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How to Navigate the Burnout Zone

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Have you ever read an article about, “how to avoid burnout?” I know I have. If I see it as a topic on the Harvard Business Review blog or Fast Company, I quickly will click it, save it, and forward it.

All signs point to our collective stress. So many of us are actively in a semi-permanent burnout state. As much as we all think that sleeping in on the weekends will make up for not getting enough sleep during the week, we’re wrong. The truth is, if you are dedicated to building a successful life and career, you are going to have stress and need to work as hard at navigating the burnout zone as you do in your career.

So what do you do when you have accepted a new job and find out that the workload is much higher than anticipated? What do you do when you get a new boss, starting dating a new person, and find your time tighter than ever. How to do you motivate yourself to excel when you wake up tired? What do you do when you find yourself yelling at your roommate when she just asked where the laundry detergent was? I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have a few insights I can share.

Establish a burnout symptoms checklist

Often times when you are in the midst of exhaustion and fatigue, you don’t know it until it’s too late and you are in a fight with the person at the checkout counter over the price of a box of cereal. It is likely that there were signs leading up to this moment that maybe your loved ones could identify. When I can no longer laugh politely at the jokes of the cab drivers and instead I feel rage creeping up in my temples, I’m probably in a burnout zone. Take the time to write down the symptoms of your burnout zone. Have you been comprising your standing date with your best friend? Or your time at the gym? Are you sneaking Snickers not only at 3 p.m., but also at 10 a.m.? Are your self-care tools slipping away? Create a list and keep your eye on it.

Create a “life well made” schedule

Do you know what it takes for you to thrive? If you don’t, start here. Besides a daily visit to the gym and a limited amount of processed food, I need intellectual stimulation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a conversation with a brilliant friend or a great book; I need to feel engaged in learning. What in your life should be a non-negotiable? Are you super cranky when you go to sleep after 11 p.m., then a 10:30 p.m. bedtime is a non-negotiable. The more you can formulate a best life routine, the easier it is to get back on the wagon when you slip up. If you don’t even know what your wagon looks like, no wonder you’re wandering.

Equip yourself with a just in case toolbox

Once you know what the symptoms are for your particular burnout zone and what type of lifestyle best supports your holistic wellness (mind, body and spirit), you need a just in case toolbox. Very simply, you need a logic model that says, “When I feel like X, I will do Y.” For example, when I find myself coming home at the end of the day, so tired that I wish someone could take my contacts out for me, I know that that I need to turn off my phone immediately, brush my teeth, put on some Deepak Chopra, and lay in the bathtub. Period. I have learned over time, that when my exhaustion has a chance to compound, it is nearly intractable and requires much more intensive efforts to get back to my healthy place.

Master compassionate detachment

If you have all of the strategies and tools above in place, and you continue to find yourself struggling, the next step is compassionate detachment. There is a beautiful quote that my father shared with me when I was young, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” It is a spiritual concept that I think can be applied regardless of faith or religion. There is a moment, just a moment, right before anyone of us boils over, where we made a decision. Emotions are things that we opt into. If you truly want to feel freedom and your actually true powerful potential, this is where you should focus your time—the mastery of compassionate detachment.

That my friends, is another topic for another day. Today, try being a little more compassionate with yourself and a tad more self-aware so that you can navigate the burnout zone with grace.

How do you avoid burnout? 

Ask Shala Burroughs how she avoids becoming burnt out in her career! 


Stress & Burnout #Advice Wellness Lifestyle #Personal Development
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Very good article! As a doctor, I have experienced Physician Burnout and at one point became very cynical of everything related to work, dealing with insurance companies, non-compliant patients, etc. I literally had to start taking more "down time" out for myself. It's actually what lead me to create my online blog, Dinner With Nerds (!

My Non-Negotiable is treating myself when I feel the need. If I deny myself something I really feel like I need, I just go deeper and deeper into that "burnout." On the other hand, this also allows me to focus on taking care of myself and staying healthy as best I can the rest of the time when I'm indulging on these small "treats."

My non-negotiable is 7 or 8 hour of sleep EVERY night. I know that if I get any less than 7 hours I am miserable, cranky, and unproductive the next day. Sometimes I miss out on doing fun things because of this non-negotiable but I am ALWAYS well rested which makes those long work days that much more bearable.

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