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4 Antidotes to New Year Burnout

4 antidotes to new year burnout

“If you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.” – Dalai Lama

If you haven’t bounced into 2023 feeling refreshed, energised and ready to tackle the new year, you’re not alone. We may only be a month in, but for many that optimistic new year glow has been buffeted by a perfect storm of intensifying forces – from pandemic anxiety, new ways of working and getting the kids back to school to staff shortages and rising interest rates. It’s tough to feel amped up when there’s so much going down. But there are ways you can nip burnout in the bud, and reduce the risk of a chronic problem setting in.

Stress is a normal human response – a normal part of life that, in small amounts, can even be good for you. But when your ability to cope becomes compromised, and the stress continues to mount, you enter burnout territory. Defined as complete mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, and now officially classified as a mental illness, burnout doesn’t just spring up overnight – it simmers away in the background, building up over time.

Headaches, exhaustion, insomnia, a sense of disconnect, irritability, panic attacks, absenteeism from work, an ongoing feeling of dread, decreased productivity, an inability to find enjoyment in things… they’re all warning signs you’re on the road to burnout.

And while there’s no magic pill, there are four scientifically proven ways you can keep physically and mentally healthy to significantly reduce the risk of burnout taking hold.

1. Set some boundaries… and stick to them!

Boundaries are the ultimate form of self-care. They define what’s acceptable to you, what you’ll compromise on, what you’ll tolerate, what you’ll say no to. The problem is, unless you enforce them, they’re no good to you at all.

High-performance specialist and award-winning author Stephanie Bown believes the way to avoid burnout “is by having boundaries around how and where we choose to spend our time, so that we replenish our energy and enable ourselves to focus when we need to, with our families, in our workplaces, with our friends.”

Elite performance coach Mark Bunn agrees, saying “Life these days is full of requests for our time, energy & expertise. As we like to be needed and feel that we are ‘giving’ to others, we can quickly find ourselves using up all our time…and thus having none left for ourselves.”

Constantly trying to appease our deeply entrenched people-pleaser streak, whether to stay in favour or avoid conflict, is a recipe for turmoil. Because not respecting your boundaries may make you agreeable, but it won’t make you happy. As Author Brianna Wiest said, “Each time you break your boundaries in order to ensure someone else likes you, you end up liking yourself that much less.”

If you’re not sure what your boundaries are, use your body as a guide. Increased heart rate, a tight gut, sweating, that nervous feeling – if something feels unsafe or uncomfortable, that’s a good clue you’ve hit a boundary. They’re there to protect you – if you constantly stretch them in an eternal search for popularity, they’ll break. And so will you!

2. Incorporate self-care into your day

Life gets busy. Things happen. We get it. There’s a grace period for putting yourself on the back burner, but leave yourself there too long and voila… welcome to burnout. Just like on an airplane, you need to fit your own oxygen mask first if you’re going to be any good to anyone else.

“Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation,” says accredited mindfulness and meditation coach, and one of Australia’s leading authorities on mental wellbeing, Chelsea Pottenger.

Chelsea recommends incorporating self-care rituals into your day, believing that even little actions can have a positive impact on your wellbeing. To figure out which rituals work best for you, Chelsea suggests writing down as many things you can think of that bring you joy. This can be anything from the smell of vanilla, back rubs and the colour blue, to summertime, going to the beach etc. Then brainstorm ways you can incorporate these into your day, such as filling your space with the colours and smells you enjoy. Morning rituals like 2-5 minutes of meditation, exercise and making a gratitude list also work wonders to set you in the right frame of mind for the day ahead.

Mark Bunn is a big believer that “Your greatest wealth is your health”, and also recommends devoting some time every day to looking after your personal health and performance. He suggests eating ‘light at night’, getting peak performance sleep (before 10.30pm) at least 3-4 nights a week, staying optimally hydrated and starting each day with some physical activity.

Clinical psychologist, personal trainer and nutrition coach Leanne Hall is another advocate for “doing one thing for yourself each day. It may be a pedicure, bubble bath at the end of the day, movie with a friend, or even an early night!” She believes that “Once you are able to listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs, and THAT is what self-nurturance is all about!”

3. Do what makes you happy

You’ve heard the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, Mark Bunn goes a step further, suggesting that to stay happy and avoid burnout, you need to combine ‘doing what you love most’ with ‘what you naturally do best’ (i.e. your natural talents). He uses the example of Richard Branson, who is dyslexic and rarely even touches a computer… let alone sends emails. Yet he’s still built a worldwide empire by focusing on his unique talents as an innovative, big-picture thinker and a brilliant self-promoter. Why focus on improving your weaknesses when your strengths come more naturally – and more enjoyably?

Doing what you love doesn’t just apply to the workplace either. If you’re struggling to hit your fitness goals, for example, Leanne Hall says it’s because you haven’t yet found an exercise regime that you enjoy. She says “so many people waste money on gym memberships. Why? Because they like the ‘idea’ of going to the gym, but they really don’t ‘enjoy’ going. For many of these people, joining a team sport or an outdoor bootcamp with friends is a much more enjoyable form of exercise which they can sustain.”

If you find it enjoyable, it’ll make you happy. Simple as that.

4. Let nature take its course

The Japanese-inspired practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) was originally invented to combat corporate burnout by helping people disconnect and reap the therapeutic benefits of nature. With devotees including the likes of Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judy Dench, it’s fast becoming a global wellness phenomenon. ‘Forest schools’, where learning takes place in natural outdoor settings, are popping up all over Europe and the U.S.

The restorative power of nature is real.

A recent McKinsey study showed that “time spent in nature has a positive effect on attention span and well-being”, noting that “When in nature our brain emits alpha waves that help calm the stress response and reduce anxiety levels, allowing the brain to enter a more relaxed, clear, and creative state.” You’ll find plenty of similar studies to back it up.

An expert on the healing properties of nature, Mark Bunn is a big proponent of ‘green exercise’, or training in a natural environment. He recommends “getting fresh air, natural light exposure or sunlight and maybe even doing it ‘earthed’ (barefoot) if it’s safe to do so.” He also believes there’s huge benefit in “having your lunch in a park, doing your stretches while touching a tree, taking your shoes and socks off and walking on the wet sand if you’re near a beach or a natural body of water”.

The idea is a simple one – take it outside if you can!

So, is there an antidote for burnout? There’s no quick fix, but if you feel it coming your way, what you can do is press pause, take a deep breath, and hit the reset button. Set some boundaries, go play in the garden, find what it is you love to do, incorporate self-care into your day and take some time out just for you. As novelist Anne Lamot said “Almost everything will work again if we unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”  

Our wonderful team of leading mental health and performance experts include Stephanie Bown, Mark Bunn, Chelsea Pottenger, Leanne Hall, Dr Michael Nagel, Emma Murray and Jackie Furey. All are dynamic and inspiring speakers who can provide your team with life-changing practical tools to help them become more energised and resilient, better at managing stress and achieving a healthy work-life balance. If you’d like us to introduce you, simply get in touch with us for a chat.