure points. Why not send a card to everyone in the new year when things have quieted down, or perhaps cull your Christmas card list to only those you connect with frequently? What can you do now to get ahead for next Christmas? Breaking the cycle and limiting the ‘to-do’ list will ensure you’re not overwhelmed during the busiest periods of the year.

Protect your energy sources

If you’ve walked the dog at 8:30, designed a new product at 9:45, and are packaging up orders at 11, having a chocolate biscuit and half a cup of cold tea for ‘lunch’ is going to mean that your body is under strain for the rest of the day. Similarly, if the only interaction you are having with nature is your desktop background, it’s no wonder that everything is getting on top of you. Energy can come from different sources. Whether it be a conversation with a friend that gives you that brilliant boost, or an afternoon stroll around your favourite park watching the geese squabble over stale bread crusts, identifying what best feeds your body and your soul and ensuring you regularly have those moments of enrichment will ward off the tension and feelings of exhaustion that characterise burnout.

Try to keep in mind that your body is the container of all your creative brilliance, and if it is not kept nourished it will start performing like a colander rather than a racing car. Too often, working over and above, and depriving ourselves of socialisation and rest, are seen as badges of honour but eating regular meals, spending time with those you love and breathing in fresh air, will give you the rocket fuel you need to smash through all your must-dos.

Ring fence your non-negotiables

In an ideal world we could fit everything into a single day, but more often than not something has got to give. Mostly, it’s the things that really matter to us that get shunted off into the sidings as pressures are prioritised. Looking at your week and identifying the zones of flexibility and the ‘non-negotiables’ will help put you in control and will ensure that the things that are important to you don’t get zapped off the list. Non-negotiables might be things like picking your kids up from school twice a week, or doing a weekly personal training session in the morning. They are the actions that give you energy and make you feel good, so are the handful of things on your list that you should most protect. If the rest doesn’t get done on that day, it doesn’t matter as you can’t possibly fit everything in. So identify other times in the week that might work instead and ring fence those. Then if a supplier asks for a meeting at 3pm on a school run day, for example, having also identified ‘moments of flexibility’ in your week will help you to manage your time: “Sorry, I can’t do Thursday afternoons, however on Friday we could have a discussion anytime between 11 and 2”.

One of the frequent blockers to many of us is that we believe we have no time, but actually, more often than not, there are plenty of moments in the day that are available to us. In our heightened states of stress we lose sight of how much power we personally have over our diary. “There’s always time”, says Kate, “you have 24 hours, and how you use that time is largely a choice.” By working out where you will and will not compromise, you can prevent burnout and help eradicate guilt about what you have and haven’t achieved in your week. 

Be a flame not a firework

Life is a marathon not a sprint, but the hurtling pace of modern existence can make us feel like a firework, blazing brightly one moment and withering moments after. Consistency is key. Building weeks that blend vital moments of rest and enrichment with the must-do tasks, and ensuring your body is well-fuelled and cared for, will help you function productively and creatively. Disrupt negative habits, identify and protect your non-negotiables and you’ll soon find that ‘burning out’ is one of the important things that comes off your ‘things to do’ list.

One of the frequent blockers to many of us is that we believe we have no time, but actually, more often than not, there are plenty of moments in the day that are available to us. In our heightened states of stress we lose sight of how much power we personally have over our diary.

Kate Downey-Evans is a qualified business psychologist, with over 15 years worth of experience in some of the world’s largest corporations, including Bupa and HSBC. In 2019, Kate launched The Green Door Project to help both individuals and organisations discover the hidden diamonds, unlock their potential and achieve the extraordinary.

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