5 Tips to Prevent Burnout (and Protect Your Mental Health)
By Chantel Cohen, founder and CEO of CWC Coaching & Therapy
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Whether it’s moving to a new city, a disagreement with a partner or finding a new job, a feeling of anxiety is a natural reaction to unforeseen changes in our lives. But, unrelenting stress can wreak havoc on your emotional equilibrium, leading to the debilitating state of burnout.
If you find yourself utterly exhausted, detached from work and feeling inadequate, you may be experiencing a case of burnout. Not only is this harmful to your mental well-being, but burnout can take a toll on your physical health as well, as research has linked it to various health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, fatigue and more.
Oftentimes, people take for granted what fuels their capacity to function on a day-to-day basis: their energy. Increasing that capacity is not only the best way to be more productive but also key to avoiding complete physical, mental and emotional burnout. Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, proposes that although time is a finite resource, energy can be systematically replenished. I too believe that to thrive in a world of relentlessly rising demand and complexity, people should focus on managing their energy rather than their time.
According to Tony, energy comes from four main wellsprings: the body, mind, emotions and spirit. And in each, energy can be regularly renewed by establishing specific behaviors that are intentionally scheduled and practiced, with the goal of turning them into unconscious habits.
With this in mind, here are my five tips for avoiding burnout:
- Prioritize your sleep. It’s no surprise that adequate rest is vital not only to your energy levels but also to your ability to focus and manage your emotions. Yet, too many people continue to short-change their sleep every day. One way to obtain high-quality sleep is to keep the same bedtime schedule each day of the week (including on the weekend), limit alcohol, and expose your eyes (retinas) to natural light within one hour upon wakening. Believe it or not, good sleep starts in the morning. This will help you recharge your mind and body so that you are ready to tackle what is to come.
- Take regular breaks away from your desk (even if you work from home!). All too often, people dismiss signs like physical restlessness and difficulty concentrating, but these are signs that your body is craving a period of recovery. As a result, energy levels continue to burn out throughout the rest of the day. So, disengage from work by taking a break. Work in 90-minute blocks and then take a 20-minute break by going for a walk, meditating, do deep breathing, or talk with a friend.
- Find purpose in your work. What is the greater significance of your job, beyond earning a paycheck? Consider the deeper impact of the things you do each and every day. How does your work make your community, or even the world, a better place? If an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, think about how you can add more meaning to your career path. Rediscovering your purpose can help you keep stress at bay, preventing you from ever reaching the point of complete burnout.
- Redefine your idea of success. Burnout often affects those who are highly committed to their work— after all, you can only be burnt out if you were lit up in the first place. Try to think of success holistically, in terms of being able to achieve your professional goals while also caring for yourself both physically and mentally.
- Learn how to work through negative emotions. When you learn how to take more control over your emotions, you can refocus and replenish your energy regardless of the external pressure you might be facing. Most people work best when they feel their best — but what about those times when you feel anxious and overwhelmed? One simple yet powerful thing to do is focus on deep breathing, which can help you turn off that fight-or-flight response you feel in those moments of stress.
Contributed to EO by Chantel Cohen, an EO Accelerator in Atlanta. Chantel is the founder and CEO of CWC Coaching and Therapy, which provides therapy and coaching services to entrepreneurs and professionals. Chantel provides mental health support for leading organizations like Google, Coca-Cola, Bravo Channel, Lenovo and Coursera. Chantel recently contributed a post, Your Business or Your Love Life? You Don’t Have to Choose, to EO on Inc.
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