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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.

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

Reference

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 May 13, 2021

How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels

How Physical Inactivity Affects Your Energy Levels

We’ve all heard people say, “I’m too tired to exercise.” Perhaps, we also say this excuse ourselves when others ask why we don’t consistently engage in physical activities. According to The Heart Foundation, this is the number one reason given for physical inactivity.[1]

This is a paradox because we need the energy to exercise and yet, one major effect of physical inactivity is having depleted energy levels, which makes it extremely difficult to get moving in the first place. Oxygen is a key energy-producing fuel source, and lack of exercise limits oxygen supply to our brains and bodies, creating an energy slump.

So, how does physical inactivity affects our energy levels?

Low energy levels do more than just leave us feeling sluggish and unmotivated. The effects of physical inactivity set off a domino effect that topples our ability to focus, make smart decisions, manage our mood, build resilience against stress, and perform at our highest capacity—basically, all the fundamental pillars of maintaining optimal energy levels.

Left unchecked, this can lead to discontent in our own lives and create a ripple that impacts everyone around us.

There’s good news, though. You don’t have to suffer through hours at the gym, force yourself out of bed for a crack-of-dawn jog, or endure other such unpleasantries to shift this dynamic for yourself.

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Here are some of the ways the effects of physical inactivity play out in various areas of our lives and also some simple, painless activities to try that will enhance your energy levels.

1. The Relational Element

Do you ever feel drained of energy when you’re caught up in an argument with your partner or when your kid is having a meltdown? It’s like someone pulled the plug and every last drop of your life force is flushed down the tubes.

It turns out that a lack of physical activity could be a factor in this phenomenon. One study found that when people exercise, it creates a cascade of positive interactions with friends and family on the day of—as well as the day following—the activity.[2]

Better Together

These benefits are increased when we exercise with our loved ones. Next time you sense an impending family feud, take a timeout for some physical activity together. I remember many occasions when my own kids were toddlers, ditching our plans in a moment of frustration to go outside together quickly moved the day’s trajectory onto a more positive track, even if it was for just a few minutes. This still rings true today in their teen and preteen years. Though persuading them to change gears can require a bit more patience these days, it’s always well worth it!

Play a game of basketball or tennis. Bike around the block. Trek through your nearest trail or green space. Go critter spotting at a local park or in your own backyard. Not only can this tactic help diffuse a situation before it becomes volatile, but if you make it a habit, you’re also likely to notice an overall reduction in these energy-draining moments.

2. The Mental/Emotional Element

An estimated 40 million adults suffer anxiety disorders in the US alone.[3] When we are triggered by a threat, whether real or perceived, our brains pump out hormones to help us cope in what’s known as the “fight – flight – freeze” response. The aftermath can feel like a massive depletion of our energy.

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Sleep is an excellent method for recovering, but continuous anxious thoughts often make this difficult. Physical inactivity compounds this because it means we’re losing out on one of the most effective natural methods for regulating our sleeping patterns. Exercise also promotes mental clarity by effectively wiping our minds and bodies of the excess stress hormones instigated by anxiety.

Natural Regulators

It’s not only anxiety disorders that bungle our energy levels. Everyday stresses and mood fluctuations can make us feel like we’re stuck on an exhausting rollercoaster of emotion.

Physical inactivity contributes to the depletion of serotonin and dopamine—chemicals that help naturally regulate our mood and energy. Physical activity boosts these chemicals which enhances activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of our brains responsible for higher-ordered thinking).[4] This process calms the limbic brain (our emotional headquarters), automatically shutting down energy-wasting emotional triggers.

3. The Intuitive/Spiritual Element

Exercise helps us grow our mind-body awareness while we learn to move out of our logical thought processes. The more we tune into our bodies and what they are telling us, the better we can tap into our inner knowing. We can stop using up our energy chasing after solutions or validation that comes from outside ourselves.

Our connectivity to the Universe or a higher power can be a catalyst for improving our energy levels as well. There are several approaches to enhance this through physical activity. Yoga and Tai Chi, for instance, are well-known spiritual practices used for centuries to connect mind, body, and spirit. From a Western perspective, they also help to create harmony between our needs for “achievement” energy and “restful” energy. Too much focus on either end of the spectrum can lead to burnout or depression.

A Powerful Combination

Meditation is another spiritual custom that is also a proven energy booster.[5] Unfortunately, sitting still and calming our minds can be a struggle, especially for people with anxiety issues.

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“Walking meditation” is one ritual that makes this easier while providing the powerful energy-boosting combination of both physical activity and intentional reflection. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley describes this as a “basic method for cultivating mindfulness . . ., which involves focusing closely on the physical experience of walking, paying attention to the specific components of each step.”[6]

Hiking in nature also counteracts physical inactivity while helping us reconnect with our spirituality by calling our attention to the wonders of the world beyond ourselves. Awe-inspiring experiences contribute to positive changes in mood, attitude, and behavior. This enhances our energy levels by freeing up our mental space from overthinking and negativity. We can trust in our own inner knowing and lean into the belief that the Universe always has our backs.

4. The Self-Mastery Element

How energetic do you feel when your inner critic is saying you’re “too weak,” “too old,” or “too broken” to achieve your greatest goals and live your full purpose in life? It drags you down, right?

When our brains believe these negative thoughts, it exhausts our energy levels, but fortunately, there is a simple method for counteracting these lies.

You guessed it—exercise.

Physical accomplishments change our self-perception and boost our feelings of empowerment and self-worth. The agility and flexibility gains we achieve through repetitive practice of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), martial arts, or metabolic conditioning sessions, for example, create neural patterns in our brains. This carries over and rewires our mind-body for grit, strength, coordination, and resilience in all areas of our lives. What could feel more energizing than knowing you are powerful and capable of overcoming any challenge that comes your way?

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Express Yourself

Our energy levels can also be improved through self-expressive activities (e.g., dance) by helping us unpack a mess of emotions that may be bogging us down. Reaping the rewards of physical activity doesn’t require us to be focused on appearance or weight. Just find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good to move your body, whether it’s a salsa class or a favorite sport, Pilates or Zumba, or just a stroll through the neighborhood.

We don’t have to jump in with the go-getter approach we tend to take with most endeavors either. We don’t even need to be what we would consider athletic, artistic, or dramatic. All that’s required is to take one step forward with a focus on personal progress. Remove the expectations, self-judgment, and comparisons, and watch yourself bloom.

5. Energy Beyond Exercise

Globally, one in four adults does not meet recommended levels of physical activity, according to WHO.[7] While it is important to understand the ramifications that inadequate exercise can have on our health and longevity, this is just one part of the equation. There is far more at stake here.

Modern living enables us to achieve most of our daily needs with the least amount of physical effort possible. Not only do we not exercise enough, but we also rarely move our bodies at all—except from couch to fridge or from the doorstep to the car.

Physical inactivity robs us of powerful elements that enrich our lives—deeper connections with ourselves, our loved ones, our inner peace, and the vastness of the Universe around us. Our ability to feel fulfilled and successful in life hinges on the link between movement and vitality. Simply put, physical inactivity dwindles our energy at every level.

Here is a breakdown to help you fit it into your schedule with ease: On each of 5 days per week, do 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (HIIT, jogging, metabolic conditioning, or fast swimming or biking) or 30 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, dancing, hiking, tennis, or water aerobics). And remember, any form of movement is better than none.

More About the Importance of Physical Activity

Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Heart Foundation: The Top 10 Excuses for Not Exercising
[2] Science Direct: The cascade of positive events: Does exercise on a given day increase the frequency of additional positive events?
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts and Statistics
[4] American Psychological Association: Working out boosts brain health
[5] NCBI: Meditation: Process and Effects
[6] Greater Good Science Center: Walking Meditation Practice
[7] World Health Organization: Physical activity fact sheet

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