Four Strategies to Help Beat Burnout

Many clients come to me seeking strategies for work-life balance. After listening, showing compassion, and asking some key questions, I tell them I hate to be the one to burst their bubble – but there is no such thing as work-life balance.

If you find yourself hoping for the day when your personal life and your work life reach equilibrium – stop waiting – it’s never going to happen!

People want work-life balance because they feel burned out. The definition of “burnout” is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when one feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.

Burnout is no respecter of persons.  According to a Harris Poll survey, while the same percentage of women and men reported feeling burnout in their work life, 35% of women felt burnout at home compared to 25% of men.

Overcoming burnout requires reframing work-life balancing to work-life managing. The good news is that achieving work-life management, like other management areas is accessible to you. There are concrete, actionable steps that can help you reduce and/or overcome your burnout.

Like a good doctor who diagnoses before prescribing a medication, we need to take a closer look at some of the signs and causes behind burnout.

Do any of the following sound familiar:

  • Feeling tired, drained, overwhelmed most of the time?
  • Having trouble sleeping, loss or increase of appetite?
  • Sensing a decline in initiative or confidence?
  • Having a hard time staying motivated, or seeing the glass half-empty instead of half-full?
  • Changing behavior such as withdrawing, sleeping more or less, procrastinating, self-medicating, or being short tempered – even with those you love?

Feeling any of these things, having an occasional bad day, wanting to play hooky instead of working, or just feeling the need to do what you want to do instead of what you have to do once in a while is not burnout.  The time for concern and action is when these feelings occur often enough and to a degree that your daily life is being negatively impacted.

What are some of the underlying causes of burnout?

Perhaps there is more work than you can possibly get done even after working more and more hours? Or, it could be feeling like things are being done “to” you and that you have no control.

The societal current state could be a contributor. Perhaps you no longer feel like you belong, that you matter, or that you are making a difference. Maybe the work is no longer leaving you fulfilled and/or you feel trapped where you are.

As a recovering (not recovered) workaholic, I know what triggers burnout for me. Sometimes I see it coming. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t recognize it until I am on the other side of it.

For me, it can be unexpected incoming work on top of an already full plate, or working longer and longer hours without seemingly make a dent in the workload. It can also be about people, the worry that I’m letting others down, or striving for perfection when good would be good enough, or saying yes when I should have said no.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that burnout has become so common that it recently added it to their International Classification of Diseases. By now, you might be saying to yourself… at least I’m not the only one.  If you’re feeling a sense of solidarity, I am happy about that. However, my goal is to not just give you someone to identify with, but to give you things you can do to get you out of the state you’re in.

Since there are a multitude of reasons behind burnout, and one size remedy doesn’t fit all, here are a few tips that may help:

  1. Hit the pause button.
    Slow down enough to get in touch with you.
  2. Ask yourself, “Have I experienced this before?” And if yes, what was the outcome? What changes did I make that helped me get back on track?
  3. Create white space in your calendar and in your life.
    I can almost hear you saying, “Joan, you don’t understand there aren’t enough hours in the day/week now, I couldn’t possibly create free time for myself?” Trust me on this one. Clearing your calendar creates space to clear your mind which is essential to getting on the other side of burnout.
  4. Ask yourself, “What is healing for me?
    Is it quiet time, reading, hiking? Is it being with others or being alone?
  5. Reach out to that one person you can trust and tell them what you need.
    Do you need them to just listen, give you advice, or help problem solve?
    Challenges are never as big when they are brought out into the light of day and shared between two people.

When I was 21 years old, I was working full time, travelling for business, going to college at night, being a wife and a part-time mother. One day I went to work, started crying and couldn’t stop. This was a first for me. I called my family doctor who had known me since I was born and taken care of me through all my childhood illnesses. He came in, sat down and asked “What brings you in today?” I responded through flowing tears that I just couldn’t stop crying, that I didn’t know why and that it needed to stop because it was interfering with my life.

He pulled up a chair, placed his hand on my arm like a father figure, and asked me to describe what a typical day was for me. I won’t bore with you with all the details, but to say I was cramming 50 pounds of daily stuff into a 5-pound bag would be an understatement.

He listened patiently then asked if that really was a typical day. Then came a question that I thought was the most ridiculous question anyone could have asked me…. “What would happen if you just stopped?”

WHAT?!  Stop?!?

Like many of you, my immediate answer was I can’t do that because … He listened, then pointed out if I were to get sick and end up in the hospital, life would go on.

So, at 21, the Universe did me a service by pointing out, contrary to my belief – the world would not stop if I did. I left there with my tears dried, a plan on how to reduce what was on my plate, and how to give myself white space to put some gas back in my emotional tank.

I wish I could say that was the only time in my life when I have been burned out. But if I said that, I would be telling a lie. The tendency to overdo has plagued me all my life … and still does.  The difference now is that I recognize the signs a little sooner, have proven strategies to get me back on track, and I put them into action a little quicker.

Burnout is an outward indicator that something isn’t working in your life.  We have to slow down enough to determine what is going on in the inside. Here are four strategies that have worked for me and several of my clients through the years:

  1. Reflect.
    Make quiet time to reflect on what’s really important to you.
  2. Revise.
    Once you’re clear on priorities, review and revise how you spend/invest your time and energy to ensure they’re in alignment with what’s important to you.
  3. Reframe.
    You and you alone are in control of your life.  You can slow down, make changes or even stop. Yes, there may be consequences if you don’t do something, but as I found out the hard way, there are also consequences of continuing to do when your mind and body say stop.
  4. React.
    The last step is to respond or behave differently, in alignment with what’s important. Deciding how you want to spend/invest your time and energy, to achieve the work life management results you desire.

Lastly, use music, meditation, walking around the block, or calling a friend to clear your mind.

Make sure you set your mind on what you want instead of focusing on what you don’t want.

What you focus on becomes what you attract in your life, so be clear.

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  1. Michael Liptrot

    I really enjoyed this post. As one of your many employees I often counted my blessings to be working for someone with endless energy striving for success in all that she did.
    My only regret is that I could not do more to meet your expectations. I often felt that I come up short in meeting your expectations. I miss our strategy sessions. Thank you for your leadership, & for helping me achieve what I could with our HR team.
    We were one hell of a group, accomplished a lot.
    Also thanks for helping me through the retirement process. Still one of my biggest challenges.

    Mike Liptrot

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