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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Avoid Burnout and Improve Your Well-Being

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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

Reference

More by this author

Seth Simonds

Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2021

7 Daily Stress-Management Rituals that Improve Your Productivity

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7 Daily Stress-Management Rituals that Improve Your Productivity

If you’re trying to be as productive as possible, stress will always be your biggest obstacle—and it’s not an easy one to overcome. To do it, you’ll need to develop a plan to make stress management a core component of your daily routine, but doing that takes commitment. The good news is that if you succeed in learning how to manage stress, you’ll unlock your potential and be well on your way to peak performance. But first, you need to learn how to make it happen.

The best way to do that is to learn about and integrate some stress management rituals into your daily routine. To help you get started, here are seven tips on how to manage stress and improve your productivity.

1. Give Yourself an Extra Hour in the Morning

If you were to do some research on some of the world’s most successful—and productive—people, you’d notice that many of them have one thing in common: they tend to be early risers. Apple’s Tim Cook gets out of bed before 4 AM each day.[1] Michelle Obama is already getting in her daily workout at 4:30 AM.[2] Richard Branson gets up at 5:45 AM each day, even when he’s vacationing on his private island.

There’s a good reason why they all do it—once you reach the point in your day that your work schedule kicks in, you no longer have control of your time. That means you have a limited opportunity every morning to reduce your stress by taking care of the things you need to do without anyone making other demands on your time.

What’s important about this isn’t the time you get up. The important part is getting up early enough to start your day without feeling rushed. For most people, getting up an hour earlier than you normally would is sufficient. This should give you ample time to complete your morning tasks without having to hurry or fall behind.

But when you implement this ritual, be careful. Don’t do it at the cost of getting the right amount of sleep each night. If you do, you might increase your stress instead of relieving it. Sticking to a proper sleep schedule and getting enough sleep is, in itself, a critical part of stress management.[3]

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2. Determine and Review Your Most Important Tasks Each Day

If there’s one productivity tip that almost all experts agree on, it’s that you should spend some time before bed each night to write down your three most important tasks for the following day. But if you want to maximize that practice and turn it into a stress-buster, you should turn that notion on its head.

Instead, you should do this as a part of your morning routine. There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s that our always-on, always-connected business world means your priorities can change overnight, literally. You may list your top priorities, go to sleep, and wake up to find them woefully out of date. That means the best time to set your priorities for the day is in the morning. This will keep those priorities up to date and let you think about them before the distractions of the day begin. But don’t stop there. You should take some time before bed each night to review that day’s priorities.

Ideally, you’ll be able to check them off as accomplished. If not, though, think about what prevented you from getting to them. This is your chance to figure out some of the common daily interruptions that get in your way. Chances are, these also cause some of your stress. So, spend the time before bed game-planning how to remove those interruptions and stressors from your day. If you make this a habit, you’ll be more productive and far less stressed out in no time.

3. Save Your Emails for Later in the Morning

Another tip on how to manage stress is to save your emails for later. One of the key causes of stress comes from our inability to cope with the unexpected. If you stop to think about it, what is your most prominent source of near-constant unexpected information every day? You guessed it—it’s your email.

Now, you can’t simply ignore your email. The only thing you can do about your email is to learn how to manage it most effectively. But no matter what you do, it’s going to remain a source of daily stress and distraction. That’s why you should make a habit out of giving yourself an email-free hour or two at the beginning of each day’s schedule.

In that time, try to tackle one of your daily priorities and get it taken care of. Your email will still be there when you’re done. And when you do get to it, you’ll do so in a much better frame of mind knowing that you’ve already gotten some real work done before having to deal with anything unexpected. That alone will improve your mood and reduce the amount of stress you’ll feel—no matter what’s waiting for you in your inbox.

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4. Take a Walk After Email Time

Since you’ll have to deal with your email sooner or later, there’s no way to completely avoid the stress that will come with it. Although you’ll be in a better frame of mind after putting off your email to get some real work done, you’ll still feel some stress when you get to it. That’s why you should make a post-email walk a part of your daily routine.

Taking a walk is one of the best ways you can relieve stress. It’s a form of meditation that will put you back into the right condition to be productive, and there’s no better time to do it each day than after taking care of your emails.

Ideally, you’ll want to take a walk outdoors, and preferably in the most natural setting possible. If you’re in an urban environment, a nearby park will suffice. Studies have demonstrated that walking in such environments for as little as 20 minutes per day leads to an overall reduction in the body’s cortisol level.[4]

Cortisol, if you’re not aware, is your body’s main stress hormone. It helps regulate your blood pressure, energy levels, and even your sleep cycle. Every time your stress goes up, cortisol production also increases, throwing your body into chaos. So, taking a walk right after dealing with your email will help you to relax, reset, and get ready to be productive for the rest of the day.

5. Reserve Time to Research and Plan a Vacation

By now, everybody knows that taking vacations every now and then can improve your productivity and lower your stress level. But did you know that even thinking about a vacation can help you to reduce your stress? It may sound strange, but it’s true.

A Cornell University study in 2012 found that the anticipation of a positive experience—like a vacation—can reduce stress and make you measurably happier. It logically follows, then, that adding to that anticipation each day can maximize the stress-relieving effects of a vacation.[5]

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To do it, set aside at least a half-hour each day to research or plan an upcoming vacation. You can read about destinations. You can research airfares. You can even look at places to stay in locations you’re interested in visiting. And if you’ve already got a vacation booked, use the time to take a deep dive into what your destination has to offer.

This is an especially important daily ritual to observe right now, while the COVID-19 pandemic may be limiting your vacation options. If it’s been a while since you’ve been able to take a trip, the act of planning your next vacation will have a therapeutic effect. With vacation rental bookings still hovering below 50% in most major markets, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of people are in desperate need of their next stress-relieving vacation.[6]

6. Create a Shutdown Ritual to End Your Day

Another simple yet effective way to manage stress is to create a shutdown ritual. Just as it’s important to get your day off to a stress-free, unhurried start, you’ll want to do the same when the day is through. It’s because after spending each day in a reactive mode—dealing with the unexpected—you need to get back into a proactive mode to relax.

Studies have shown that having the perception of control over what you’re going through acts as a buffer against negative stress.[7] In other words, feeling like you can manage even a small chunk of your own time counteracts the stress from the parts of your day when you can’t.

This also means that your shutdown ritual can be whatever you want it to be. You might write in a journal, get in a quick light workout, or prepare your outfit for the following day. As long as you’re the one in complete control over what you’re doing, anything goes. Just make sure that you include the aforementioned review of your daily priorities somewhere in your routine!

7. Set a No-Screens Rule to End Your Day

Even though your shutdown routine is important, there’s one more ritual to include before bedtime that will help you manage stress. Spend the last 30 minutes to an hour before you plan to go to sleep observing a strict no-screens rule. Not only will this give you time to disconnect from the stresses of your day, but it will also allow your body to make a transition into a proper sleep mode.

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The screens we use—smartphones, tablets, laptops—all emit a wavelength of blue light that disrupts our sleep patterns. It’s the same type of light that our bodies recognize as daytime, so seeing it is like telling your brain that it’s the wrong time to be asleep.[8]

By eliminating all sources of this type of light before bedtime, you’ll increase your odds of getting restful, deep sleep. And since getting proper sleep is one of the best ways to manage your stress, this is the perfect way for you to end each day.

Final Thoughts

Although a totally stress-free lifestyle would lend itself to achieving maximum productivity, not many people will ever manage to live that way. So, the next best thing is to work some or all of these daily stress-busting rituals into your day to minimize the inevitable stress instead. Doing so will put you in the best possible position to succeed. And there’s no better antidote for stress than to make the most out of every day no matter what it has to throw at you.

More Tips on How to Manage Stress

Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

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