We’re four months into the year and it seems like the deadlines, projects, and assignments are running full force. But while this rapid pace may make you feel like you’re making major progress for a while, hustle without introspection or goals can quickly leave you feeling angry, unfulfilled, or even burnt out.
Burnout is a mental state that takes over when you least expect it. While it can come from a variety of causes (unclear expectations, demanding workplace environments, lack of support), a lot has to do with the fact that most of us embody a live to work mentality. Our “always on” mindset has not only blurred the lines between work and home, it also makes it harder to recognize being in control versus feeling overwhelmed.
When you’re running on pure adrenaline in the office for eight or more hours, it’s inevitable that this pace will catch up with you after you’ve punched out for the day—if not sooner. And if you let that pace follow you outside of the office, burnout is likely right around the corner. With 50 percent of full-time employees in the U.S. working more than 40 hours a week (some 18 percent logging more than 60 hours), the question is what can you do to fight the burn instead of feeling it?
Here are my four tips for keeping your cool even when burnout seems unavoidable:
- Recognize the signs
While most of us feel overwhelmed or stressed sometimes, every day shouldn’t feel like a bad day. If you’ve developed a cynical attitude about work that has you losing patience with your clients or coworkers, or you’re frequently too exhausted to focus on getting work done, these are some big signs that burnout has managed to creep its way into your life.The first step is preventing further mental or physical havoc by acknowledging that something’s amiss. Take stock of your current situation to pinpoint the cause(s). Sometimes burnout isn’t even work-related; spending time on social media can trigger a fear of missing out which, in combination with lifestyle or personality, can add more stress into the mix. Whatever the cause may be, if you can’t differentiate between being stressed and being relaxed, you’ve got a problem. Once you take the time and effort to make that realization, you’re ready to get back on track.
- Seriously, take a break
Don’t underestimate the power of stepping away. Whether you go for a walk around the building or have a quick 10 minute meditation at your desk, research shows that the best way to refresh yourself and reduce fatigue is to take a mid-morning break by doing something that brings you joy.Better yet, take a vacation. Not only can this help to refill your innovation reservoirs, it also provides you with an extended mental and physical pause so that you can see your situation from a different perspective and regain focus. If you don’t have the option to take a vacation just yet, go hike a new trail in the area, see that local exhibit you’ve been meaning to check out or find some other way to step out and do something different.
- Call for backup
Everyone—from the CEO down to the newly-hired mailroom intern—is susceptible to burnout, and a solid support system is essential for both prevention and recovery.The irony of technology and social media is that while it keeps us all connected, it simultaneously isolates us from one another. Luckily, there’s nothing like a genuine face-to-face interaction to help regain perspective. For leaders and employees alike, it’s important to let your team members know that you’re available, both to help them think through the issues they’re experiencing and to help them see a way through them.
- Live and learn
One positive result of burnout is that it gives you insight into your limits. Like most things in life, you should treat times like this as a learning experience: something essential in order for you to reflect and remind yourself how you got burnt out in the first place.Once you recognize your path to burnout, you’ll more easily be able to navigate around it. Get out of your routine; sleep; constantly evaluate yourself; exercise; seek social support; give yourself an opportunity to do something different and reward yourself. Successfully avoiding burnout takes a conscious effort that includes reflection, retooling, and replenishment—and it never ends.
Burnout is the kryptonite to your personal and professional success. By learning to recognize when you’re headed for trouble, and by being conscious and mindful of your actions, you’ll be in a better place to stop burnout before it happens—and effectively fight it if it manages to sneak up on you.