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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Avoid Burnout and Improve Your Well-Being

How to Avoid Burnout and Improve Your Well-Being

Learning how to avoid burnout is important for just about anyone with a job. Over time, work that we used to enjoy can become stale or overwhelming. This often happens when we move up in our career and find ourselves with more work or a routine that feels the same each day. The feelings of exhaustion and frustration that follow are typical of burnout.

When you begin to experience burnout, it can make you avoid work, question the value of your existence, and eat large quantities of Oreo cookies while watching bad television.

Is it possible to learn how to prevent burnout and stay in a productive rhythm? Here are 11 ways you can start safeguarding your life against burnout.

The Stages of Burnout

Most psychologists agree that there are 12 stages of burnout. While the early stages may simply feel like motivation, they can lead to overworking and running down your stores of energy. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, developing health problems, and feeling that you have no control over your work or life. 

Here are the 12 stages[1]:

  1. Excessive drive/ambition
  2. Pushing yourself to work harder
  3. Neglecting your own needs
  4. Displacement of conflict (blaming others for the stress you’re under)
  5. No time for nonwork-related needs
  6. Denial
  7. Withdrawal
  8. Behavioral changes
  9. Depersonalization (feeling detached)
  10. Inner emptiness or anxiety
  11. Depression
  12. Mental or physical collapse

If you reach the point of mental or physical collapse, you will have to work incredibly hard to regain your work-life balance. It’s best to identify burnout in the early stages so that you can correct course and get yourself back into a healthier routine for the long-term.

Here are some simple things you can try when you begin to recognize the symptoms of burnout.

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How to Avoid Burnout

1. Schedule Regular Social Activities

Remember when you used to spend time with people you were neither working with nor in a relationship with? You watched movies, ate meals, played games, and went on trips. You had a group of friends that you could have fun with and rely on during hard times.

You can regain some of that emotional fulfillment by contacting some of your old pals and scheduling regular activities. Sure, rafting in Alaska would be fun, but a monthly brunch with people you don’t see every day will do just fine.

The point of this exercise is to expand your social horizon and crush the feeling that you’re stuck doing the same thing every day. It can also help to have people to listen to your frustrations and help you find useful solutions to get back on track. It’s likely they’ve had a similar experience, so listen and learn as you’re trying to figure out how to avoid burnout.

2. Follow a Fitness Plan

Over the years, many of us learn to deal with stress by grabbing a bag of chips and sitting in front of the TV. However, that’s obviously not the best way to go about it. Instead of sitting on the couch when you get home, put on your workout outfit and go for a run or put an exercise video on YouTube for a home workout.

If you want to avoid burnout, resurrect that New Year’s Resolution and figure out what it takes to get you exercising on a regular basis. One study looking at the effects of physical activity, mindfulness meditation, and heart rate variability feedback found that all three interventions showed “an overall beneficial effect consisting of reduced stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and improved psychological well-being and sleep quality”[2].

Reduced stress and anxiety are directly connected to holding off burnout, but don’t underestimate the power of better sleep either. Better quality sleep can also improve well-being, enhance your focus and memory, and improve your overall mood, which are all key when learning how to avoid burnout.

3. Pursue a Hobby

Pick a hobby that has little or nothing to do with what you spend most of your week doing, and pursue it with passion! A hobby that uses an entirely different skill set can provide your heart and mind with a satisfying break from the weekly grind and set you on a good path for increased productivity.

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You probably won’t even need to worry about picking a new hobby. The one you abandoned when you sold your soul to the work week is waiting for you to return. Shine up those golf clubs, get out your canvas and paints, or take a book off your dusty shelf. Any of these will serve to pull you out of your work thoughts and into a more balanced headspace.

4. Volunteer

Nothing brightens the soul or warms the senses like giving to another for no reason other than to give. If you’re feeling run down by life, seek out somebody less fortunate than yourself and work to help them.

One study on older adults found that “volunteering slows the decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, slows the increase in depression levels, and improves mortality rates for those who volunteer”[3].

While you may not be an older adult, the same benefits can apply to you. Volunteering can help you minimize depression symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Reach out to your local soup kitchen or professional organization, and ask for referrals to local places that need your help. They’ll be glad to get you started, and you’ll soon forget about badly you thought you had it.

5. Write a Manifesto

Have you forgotten what you want out of life? It’s easy to lose track of time and even easier to forget about what makes us glad to be alive. It’s important to find this again if you want to learn how to avoid burnout.

What can you do to bring back that focus? Take a day or perhaps an entire weekend and write a manifesto, a declaration of purpose, or a vision statement for yourself.

The process will give you focus as you put your intentions into writing. You’ll also discover that stepping back and looking at your life as a whole has a way of putting the stresses of the moment into perspective.

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If you’re not sure what your manifesto should include or even where your priorities really lie, check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment. It will help you get a fresh perspective on where your life currently is and where you want it to go.

6. Ask for Help

This is a tough one, especially if you’re a resourceful I’ll-do-it-on-my-own type of person. However, it’s worth the time it takes to ask for help making sense of something that’s been dragging you down. Don’t let your pride get in the way of finding real solutions to the challenges you’re facing.

Whether your struggle is with a particular project or with something general, like time management, asking for help from a friend or team member will get you to a solution faster than you could ever hope to alone. If you want to avoid burnout, you’ll need to swallow your pride on occasion and reach out for help.

7. Make Others Laugh

Humor keeps us sane, even through the most stressful of circumstances, especially when we are learning how to avoid burnout. Laughter is fun and a great way to reduce stress. Even better, finding ways to make others laugh doesn’t just reduce stress for all involved. It allows you to begin viewing yourself as a source of fun and laughter in your social or work group.

You’ll find it hard to entertain unhappy thoughts when the people around you are excited and happy to be near you. There’s no need to be a genius comedian. Start out by learning a few good jokes cultivating your natural sense of humor.

8. Make an Escape List

An “escape list” is a list of everything you’d need to do in order to escape a situation that’s driving you nuts. In a work context, your escape list might include things like turning in a final presentation or asking for a raise. It might also include smaller things like submitting your resume to a new opportunity or drafting a letter of resignation.

You might never follow up on the items in your escape list, but the process of writing one will help clarify in your mind that you are not truly stuck. Your options may be limited, but there’s always a way to change or improve your life. Realizing this can be key as you learn how to avoid burnout.

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9. Embrace a Morning Ritual

Are you starting your day on the wrong foot by waking up late, rushing about, and skipping out the door at the last minute? Try slowing down your morning instead. Set your alarm a few minutes earlier than usual and spend the “extra” time sitting in a sunny spot in your living room with a cup of coffee and a good book.

As you slowly add more to your morning, you’ll develop a fierce attachment to “your” time because you’ve chosen to start your day with a focus on taking care of yourself instead of bursting out of bed like a bomb squad.

10. Stop Making Excuses

Is everything that’s dragging you down right now because of something your boss, partner, friend, or client did? Getting caught up in how much everybody else is screwing up will put you on the fast track to gray hair and a stupendous burnout.

Instead, accept responsibility for your part of the problems that plague you. Once you’ve given up on blaming others, you’ll start seeing more of the good in your life and the sordid claws of desperate, solitary thought will no longer draw you down.

11. Be Accountable

Accountability is something we’re all familiar with but rarely put into useful practice. You can use accountability to drive your personal development and avoid burnout. The trick is finding somebody you can trust to give you an honest account about what you’re trying to do and how you’re moving forward.

For best results, have your accountability partner NOT be a relative or somebody you’re dating. They typically won’t have the capacity for objective review of your progress. People who love you will often make excuses for you and you want to avoid excuses at all costs.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to avoid burnout takes time, and you’ll need to find what works for you and your situation. Burnout can happen to anyone, even if your job is enjoyable and stimulating overall. You may still reach a point where you feel that you aren’t moving forward and feel frustrated with your life.

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It’s these times when you need to pull out specific strategies to overcome burnout and move forward in a more helpful direction. Choose a few of the above to get you started.

More on Avoiding Burnout

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More by this author

Seth Simonds

Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

How to Avoid Burnout and Improve Your Well-Being 5 Simple Ways To Spread Positivity How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic 21 First Date Ideas 11 Sinfully Easy Sangria Recipes

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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