Burnout is a special kind of stress, best defined as being exhausted and just losing interest in what you do. The physical and mental effects may lead to cynicism, depression, and fatigue that can affect one’s health and happiness, as well as relationships and job performance. Avoiding burnout is more than not working long hours or having a difficult job. Staying in “balance” is the key.
What is balance anyhow? Balance is when different elements are present in relative proportions. Balance is what keeps us upright when we slip. Balance is also a state of physical, emotional and mental stability. Finding ways to achieve and maintain balance in our lives is the key to avoiding burnout and having a healthy happy life in general.
Patients, and friends, ask me fairly often “how do you juggle so many things and avoid burnout”? Here are some tips for keeping burnout at bay:
Choose to be happy. Attitude is everything. Time stress, job stress, financial stress, physical stress – there are no limits to the obstacles we all face. The obstacles are a given. What is not a given however, is how we process and react to these challenges. Stay positive and you will perform better and have less to stress about in the first place. Problem solvers stay cheerful and focused on positive outcomes. The old saying “whistle while you work” is good advice.
Eat healthy. Our physiology is built to withstand a lot. With proper fuel we can withstand a whole lot more. Eating high sugar, highly processed, chemical laden foods will lead to feeling ill. It’s that simple. You don’t have to be a diet czar, nor a health food saint to eat really well. Our diet impacts how we feel and how we perform. Have the healthiest breakfast and lunch you can conjure up and take note of how much better you feel at work.
Get plenty of sleep. Don’t shortcut yourself here. Without enough rest the body and the mind don’t perform well. If you want to insure burnout, just continue on without getting proper rest. To do this, most of us need to turn off the television and go to bed earlier. Getting up at the same time every day is a good way to optimize sleep cycles. If you don’t sleep well, get help.
Exercise. One of the easiest, if not the best ways to improve balance in life is to exercise. The physiology of exercise is nature’s antidote to burnout. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it. The cascade of “feel good” chemicals that come with exercise promotes energy and mental clarity while washing away many of life’s stressors.
Get out in nature. It seems to be embedded in our genes somewhere that we need to spend time in nature. I don’t know if it’s the scenery, fresh air, crackling campfire, rushing stream, or what, but there’s no doubt when I need a nature fix. Combining exercise with nature is just the ticket to restoring balance and I try to get my exercise outside walking, hiking, biking, skiing etc.
Eliminate time vampires. Turn off the electronics. Nothing against technology, I love my iMac and the iPhone is an incredible tool. But like anything, too much of a good thing comes with high opportunity costs. Part of our family plan is not having outside television, instead opting for a little theatre where we can selectively watch movies or documentaries a few nights per week. Our living room is filled with books, guitars, a piano and a fireplace. The constant electronic “noise” in our lives today is sucking the life out of real quality time.
Spend time with supportive family and friends. Get rid of toxic relationships or situations in life and seek out the ones that lift you up. The co-worker that complains, whines or gossips all the time is not adding positives to your life. That “couch-potato” friend will not help you get healthier. Associate with friends and family that exemplify good health and a good attitude.
Make time for yourself. The only one who will make time for you, is you. I get up about 3 hours before going to work and start with some quiet, unhurried time to focus on catch-up work, read, or writing articles and such. By 7am it’s time to pause to exercise and have a relaxed breakfast with my family. By 8am I’ve gotten a lot done and had some quality time for me.
Get out of the office for lunch or do something creative over the lunch hour. I always take 20 minutes or so after lunch to meditate and rest. And when you get home, again take a little time to unwind and relax even though you may have chores and responsibilities to contend with. For me, cooking is very relaxing, but I’ll confess that playing music every night is my favorite.
Have purpose. Whatever it is, having purpose is a healthy part of human psychology. It may be a hobby, sports, or a job you are passionate about. Having something important to you makes it rewarding to do. Ambition is a great motivator, while setting and achieving goals leads to success, and that feels very good.
Schedule downtime. It’s ok to do nothing, on purpose. Sit on the front porch and watch the clouds go by. Take a 20-minute nap. Do meditation or deep-breathing exercises. At the end of the day it’s just “recharging your batteries”.
Make changes that support balance. If you are not happy with certain elements in life, then make a change. Pick one area and start small. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “improvement” or “change for the better”. The key is that Kaizen emphasizes small but continuous changes. Again… SMALL changes.
Maybe you are not thrilled with your job because your heart is not in it. Perhaps you’ve missed your calling. Talk with your employer about moving into a position you find more interesting. Start your own business, or get that degree you always wanted. If you are willing to work, change is possible.
The easiest way to add more balance in life is to focus on the things you have control of. Start that daily walking routine, learn to play an instrument, eat healthier, or get more sleep. Whatever it is, analyze the balance and start tipping the scales in your favor.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.