Not sure if you’ve heard yet, but ‘the grind’ really isn’t that cool. Being super stressed at work or so busy that you’re not sleeping well should not be glorified. Why? Because it’s not good for your mind or body. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves we won’t be able to take care of anything else (work, children, clients, employees, etc.), plus, many micro-stressors accumulate and begin to wreak havoc on the body, mind and emotional state.
So many symptoms of stress or burnout seem normal because society has made them normal, but in reality they really shouldn’t be happening. We have to respect the natural cycles and rhythms of the body. Do you need that 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee to function each day? Do you find it hard to wind down at the end of the day, perhaps laying awake at night unable to fall asleep? Is the simple task of opening your email inbox feeling like a huge burden? Or, perhaps you struggle to maintain focus or feel irritable? These are all little signals from the body, perhaps indicating imbalance. Poor state transition (waking up, calming down), feeling reactive or snappy, a mind that won’t focus can all be signs that our autonomic nervous system is a little frazzled.
It’s important to note, you are not alone. In fact, Deloitte ran a survey of 1,000 full-time US professionals, which explored the drivers and impact of employee burnout. They found 77% of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence. While a lot of this likely stems from companies not having sufficient wellness programs in place, I encourage people to proactively work on overcoming burnout themselves. It is your personal responsibility to ensure you are looking after yourself.
In addition to simply feeling crappy with burn out, studies show that productivity plummets when people are burnt out. Burnout has been found to be associated with a decline in three main cognitive functions: executive function, attention and memory. Finding it difficult to make decisions? Can’t keep focused on one task? Can’t remember if that email was sent? Maybe heightened levels of stress are to blame for disrupting your cognition.
So what can we do about burn out?
We need to start using tools to reboot the system and deal with the stress or burnout. Let's take a look at a few options for individuals to use on their own to help mitigate feelings of exhaustion, stress, inefficacy and negativity.
Breathwork and Meditation
Breathwork can be used in a variety of ways to help with stress and burnout. We can re-learn, and re-wire how we respond to a stressful situation through the breath. The breath is unique in the fact that it is both automatic and under our control. So we can either let it control us, or we can control it. When we take control of the breath we are able to direct our nervous system, or physiology and even our psychology. You can use breathwork as a daily routine for “unwinding” or creating more energy in the morning before you start your day. Utilizing deep breathing techniques can help you easily drop into a meditative state. Why is it useful to drop into this “do nothing” type state? It helps to replenish you both physiologically and psychologically. We are not designed to ‘go, go, go’ without stopping. We actually are designed to have peaks of attention and demand, followed by valleys of restoration. We can ensure these valleys replenish us by shifting into a state of meditative relaxation.
Breath is 100% free, accessible to everyone, at all times, and has an immediate effect on the nervous system, mind, body and emotional state. Understanding how your breath works can be a stepping stone to more balance in your life.
You can check out some of my guided breathing videos on YouTube here to give it a try. Or, if this isn't your thing, I invite you to find your own meditation. A relaxing hike, a swim or a read. Perhaps just some simple movement. Just one thing to note, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but watching television or the news, or scrolling on social media is not necessarily considered relaxation. Why? It is simply more stimulus. It might feel like you tune out, but the nervous system is picking up on the more subtle undercurrents and often we again are taken back to a heightened state of emotion or arousal.
In a study from South Africa, it was found that burnout was significantly related to sleep difficulties. Not surprising, but what can we do about it? Sleep is one of THE most important paths forward for your health. Today, there are so many people that have the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality, where we want to work late into the evening to get things done or have an unhealthy routine with sleep -- going to bed at 9pm on Tuesdays and 2am on Fridays. We will dive deeper into sleep in a later blog but here are some simple strategies to get started:
Try to be consistent with the time that you go to bed and the time that you wake. It is better to pick a time and stick to it and allow our body to tune in to that cycle than chop and change frequently.
Light and sleep
We evolved with the rising and setting of the sun. But with the introduction of artificial light it is very easy to fall out of sync with these cycles. Try to get sunlight in your eyes for about 5 minutes, as close to when you wake as possible (before 9am) and ideally an additional 5 mins around sunset. This helps to set our bodies sleep/wake cycles. After sundown, try to limit artificial light!
Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors. Adenosine builds up throughout the day to make us sleepy. Caffeine has a half-life of around 5 hours, which simply means it takes quite a long time for caffeine to leave the body. Try to limit caffeine intake after 2pm.
Setting Boundaries & Taking Breaks
This is something that I think most people don’t think about often because, a lot of times, we’re either pleasing others or thinking that ‘the grind’ is the only way forward. It’s important to note that you can set boundaries in many ways. What isn’t serving you in your life? Can you let it go? How about the number of hours you’re working for your job? Is it REALLY necessary, or can you have that difficult conversation with your boss about your time and how you need it to be respected? Do you take your work life into your personal life, replying to emails late at night, taking phone calls during off hours. This is not necessarily my place to say, but I do think it’s worth a thought in your mind. If you put all of your energy, time and effort into grinding at work, and you are left a frazzled, jittery shell of a person in the evenings and on weekends, it might be worth re-assessing your priorities. Your number one priority should be treating yourself well!
If you or your employees are struggling with burn out and need further advice, feel free to reach out to talk about my programs available. Remember, health is wealth.