Although I have experienced the sheer overwork burnout you get from taking on just too much at work, more often, I have had the burnout that comes from piling work stress on top of home stress and putting my needs last. People make the mistake of thinking that constant stress is sustainable but even if it doesn’t push you over the edge into serious mental health problems (and it can take the smallest thing to do that sometimes), the build up can result in burnout where you are no longer functioning properly or taking joy in life and are making yourself ill.
One of the problems that leads to burnout is our acceptance of stress as a fact of life. We accept feeling constantly stressed and emotionally drained as normal when it isn’t. When we constantly struggle to stay on top of things and work as hard as we can without feeling that we are achieving what we like to, we start to feel despondent and hopeless. That’s when the burnout really sets in. Our concentration suffers, our motivation suffers and we become negative and cynical. The problem is, even when this starts to happen, we still don’t stop. We plough on until w
e simply can’t anymore.
Burning out doesn’t just destroy our mental health and give us a long hard recovery to feel normal again, it’s totally counterproductive to what we were trying to achieve through all that hard work in the first place. It kills productivity, makes us less effective at work and can make our home lives difficult. That then leads to further guilt at not performing as we think we should and even more mental health issues. Breaking this vicious cycle involves, firstly, not accepting stress as an unfortunate fact of life and not feeling bad for protecting our own wellbeing.
Mindfulness is vital in avoiding burnout because we need to recognise when stress from just having a lot to do spills over into constant worry that affects our sleep and takes away our ability to enjoy the things we like doing. As soon as you find yourself worrying about work at home or thinking about how much you need to do when you are supposed to be relaxing, you need to recognise this as undue stress. Get organised right then and there. Prioritise what’s really important and let the rest wait.
I love a good list and love it when I can cross off the most important thing on my to do list. This sense of achievement is very effective in preventing burnout but so is prioritising relaxation. I actually schedule time in my diary to focus on my relaxation and encourage my staff to do the same. They are allowed to take extra long lunch hours to take yoga classes or go for a float if they’re feeling stressed or just want to use that time to enhance their wellbeing. It only takes a short time each day to keep stress at a manageable level and give you the headspace to organise and prioritise before things becoming overwhelming. If you do find yourself bogged down with too much to do at work, it is worth speaking to your employer though, as changing the way you work could really make a difference to your wellbeing.