Working with Your Overwhelm and Burnout

Overwhelm, anxiety and burnout are on just about everybody's lips these days. And in their eyes too.

Just last night at a social engagement I heard a young woman with a promising career at her present company proclaim with ferocious resolve that she will be quitting her job despite having no alternate employment. Sure she has bills to pay, but she would rather downscale than continue the 'disaster' that is her work life. Everyone around her leaped to dissuade her from her impending unemployment, and to convince her to wait until she had something else to go to, but with a tired expression in her eyes, she stifled this possibility.

I had worked with her at a distance many years ago. She was known to have an exceptional work ethic, and a spirited response to challenges. Yet, the woman in front of me last night was too disengaged with her work realities to even be bothered to discover what was possible for her career with a few adjustments. I saw a disengagement in her eyes that I knew all too well.

My heart broke for her.

My heart breaks for anyone who feels like their job may be something akin to death by a thousand cuts.

Given the amount of life we spend at work, it just cannot be this way! We can't let it be this way. Our work can contribute to our lives so beautifully when it is an expression of our creativity and humanity. If we let it.

One of the realisations that I sit with is that overwhelm and anxiety is brought on by factors within us and by ones outside of us, and essentially beyond our control. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with overwhelm, stress and anxiety to do what they can to take better charge of their energy and of their internal universe to prevent the onslaught of burnout and depression. The stress we are under is ever-present and corroding our resilience at unprecedented rates.

Becoming deliberate about recharging and restoring ourselves and recovering our resilience on a daily basis is perhaps the only thing standing between ourselves and a complete implosion over time.

The real key to staving off deep dissatisfaction with your work and even burnout, it to take the time to design your optimal career experience and to ensure that you use your strengths and observe your preferences with regularity in the day-to-day activities of your job.

Even then, you will need practices and rituals to sustain your energy and wellbeing.

Below are 10 ideas that you can play with to create more resilience for yourself in an environment that is hellbent on heaping more and more demands on your time, energy and focus.

Blow a birthday candle

Breathing is so effective at calming us down because the regions of the brain that control our breathing are linked to the regions of the brain that control our stress. Taking a moment to pause and take a deep inhale and exhale is a great strategy anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are many different breathing protocols, but an easy one to remember is just to pretend you’re blowing out candles on a birthday cake. A long, steady, slow inhale and holding your breath as if to consciously direct it, and then exhaling, slowly and deliberately just as you would, if you were blowing a birthday candle.

Go for a walk

Another tip for when you’re feeling overwhelmed is simply to go for a quick walk. We know how important exercise is for both physical and mental health, so going for a walk is a great strategy to try to decrease stress. However, any type of exercise is good for mental health so if you have limited mobility or are unable to go for a walk, any sort of movement that you can do to get your muscles moving and your blood flowing is beneficial.

Listen to music

There is a powerful link between music and mental health. Listening to music activates the emotional regions of the brain, meaning that we can use music to induce us into different moods, states and energy levels - excited, energised, focused, joyful, relaxed or calm. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, tense, or anxious, try listening to a calming soundtrack to lower your heart rate and de-stress.

Get outside

Getting outside is incredibly important for performance, mental health and a general sense of well-being. And being in nature, such as a forest or other green space, is even more beneficial. Even walking to a nearby park for five minutes can help boost your mood. Sometimes, all you may be able to do is to tilt your head to the sky. If this is the case, do that, instead of focusing on all the reasons why getting outside is not possible for you.

Call a friend

The lack of social connection has hit everyone hard. It feels as though we may all need a debrief on how to re-integrate our social engagements. Social connection is food for the emotional body. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger, that we are not alone and that we make a difference. Taking five minutes to call a friend or connect with someone in your life can drastically improve your mental health, and is important now more than ever

Try meditation

Meditation, or other forms of mindfulness, helps us to calm or deactivate the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” response) and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response). There are many different ways to meditate, but the basic idea is that you take 15, 10, or even 5 minutes out of your day to do nothing but relax and focus on the present moment.

The objective of mindfulness is not about being calm. It is about becoming aware of your emotional and physical reactions and the stories that bind you to a particular experience. With this awareness, you are able to become choiceful about how you could construct a new experience, even if it's only 5% better than the one you're having.

Drink some water

The simple act of drinking and savouring a glass of water can give us a beautiful break in an otherwise chaotic day. There is not a single cell in your body that doesn’t rely on water, so for your body to do what it needs to do, water is essential. Water is also important for the brain. This is because 80% of brain is made up of water! Water is so important for concentration, problem solving, and memory, and even mild dehydration can impair these cognitive functions. So if you’re feeling sluggish in the afternoon, you could simply be dehydrated.

Give yourself a break

When we give ourselves permission to pause and take a break, we allow our bodies and minds to recover and regenerate. By being deliberate about our rest time and ensuring that it’s healthy, we set ourselves up for the intensity of our work demands. Deliberately recharging is taking the time to do something that will boost your health and productivity.

Put good fuel into your body

Increase your ability to get nutrients to the tissues in your body that need them - including the brain. Include anti-inflammatory foods into your diet such as healthy fats, spices, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. And of course, water.

Pause before you perform

Taking time to pause allows you to reach an optimal state before you perform. If you're feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, taking time to pause gives your body and brain a reset so you can take stock of what is actually required of you, and how to optimally go about delivering your performance.

Not all of these will be your cup of tea. Some you may struggle with simply because you resist the idea of not being productive or you fear that this is an indulgence that will come at a social cost to you. Others may just be really unfamiliar and awkward for you. Try them nonetheless and see what happens.

Whatever you may believe about your right to rest, restore and reset, know that you are deserving of it; if not for your own direct benefit, then for the benefit of those who depend on you over the long term.

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