3 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Rachel Beohm is a nonverbal communications coach and trainer located in Portland, OR.

You know the signs of burnout—perhaps you’ve experienced them before: impatience, snarkiness, emotional outbursts, conflict, mistakes, apathy…

We spend a huge chunk of our waking hours at work. Your happiness and fulfillment on the job affect much more than your income; they affect your quality of life as a whole.  

Employees often blame their bosses or work culture when they experience burnout, and for good reason. It’s the leader’s job to take care of the team. Yet, as an individual, you are responsible for your own mental and physical health. How can you take control and be proactive?

Here are three things you can do to protect your wellbeing on the job:

Challenge Yourself

When motivation begins to dip, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply coasting. This is a vicious cycle. Getting paid to do nothing sounds good but creates cognitive dissonance—mental stress caused by contradictory values. It’s hard to feel good about yourself or your work when you know you are capable of more. Underutilizing your skills will lead to boredom and eventually even depression.  

In his famous book, Flow, author Csikszentmihályi states that optimal experiences come from challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for one’s abilities. You know the feeling. You’ve experienced getting so absorbed in a task that you lose all track of time. It requires being willing to push yourself and learn new things… and sometimes make mistakes. If you keep pushing yourself to do better, the work becomes a reward in itself. It’s exhilarating to be in “flow.”

If you feel like you’re stuck in a boring job, it may be time to look for a promotion or a lateral shift. The best time to go for a promotion, however, is BEFORE you start to feel bored. Keep challenging yourself. Not only will your career take off, but you’ll enjoy your work life much more, too.

If you don’t have what you need to do your job effectively, burnout is right around the corner.

Ask for Help

Most of us don’t like to admit we need support. Especially in the workplace, we worry that it makes us look like we can’t do our jobs. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot, though, if you try to muddle through when you don’t have the resources you need—the time, the training, or the tools—to do good work.  

The key is in HOW you ask for help. Whining, complaining, or blaming your performance on someone else will come across as immature. Getting defensive or making passive aggressive comments like, “It’s awfully hard to get this done using this ancient software,” puts up barriers. Those types of comments signal to your boss and coworkers that you feel threatened and are gearing up for a fight. The natural response is to fight back! That’s hardly helpful—to you or anyone else on the team.

Requests are most effective when they come from a place of power and confidence. Frame your request in terms of how you can best use your strengths to benefit the organization. Here are some specific tips for how to ask for help in a way that’s more likely to get a positive response:

  • Breathe deeply to get any whiny or aggressive “edge” out of your voice. Speak calmly and confidently.
  • Be direct. State what you need clearly, without apology.
  • Understand that you might not get what you want. If you’re okay with hearing, “No,” it opens up enormous possibilities. First, it makes asking less risky. So you’ll ask more. And you’ll get more! Secondly, it makes others feel safe. If people know they can tell you “No,” they will be more willing to tell you “Yes!”

If you don’t have what you need to do your job effectively, burnout is right around the corner. Learn the art of asking confidently and respectfully. Everyone on the team will benefit if you have the time, training, and tools to do your work well.

Stop Working

Take breaks! Use your vacation time, unplug on the weekend, take your lunch breaks, and get up out of your chair throughout the day. We act as if being a workaholic is a virtue. Ridiculous! It will kill you. But long before it kills you, slogging through work without breaks will decrease your productivity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and decision-making abilities. Your body and your brain need breaks. Sometimes, that might simply mean switching to a different type of task. Here are a few other things that will jumpstart your brain and improve your mood:

  • Stand up. If you need an excuse, get a glass of water or go use the restroom. But the simple act of getting out of your chair will work wonders.
  • Move to a new location. If you have an open office space, you can move to a different part of the building. Even if you’re in a cube, just shifting a few inches can refresh your brain.
  • Talk a walk. Go up and down the stairs, walk around your floor, or head outside. Two minutes is all you need.
  • Laugh. Simply remembering something funny can boost your mood and your motivation.
  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. In less than a minute, you’ll get more oxygen to your brain so you can think better and release “feel good” endorphins.  

YOU are the greatest resource you have. Take care of that resource! Provide yourself with what you need to flourish: challenges, support, and breaks. No one else is responsible for you, except YOU.

By taking care of yourself and staving off burnout, you’ll be investing in yourself AND your organization.

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