Top 3 Strategies to Overcome Burnout

Strategies to prevent and overcome burnout
Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Symptoms of burnout include experiencing overwhelm, feeling emotionally drained, and being unable to meet demands at work.

In the long run, a person who frequently experiences burnout may fall into severe depression or anxiety, and may start demonstrating an inclination towards negativism or cynicism about his/her job. If this describes you, read on to learn about the 3 strategies that you can undertake to overcome this phenomenon.

1. Improve your time management skills

A good rule of thumb that you can follow for managing your time is the Four Quadrants of Time Management, developed by the author of best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey. He encouraged people to divide their tasks into the following 4 quadrants, based on their urgency and importance:

  • Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent 
  • Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent
  • Quadrant 3: Not Important but Urgent
  • Quadrant 4: Not Important and Not Urgent

You can refer to the table below for better understanding.

You may think that most of your time should be focused on the tasks in Quadrant 1, since they are both important and urgent. However, the most significant quadrant in the long run is actually number 2: important but not urgent. Why is that so?

The reason why quadrant 2 is the most crucial of all is because it contains assignments that are mostly related with planning, improvement, and prevention; which are all duties that – should they be performed well – will lead to a smaller workload in quadrant 1. While focusing on the emergencies in quadrant 1 is obviously important, more of your energy should be devoted to avoiding having to put tasks into this category to begin with. Spending a big chunk of your time putting out fires every day will put you in constant fight-or-flight mode, which is a key contributor to stress and burnout.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Why do people experience burnout

On top of time management, another huge reason why a person can be affected by burnout is lack of communication. Especially in a professional setting, it’s not unusual to see people bottling up their frustrations, for fear of jeopardising relationships with their colleagues. However, keeping everything in is just like creating a time bomb that’s waiting to go off. So, while we don’t suggest throwing a fit whenever you feel angsty, we do recommend facilitating honest communication at work. Now how do you do that?

First of all, forge friendly relationships in the workplace. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed loner, or just don’t feel like you fit in, it’s still beneficial to make a few friends. Scientific studies have shown that social isolation is one of the biggest risk factors for the decline of physical and mental health, so make the best of your time at work, and connect regularly with your co-workers. If you find it hard to initiate a relationship, you can always start small, maybe by giving them a friendly smile whenever they walk by, asking about their day, or discussing weekend plans with them. A little goes a long way, and while you may not realise it, these social interactions can help you ease up if you feel stressed at work.

For employees who feel overburdened by their workload, it’s time to have an open discussion with your manager. Make sure that you are able to separate work time from personal time. Work life balance is not just a catchy phrase that gets thrown around by entitled millennials; setting clear boundaries between your professional and personal schedules is actually crucial for your well-being. If you feel like the tasks delegated to you are too overwhelming, and/or the amount of effort you spent on work is not adequately reflected in your paycheck, arrange for a performance review and provide honest feedback about your thoughts. At times, your manager may not be aware of everything that is going on within the company, and it is your duty as an employee to speak up if you feel unfairly treated. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your own rights.

In addition to communicating in the workplace, open up to your personal connections as well. A part of being human is that at certain points in our lives, we will experience downfalls or get tangled up in conflict. When you feel upset, talk it over with someone that you trust. Sometimes you may feel alone in this world, especially in our social media-obsessed society where everyone is fervently showing off the highlight reel of their lives. However, please be assured that you are never totally alone. Everyone has their own inner battles that they are fighting; maybe they’re just better at hiding it. Allow yourself to open up to a confidante. For all you know, he/she has been through the same issues that you’re struggling with now, and may be able to give you sound advice to overcome your challenges. If you feel like you really don’t have anyone to talk to, consider contacting a therapist or the BeFrienders. The most important thing is to never give up.

3. Live a healthy lifestyle

Growing up, we have all heard the doctor’s recommendation of 30 minutes of exercise per day, for at least three days a week. This can include going for a jog, a session at the gym, or maybe a quick match of badminton with friends. While it’s easy to overlook this tip when work gets busy, it’s important to note that these atomic habits will ultimately lead to a healthier body, thereby elevating your mental well-being. Studies have shown that regular exercise can uplift your mood, and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. This is because physical movement increases the brain’s sensitivity toward the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression and produce higher levels of endorphins, also known as the “happy hormone.” 

A healthy lifestyle does not just consist of regular workouts; it’s also dependent on food. As the saying goes: you are what you eat. Besides exercising routinely, another part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to watch what you consume on a daily basis. Avoid greasy foods and sugary drinks; instead, opt for healthier alternatives like whole grains and protein-rich meals. You’ll be surprised at how much a well-balanced diet can affect your mood for the better. By having the right combination of exercise and a healthy diet, your body and your mind will thank you in the years to come.

It’s normal to feel stressed at times, and we can never be totally immune to low moods. Whenever you start experiencing anxiety and/or dread when thinking about work, try incorporating these 3 strategies – improve time management skills, communicate openly, and develop healthy lifestyle choices – in your daily life. You may be amazed at how you feel after a period of practicing these habits!