Even when you love what you do, you can burn out. Whether it’s facing that Monday morning traffic year after year or dealing with a mountain of emails one too many times, dealing with clients, coworkers, and the tedium of it all can lead you to a dark place.
What does burnout look like? Most of us recognize it when it’s described, though, in the moment, we’re blind to it. Burnout can be a short fuse and irritability, dread and depression, and fatigue and exhaustion. It is defined as both a physical and mental collapse under prolonged stress.
Burnout causes employees and employers alike to slip in performance and engagement, feel stress and anxiety, experience cynicism, sleep poorly, experience high self-criticism, and even experience physical illness.
Burnout affects all aspects of life, and no one in the working world is immune. Recovering from burnout is much harder than preventing it in the first place. That’s why I’m bringing you the best advice in my tool belt for stopping burnout before it stops you.
6 Surefire Ways to Prevent Burnout in the Workplace
1) Go on vacation.
Have you ever skipped taking a vacation that you’d earned because you feel like you can’t afford to take off? Maybe you worked extra hard before or after your vacation just so you felt like you could take off. Maybe you did take that vacation, but you took some work with you. Just so you didn’t get behind.
If you want to avoid burnout, you have to actually take vacations. Take your family and go. Disconnect, set the away messages, and don’t answer your emails. You are officially out of the office. This is crucial away time that everyone needs in order to refresh and recharge. Don't undersell its value.
2) Seek meaning and value in your work.
We talk a lot about work-life balance. While this concept is enormously important, it’s not always a sustainable strategy in the long-term. A better notion might be to seek out value in the work that you are doing. Rather than having this balance between something that saps your energy and something that replenishes it, seek to gain energy and purpose in your work.
When you’re doing something that adds value to your life, you are much less likely to find yourself burned out by it.
3) Recognize the signs.
One of the simplest ways to avoid burnout is to recognize what burnout looks like for you. If you know it when it is coming, you can take the appropriate measures to prevent it—whether that is taking a mental health day, a small vacation, or simply changing your habits to ease back from what is causing you stress and anxiety in the office.
Take stock of yourself and recognize what is and is not a healthy relationship with work.
Stress can be a good thing. Healthy amounts of stress are driving forces and keep us on guard and attentive. But when we’re pushed to the limit, we need to recognize it and protect ourselves. That means not taking on new responsibilities or projects. It means taking breaks and taking care of yourself mentally and physically.
4) Reconnect with people.
Did you know that one of the signs of burnout is eating alone at your desk? When we’re burned out, we tend to disconnect and retreat from other people. It’s true, for some individuals, being around and interacting with people can be a drain on our energy. Most of us are familiar with concepts of introversion and extroversion. Even extroverts, however, can retreat from people when they’re experiencing burnout.
If you find yourself retreating, try to connect. Even if that’s not taking the step of sharing your lunch break with coworkers, maybe it is being intentional about spending time with your family after work or going out with friends more often.
And remember—don’t eat lunch at your desk. It might be convenient, but this isolation and working through your lunch hour only contributes to burnout.
5) Schedule exercise, hobbies, and free time.
One of the best things you can do to prevent fatigue and stress and any sort of mental or physical collapse is exercise. Exercise has this uncanny ability to release all of the right chemicals in the brain. It keeps us feel energized and awake, happier and healthier, and more fit—mentally and physically. Even if you’re just carving our half an hour each day to take a brisk walk, it will make all the difference in the world.
Having hobbies and dedicated free time can also give you some mental breathing room. This can be much-needed if you give most of your energy to your job. This time can help you feel more inspired and more filled with joy. You’re doing something not because you’ve been told to or you feel obligated, but because you genuinely want and love it. This can be critical for someone on the edge of burnout.
6) Surround yourself with support.
Lastly, every busy professional at risk for burnout needs a network of support. I can’t understate the value of having good friends and a supportive family. These are people you feel you can confide in and glean wisdom from. You should feel comfortable with your network and at peace around them. Even if you are an introvert, you should feel that they do not drain your energy, but give you life and joy.
A network of support is critical because it picks you up when you fall. Whether it’s a reliable team at work, true friends who are there with a phone call, or family willing to stand by you, these positive forces in your life are critical in preventing burnout.
Have you ever experienced burnout at work? Share how you handled it in the comments.