In my last blog I suggested that the first strategy for dealing with burnout is to Refocus. It’s important to move your gaze from the quagmire of stress and over-commitment and gain a new outlook. I urged you to think about how you think and shared some books that have helped me and a lot of others.
Today we will talk about Strategy #2: Revitalize.
If you neglect to put gas in your car you will soon find yourself stuck on the side of the road. The same is true of your body. If you neglect your legitimate physical needs – sleep, nutrition, and physical activity – you will burn out quickly.
Focused Relaxation – Several times a day practice deep breathing by inhaling slowly through your nose for about five seconds, then exhaling gently for eight to ten seconds. This will lower your heart rate and blood pressure and supply oxygen to your brain. Also try progressive muscle relaxation, which is simply tightening your muscles and then consciously allowing them to relax, beginning with your toes, moving up to your ankles and calves, and progressing all the way up to your scalp. These are both quick, easy ways to revitalize your body.
Imagery exercises can also be effective in helping relieve pent-up tension. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by pressure, stop! Take 10 or 15 minutes to close your eyes and imagine yourself engaged in a relaxing, pleasurable activity like floating in a pool with the warm sun on your face, walking in the forest with your best friend or sitting by a warm fire after an invigorating day of skiing. These mental mini-vacations can have a profoundly positive impact on your emotional and physical well being. And if you think you can’t spare the time, consider that when you return to work you will be far more productive. Besides, you’ll miss a lot more work if you end up in the hospital.
Identify and cultivate special interests – You have probably heard the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In cases of burnout, our friend Jack has bigger problems than being boring. His dullness includes lack of focus when he is trying to think, feeling stuck when he has a problem to solve and hiding in mind-numbing activities like watching too much television, playing computer games, online shopping/gambling or using alcohol or drugs as he tries to give his exhausted mind a break from responsibility. In order to maintain a healthy balance in your life it is important to incorporate some variety and give yourself an outlet for physical activity and creativity. Think about the things you really enjoy doing – whether it’s dancing, singing, studying reptiles, gardening, kickboxing, playing chess, writing, playing sports, or anything that’s separate from your job – and prioritize some time in your schedule to develop those interests. Burnout makes you feel as though you are helplessly caught in someone else’s priorities. Creative and interesting diversions will bring you in touch with your sense of identity and value.
Volunteer – It has been said that when you stretch yourself in an effort to meet someone’s needs something happens along the way in that your own needs get met. There are hundreds of organizations that welcome volunteer help – healthcare services, education and literacy programs, human rights organizations, religious ministries, art and culture institutions, youth mentoring clubs, animal shelters and public services are just a few. You may have opportunities in your own sphere of influence without committing to an organized effort, too, such as an elderly person or a single mom who would benefit from a few hours of your time or a ride to the grocery store. When you focus on others, or on a cause that’s bigger than yourself, you will gain new perspective and energy.
These are some ideas for how you can revitalize your life and get off the hamster wheel of work-stress-work-stress-burnout.
Next time we will talk about Strategy #3: Recommit.
Live, Work and Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.