The busy professional’s guide to avoiding burnout by @_lauramclo

The busy professional’s guide to avoiding burnout

by Laura McLoughlin | Featured Contributor 

Burnout is a common problem for the modern professional. Long hours, and high stakes, combined with the added pressure of 24/7 connectivity and remote working, means that we are not only under pressure, but under pressure all the time. There is no escaping the internet, and it pushes many capable individuals to the point of professional exhaustion.

Burnouts manifest themselves in lots of ways, from insomnia and pessimism to loss of appetite. Personally, my burnout came with increased anxiety. I was nervous at work, worried at home, and even in my “downtime” I was constantly uneasy, waiting for my phone to buzz with another ‘urgent’ email.

The busy professional’s guide to avoiding burnout

The best way to escape your burnout longterm, I found, was not by drinking camomile tea or taking bubble baths, but by coming to understand your own boundaries – and enforcing them.

Here are just four tips I learned on making sure your work doesn’t bleed you dry:

Define your schedule

Schedules provide structure and organisation to your day and can help reduce stress.

Ideally, your schedule will include when you start work, when you finish, and when you will take your breaks in between. Having these points mapped out before you even get to work can really give you a sense of control over your day, and possibly notice what saps your time.

Regular breaks are also an important element of your day, even if you think you can’t afford to take them. A lunch break is also exceptionally important, despite the fact that most of us eat at our desks or don’t take one at all. These times allow us to decompress, and lead to a much more productive day.

Don’t overcommit

It can be hard to say no to colleagues when they need help, and harder still to tell your boss you don’t have time for a new task. However, it’s essential that you enforce your boundaries with those you work with and for, not because you are not capable or unhelpful, but because you simply cannot do anymore.

The best way to handle this is by comparing how long your current commitments will take to complete with the hours you want or are contracted to work. If they match up, that means you are at full capacity, and cannot take on any more work unless you swap something out. Express this to the coworker or manager who approaches you with additional work, and look at it as a logistic problem, rather than an emotional one.

Turn off your phone

Researchers have proven that being constantly connected to our phones puts us in an “ever-increasing state of hypervigilance”, which increases the release of stress hormones and leads to higher blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety levels. It can even upset your sleep quality. Therefore, it’s important to put some distance between yourself and your device, at least for a few hours.

For example, you might mute your notifications while writing an article, cranking out a report, or doing any task which requires extended concentration. After all, it’s been proven that constant pings and interruptions can set you back hours in your work day.

Of course, it’s also important to defend your personal time against your phone. Whether that is the moment you step outside the office or walk through the front door, decide what time belongs to you, and then mute your notifications. Charging it in another room from the one you relax or sleep in is also a good idea – out of sight, out of mind.

Do things you enjoy

In 2015, researchers found that people who regularly engaged in leisure activities were 34% less stressed during these activities, and not only did they feel happier, but their heart rates were lower, too. 

Hobbies are an important way to combat the signs of burnout. They allow us to disconnect and focus our energy on something less stressful and more enjoyable. Researchers also found that it didn’t matter what activity people did as long as they enjoyed it, so whether it’s mountain biking, reading or taking a walk out in the wilderness, make time for your chosen hobbies. 

It can be easy to feel like a job is eating you alive, so take back control and invest in what you love. It will not only make you happier, but more productive and creative too.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to separate our work and personal lives, as the two would work together harmoniously. However, the reality often is that our high-pressure jobs and tech use wear on our mental wellbeing to the point of exhaustion, and it’s important that we find ways to mitigate the causes of burnout.

In the beginning, it may feel like the boundaries you’ve set will be impossible to enforce on a day-to-day basis, but the longer you assert your limits and allow yourself time to decompress and destress, the easier it will become.

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