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Burnout Is Real. Here Are Five Strategies to Manage It

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I recently checked in with a few colleagues to ask, “How are you doing… really?” While I had hoped they’d found a new, better groove amidst pandemic living, I was surprised by how many were either exactly where they were a year ago, mentally and emotionally speaking, and some even worse.

One accentuated this latter point by sharing:“I’m still exhausted. It’s going on 14 months. I’m worried about… everything. And I still don’t feel secure with my job.”

My friend is a high-performing leader who’s survived multiple rounds of layoffs in the oil and gas industry. Her husband was laid off at the beginning of the crisis; her kids have suffered from lack of connection in their virtual learning environment. Her story, sadly, isn’t unique in this COVID world. Neither is the cumulative stress she’s acquired throughout this process.

Allostatic overload is the term being used to describe our pandemic existence. In short, it’s the price our body pays for existing in high-stress environments for extended periods. Our stress, too, can be exacerbated by consistent negative feelings and thoughts about unsuccessful outcomes. The impact can feel like burnout and can have long-term implications on our overall health.

Signs of burnout can include forgetfulness, feeling unmotivated, difficulty with focusing, feeling dispassionate about things you used to care about.  And, like my colleague, complete exhaustion. We don’t have to succumb to this level of burnout, though. There are still actions we can take to lead ourselves to a better place so our day-to-day existence can be enhanced, and we can be more present in our own lives, as well as the lives of others. How are you doing… really?

“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed.” – Sam Keen

Here are five strategies you can deploy to help manage any level of burnout you might be experiencing:

  1. Stop kidding yourself. Many of us have a hard time admitting when things aren’t exactly okay. High performers, especially, tend to see hard work as the best cure to see themselves through a rough patch. This just isn’t the case. If you’re feeling any signs of burnout, get real with yourself: confront it. Be okay with not being okay.
  1. Get comfortable with No… fast. When we’re feeling burnout, we need time. The only way to reclaim it is to start saying “no” and finding the space you need to get back to center. To help you, start by getting clear on your priorities and activities that must get done. Anything else, start saying “no.” No doesn’t mean never; it often means just not right now. Use your “no” to control the volume of opportunities and requests that come your way so you can find the time you need to recover.
  1. Disconnect digitally. We’ve all heard about the dreaded blue screen and its impact on our sleep quality, let alone quality of time we try to invest with others. Technology can be a great administrative tool; too much, though, and it can be an additional source of stress as it reminds us far too often of what’s not getting done. When we disconnect from technology, we reconnect with ourselves. Right now is a perfect time to re-establish a healthy relationship with technology and create boundaries with it. We’ll all want this during our post-pandemic lives, so putting some disciplines in place today can also help create a better tomorrow.
  1. Schedule your walks. We would never blow off an important appointment with a colleague; when something is on our calendar, we honor it with our best effort. Take this spirit and apply it to yourself.  Schedule several walks during your work week on your calendar and don’t reschedule. Treat yourself as a high-priority item. Walking has profound benefits on our mental health; its meditative-like qualities can calm our minds and help create a much-needed perspective that reminds us of what’s most important right now in our lives. 
  1. Get it write. Start and end your day by journaling. When you wake up, before you do anything, write down your intentions for the day.  This way, you’re setting your agenda – not email, not social mediaYou’ll always have others either telling you or recommending to you what’s important; by leading your life intentionally, you’re reminding yourself what you deem as valuable to you. Then, at the end of the day, reflect on your gratitude by identifying three things you’re most appreciative for during your day. These simple practices allow you to reflect on the good and refocus on the opportunities to help you get to a place where you’re feeling rested and recharged.

There is no real, quick fix to the burnout we feel. And while these five strategies can set you on the right course, there’s also the opportunity for you to connect with your employer to renegotiate your schedule and/or talk to a mental health provider to get additional support for what you’re experiencing. 

We can’t control the world around us. We can always, though, control our response to the world. When you focus on what you can control, you’ll find yourself in a better place of leading yourself, your team, and your family to a better future. 

Angie Morgan is an executive coach who works with high-performing leaders to help them achieve next-level results. After her service in the Marine Corps, she co-created the leadership development firm Lead Star and co-wrote the New York Times best-selling books SPARK and Leading from the Front with Courtney Lynch, also a Marine Corps veteran. Their third book, Bet on You: How Leaders Win with Risk, will be out in spring 2022. 

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