By Ted Miller
What is Burnout?
Many of us know all too well the dreadful feelings of being overwhelmed with balancing work, family, and daily obligations. When the demands of our life get too high, the repercussions can be significant and ultimately lead to unhealthy stress and burnout.
Techniques for Managing Burnout
As someone who has personally experienced burnout and worked with numerous clients who are currently experiencing or have dealt with it, I can attest to the overwhelming and debilitating effects it can have on our wellbeing. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of exhaustion, lack of motivation, and difficulty completing even the simplest tasks. The good news is that in both my personal and professional experience, I have found simple techniques that have proven to be highly effective in managing feelings of stress and burnout.
Managing burnout with mindfulness meditation
One of the most effective techniques I have found is mindfulness meditation. This can involve sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and allowing any thoughts that come up to pass without judgment. This practice can help us become more self-aware and better understand our emotions, which can help us respond to stressors in a more measured way. The practice of deep breathing, which is often a component of mindfulness, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of our nervous system that sends signals to your brain that you are safe, and don’t need to be using your fight or flight response. Ultimately, activating the parasympathetic nervous system allows us to relax.
The practice of mindfulness and meditation can help us become clear about areas of our lives that may be out of alignment. Often when we feel burned out, it signals that something needs to be changed in our life. There could be an area of your work life that is not working and needs to change, or maybe there is a problem in one of your relationships that isn’t being addressed and is adding to your overall stress levels. Practicing mindfulness and turning inward can help us gain awareness of unconscious stressors that need to be addressed. Even just ten minutes of mindfulness and meditation practice every day can have a noticeable impact on our wellbeing.
Anxiety is a common symptom of burnout that can exasperate feelings of burnout, leading to more anxiety and eventually creating a negative feedback loop. Getting any anxiety in check is one of the most important things you can do if you are experiencing burnout. Recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed medical journal, a major study was conducted involving 400 participants who reported significant anxiety and were broken into two control groups. One group was given the task of practicing mindfulness meditation for two months, and the other group was given antidepressant medications which are also used to treat anxiety. The study found that a daily meditation practice over the span of two months reduced anxiety symptoms in participants by at least as much as psychiatric medications, which was roughly 30% in both groups. (Hoge et al., 2022)
Managing burnout with physical exercise
In addition to meditation, exercise can be a powerful tool in combating feelings of burnout, as it can also help combat feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. It can also improve sleep quality, which is often disrupted by burnout. In addition to these physical benefits, exercise can also provide a sense of accomplishment and boost self-esteem, which can help combat feelings of inadequacy or failure that can contribute to burnout. When we exercise, it can also be a distraction, allowing us to take a break from work-related stress and focus on something else. For many people, exercising can have a grounding effect as you focus on your body in action, allowing yourself to be present in the moment instead of ruminating about the past or feeling anxious about the future.
Tips for managing burnout with self-care
The practice of prioritizing self-care can also go a long way in managing feelings of burnout. Here is a list of some self-care practices that you may want to consider if you are currently struggling with feelings of burnout.
1. Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for managing burnout. Make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
2. Time management: Set aside time for work, rest, and leisure. Try to prioritize your tasks and avoid overloading yourself.
3. Social support: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family; don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
4. Hobbies: Engage in activities outside of work that you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or playing a musical instrument.
5. Healthy eating: Fuel your body with nutritious meals to help improve your overall well-being.
6. Take breaks: It’s important to step away from work and give yourself time to relax and recharge.
7. Seek professional help: If you struggle to manage feelings of burnout, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
8. Say no: Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and say no to commitments that are not aligned with your goals and values.
Recognize the signs and get help for burnout today
Managing burnout and stress can be challenging, but it is possible. By implementing mindfulness techniques, exercise, and prioritizing self-care, we can manage these feelings and improve our wellbeing. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to ask for help and to take time to care for ourselves. By doing so, we can become more resilient and better equipped to handle the demands of daily life.
1. Elizabeth A. Hoge, Eric Bui, Mihriye Mete, Mary Ann Dutton, Amanda W. Baker, Naomi M. Simon. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders. JAMA Psychiatry, 2022; DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679