You’re tired and feel overworked, as if nothing you do will ever be enough. You don’t sleep well, you’re eating junky food, and you’re taking longer to complete your work. You’re less involved with your family. Your shoulders and neck ache. You may have developed some health problems.
Welcome to burnout.
While it’s not pleasant to experience burnout, you can battle it, according to Winchester-based licensed clinical social worker Minda McCabe, who offered some advice on handling it at Shenandoah University’s Eighth Annual Business Symposium on April 1.
McCabe admitted that earlier in her career, she dealt with burnout so severe that she developed migraine headaches as a result. Once she found a job with a more manageable workload, the headaches disappeared.
As more companies try to accomplish more with fewer staffers, McCabe said she is seeing burnout clients increase. “The depression that comes from burnout, people wear it all over themselves,” she said, noting that burned-out people even walk slower. While she initially treats burnout patients with a variety of methods, she’ll send someone to a doctor for medication to assist with depression if she’s not seeing improvement within two weeks. Then, when the patient is in a position to hear what she’s saying, she’ll continue to work with them to find a way to alleviate the burnout conditions. She recalled one case where an intelligent, perfectionistic client was stuck in a burnout condition. With help, the client was inspired to look for another job and eventually found one that allows her to work from home three days a week, drive a company car and no longer clock in.
In some cases, a new job is key to recovery, but burnout can also be remedied in some other ways.
McCabe’s Tips for battling burnout
Create a ritual to start the day. Prepare yourself for what’s to come by awakening slowly and performing tasks that are meaningful to you.
Eat healthy foods. Burned-out people often look for comfort in satiating fats and carbs. However, mood regulation requires a balanced diet, rich also in protein and vegetables.
Learn how to set boundaries. Know when you must say, “I really can’t do that right now.” People who experience burnout are often perfectionists and hard workers who want to be helpful. McCabe said she has role-played with a woman who needs to set strong boundaries at various times of year to successfully complete her work without burning out.
Take a break from technology, every day. Put down the phone, walk away from the computer and do something creative. She learned how to do this, years ago, when she finally turned off her beeper in her off hours.
Relax. Focus on the here and now. Progressive relaxation is the mainstay of treating anxiety disorders, she said, adding that you can’t be anxious while in a relaxed state. Mindfulness is really about progressive relaxation and being in the moment. (Check out these techniques from the Mayo Clinic.) Also, burned-out people with chronic stress have a hard time having fun. They need to learn how to have fun. Sometimes she prescribes coloring books to help with this.
Exercise. “You need to exercise, no doubt about that,” she said. Exercise affects endorphin (hormones that can reduce feelings of stress) production in brain. Get into a routine of exercising three or four times a week, for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Walking is fine, too.
Sleep. Americans are extremely sleep deprived, said McCabe, who advocates keeping the bedroom focused on sleep. Don’t read, watch TV or do anything non-sleep related when you’re in the bedroom. Keep the temperature of the room between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit – “cool, not cold, not warm.” Also, don’t binge-watch TV before bedtime. Consider painting your bedroom a relaxing blue hue and perhaps turn on some white noise. Fresh sheets help encourage sleep, as does a well-made bed, and even the scent of lavender. Nutrition is important here, too, and she recommends taking a multivitamin and Omega 3 fish oil (she likes krill oil, which is easier on the stomach) because they help keep your mood stable. “If your mood is stable, then you’re going to sleep.”
Use positive visualization to help with sleep. Close your eyes. Think about a gorgeous place. Now, imagine a stream running through it. Create a bridge over the stream. You’re standing on one side. Walk over the bridge to the most peaceful part of the scene, leaving any previous concerns in the past.
Practice your faith, if you have one. This can be a very important source of comfort for many, McCabe said.
Allow yourself to do nothing. “Take time out, when you’re burned out.” Also, talk to friends about how you’re feeling. Confiding in a true friend (most people usually only have a trusted few of these) can help.
What can employers do? If you’re an employer noticing the signs of burnout in an employee – they look tired, come in late and leave early, for example – McCabe said you can ask a question as simple as, “How can I help you?” In an unstructured way, encourage your employee to talk about how they feel in whatever way works best for them (many companies have a toll-free number that can connect employees with professional assistance). See how you can truly help. If you can shuffle some responsibilities, do that first, to see if that works. Remember, as a supervisor, you’re helping employees develop the tools they’ll use for the rest of their careers.