Healthy ways to avoid burnout at work

The Mentor List - John Drury

Are you feeling unmotivated and disillusioned at work?
Do you feel your work is ineffective or unproductive?
Do you regularly suffer from physical issues such as insomnia, headaches or exhaustion?

If any of these sound like you, it’s possible you may be experiencing job burnout. (Check with your doctor though, as these symptoms can also apply to other ailments.)

In a recent podcast episode on The Mentor List, mentor, speaker, and author, John Drury, spoke of his experience with burnout and how it led him to seek healthy patterns of work/life integration. In his case, his job burnout formed part of a general ‘life’ burnout. He was so immersed in commitments that he neglected to look after himself and his personal relationships.

Drury believes the idea of a healthy work/life balance is a myth. He says we all go through phases where we pursue something so passionately that it consumes us; however, that may not be a bad thing as long as we manage these fluctuations well and don’t neglect our relationships and personal health.

What is job burnout?

It is not only the boss that can suffer from job burnout, though. It can happen to any one of us.

Job burnout is a well-documented condition with three key symptoms:

·      Exhaustion – Physical, mental or emotional.
·      Detachment/cynicism – Feeling alienated from those around you.
·      Ineffectiveness – Reduced personal accomplishment or a lack of self-belief.

In other words, we become so run down that we stop caring about our work, relationships and health and they begin to suffer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, possible causes of job burnout include a lack of social support, monotonous work, and dysfunctional work dynamics.

How can burnout be prevented or overcome?

Having triggers like these doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience burnout, though. A lot depends on how you react to stressful situations. If you find that you get upset easily or that you are starting to feel depressed or anxious, it’s probably a good time to sit down and take stock of your life.

Many of us feel as though we are always busy yet we have trouble recalling what we’ve actually been doing. We seem to be jumping around putting out spot fires without ever getting time to do the things we really want to do. A good way to work out how you really spend your time each day is to do a log for a week or two and be honest with yourself. If you are on the computer or other devices for much of the day, use an app such as RescueTime to help you create a true picture of what you’ve been up to.

Once, you’ve worked out what you are doing, spend some time reflecting on what you’d like to be doing. To do this, you’ll need to decide what’s important to you and what your short and long-term goals are. Remember that urgent often doesn’t mean important.

Drury suggests creating a life plan then breaking it down into different categories to help you create some motivating goals. He stresses that it’s essential to understand your own values and to set boundaries on how you allow others to influence your time. Above all, he believes you need to take care of your health first.

The mind/body connection

It seems the solution for everything these days is to eat well and exercise more. This isn’t just an urban myth. Numerous studies show that looking after your physical health has a positive effect on your mental health (and vice versa). Our emotional and spiritual health are both also vital parts of our overall well-being but you may want to explore these in your own way.

Let’s have a closer look at how the body and mind work together.

A gut feeling

Inside our gut, we’ll find trillions of bacteria, known collectively as the microbiome. There are many different types of bacteria all with different roles to play. The microbiome communicates with the brain via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. It can say things like, “Hey, this food you’ve just eaten is great. Can we get some more of it?” or, “I don’t recognise this as food. Perhaps we should call in the army (immune system) to fight it?”

What we eat determines the range of bacteria within our microbiome. We need the right balance of bacteria types to help us function at our optimum level. Too much or not enough of one type over a long period can lead to digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, mood swings, and other health problems.

Ideally, we need to eat a variety of good quality foods regularly while allowing for an occasional (not-so-nutritious) treat. When we eat well, we feel good and have more energy. This helps us to feel more motivated and optimistic about things.

What a nerve

Our nervous system has many different components including the autonomic nervous system (which deals with involuntary movements such as breathing and swallowing). The autonomic nervous system can be further divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic system is activated when we need to use a lot of energy. It stimulates the production of adrenalin and the stress hormone cortisol. It steps up when we are in a situation our body perceives as ‘dangerous’ (whether or not we actually are). This is known as ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ mode. When we get stuck in this state for too long, we place extra stress on the heart and lungs and create imbalances throughout the body.

The parasympathetic nervous system takes over when we need less energy, like when we are eating or sleeping. It puts us in a state that allows us to heal and rejuvenate so it needs our attention, too.

Both systems use the vagus nerve. This long nerve branches out from the neck area and connects all our hormone-producing glands and major organs with each other and the brain. The vagus nerve helps to regulate many of our functions including:

·      Heartbeat
·      Blood pressure
·      Speech
·      Digestion
·      Perspiration and much more

The vagus nerve also helps to control the production of many hormones including glucose (which affects our energy levels) and serotonin (which helps control many functions such as our sleep cycles and our mood). We can keep the vagus nerve in balance using methods like deep breathing, meditation and EXERCISE!

Positive effects of exercise on mental health

So, here we are back to exercise again. Now we know that exercise influences our internal functions. It also helps us manage our mental health. Some of the many benefits we get from regular exercise include:

·      An increased sense of control over our life. We can decide when, where and how we exercise so even if the rest of our life is in chaos, we can use exercise to regain order.
·      A sense of euphoria triggered by the release of endorphins and adrenalin – helping us to feel more capable and self-confident.
·      An increased ability to cope with stressful situations. We tend to stay calmer for longer.
·      A temporary distraction or escape from the things that stress us.
·      A sense of being ‘grounded’ or reconnected with ourselves and our environment. Sometimes this feeling can be quite literal – such as when we sit on the floor or our feet touch the ground outside.
·      A boost of oxygen throughout the body, triggering cell regeneration and increasing energy.
·      An increase in neurological pathways, leading to improved memory and other cognitive functions.
·      A release of muscular tension.

How to incorporate exercise into your day

It’s very easy for us to say we don’t have the time to exercise or that we are physically unable to do it. (“Too fat”, “too tired” or “too sore”.) However, these can be overcome if we are motivated enough. So, instead of focusing on what you can’t do, start looking at what you can do.

You don’t have to run a marathon or go to the gym each morning. You don’t have to start playing sport. Just pick some sort of movement activity and do a little bit every day. This could be walking on your lunch break, doing some yoga in the morning, going for a swim or anything else that you enjoy.

Start small and make it a habit. The UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends setting specific and measurable goals to help you become aware of your achievements.

By exercising regularly, eating well and paying attention to how you spend your time, you’ll go a long way toward overcoming or preventing burnout. Isn’t that a great reason to start?

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John Drury is a powerful presenter, trainer, facilitator, mentor and author. His painful personal experience with burnout, and subsequent recovery while in a senior leadership role, motivated him to start helping other high achievers, business owners, corporate executives and leaders in similar positions to turn their personal and professional lives around.

Tune in to John Drury’s interview on The Mentor List to hear more of his thoughts on work/life integration and setting personal boundaries. John also shares plenty of tips and resources you can use to help you recognise the signs of burnout and find better ways to live ‘a healthy life’. Why not share this podcast with your family and friends? You’ll never know who else may benefit from John’s words of wisdom.


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