Burn out is the new normal - here's what to do
It’s no secret amongst those working in the professions that stress, over-work and pressure comes with the territory.
For many, the love of the adrenaline rush, competition and learning are what draws individuals in the first place.
But for many professionals the ‘drip, drip’ effect of client demands, long working hours, competing deadlines and constant interruptions eventually takes its toll.
Ignoring burn-out is perilous for the health of professionals (and anyone else!), their ability to stay in their chosen profession for the long-term, and to serve their clients competitively.
Taking measures to avoid burn-out could make all the difference between your greatest talent staying with you or jumping ship unnecessarily.
What are the common signs of burn-out?
One of the biggest challenges of burn-out is that it is often gradual and insidious, and individuals are often a bit too late in realising what it is.
The World Health Organisation will be revising the definition of burn-out this year as “not a single event but a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental or physical health”.
The first step in helping you guard against burn-out is to be aware of what the signs might be. In my experience working with my clients the most common symptoms are:
If those symptoms seem familiar to you then fear not.
Even if you can’t change how your workplace operates, there are a couple of simple ways you can regain some calm, enjoy more clarity and love your work a little more.
A ‘time-out’ technique
When I work with clients who struggle to feel calm I teach them this simple yet powerful technique for them to use throughout the day for a minute at a time.
As soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, stop what you’re doing for a couple of minutes and engage your peripheral vision.
This means softening your gaze and widening it so that you will be able to see more on your left and right sides and then extend it upwards and downwards, so you can see more of what is above and below you.
You may find that your focus softens to the point where it becomes slightly fuzzy which is fine provided you feel comfortable.
You can do this for as long as it takes for you to feel more relaxed and usually a minute or so is enough to experience a difference.
This technique is so effective because it brings you back to the present moment and forces your mind to be fully occupied with the task of noticing what is contained within your full field of vision.
It also helps you slow down your mind as the technique doesn’t require thought: you are either engaging your peripheral vision or you are not.
People who take the time to practice this find that they experience greater calm and their internal chatter becomes quieter or stops completely.
Why not experiment with this technique and be curious about how it makes you feel different when you use it.
You can do it any time and as many times in the day as you want a ‘time-out’ to slow down, give yourself some space and re-charge.
Re-think your leisure time
When we experience burn-out our energy levels can dip, often resulting in a very understandable desire to spend our non-working time ‘slobbing’.
That might mean binge watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through social media.
I’m as partial to a box set as the next person but I have learned (and research on ‘flow’ states has told us) that passive activities like watching TV actually drains us of energy.
Your leisure time is precious, and it can support your emotional well-being if you use it wisely.
Do you have hobbies and activities you love to do that have fallen by the wayside because you thought you didn’t have enough time or energy?
My clients find if they make the commitment to go to that Spanish course or take up football again, the time and energy side takes care of itself.
I understand that when you have a busy work and family life, finding time for you can be a real challenge.
Even if it’s just an hour a week spent doing something that fascinates you, excites you or boosts your energy it can make all the difference in tipping the balance towards your well-being.
If you want to prioritise relaxation, do that in a way that feels like a real treat so you are engaging with it in an active way.
Luxuriate in a bubble bath, do some yoga or just curl up with a book you can get lost in.
Why not commit to a small act of self-care every day as a gesture to putting your well-being first?
Choose something that is so easy to do you can’t excuse your way out of it and over the long term you will reap the benefits.
Why commit to yourself?
There may be some of you who are thinking this all sounds incredibly self-indulgent and that you couldn’t make these kind of self-care commitments to yourself.
My question to you is: why not?
How could life be different for you if you were to show the same level of commitment to preserving your health that you do in service to your clients?
If you never say ‘no’ to your clients, why would you keep saying ‘no’ to yourself?
Another question to focus your priorities is to ask yourself: what will my life be like in 10 years’ time if nothing changes?
If you don’t like the answer to that question act now so that your future self will thank you.
To your burn out free future,
Sally Heady is a former Solicitor who works with professionals to help them overcome burnout and create a working life they love. Sally works with 1-1 clients in Manchester and online and regularly runs workshops and corporate wellness events.