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We’ve never been as plugged-in to our careers - and to our stress - as we are right now. Endless obligations, busy calendars and Zoom calls did not slow down when the world did last year. Instead, for many of us, they compounded and left us feeling isolated and burned out.
So what can we do to take back our power?
First, it’s important to understand that stress is our body’s natural response to a perceived threat. You’ve likely heard of the fight or flight response. That’s stress! It’s an external trigger, something out in the world... could be an impatient client, a late response to an email, a long and boring Zoom meeting... that causes feelings of frustration, anger, etc. It’s the response your body creates to get you to respond to an external event.
That response can be perfectly helpful - sometimes it makes sense to get mad, to stand up for yourself, to run the other way, to “play dead”. It can be really motivating and effective in the short term. Your mind encourages your body to behave in a way that will best preserve your safety and equilibrium.
But too much stimulation of this response can lead to burnout.
Now recognized by the World Health Organization as an official work-related syndrome, burnout is a prolonged experience of chronic stress. People experience burnout differently, just like they respond to stressors differently. You’ve definitely seen it and may have experienced it: heightened emotions like constant frustration, freneticism or having a short fuse. Or for some it’s the opposite - feeling constantly exhausted, low energy, low mood.
When burnout manifests, it can look like some of these behaviors: feeling isolated and isolating yourself, being on edge and irritable, getting sick easily, thinking of ways to escape your situation (quitting your job, reinventing your whole life, running away, not being able to focus, always daydreaming/distracted). Worst of all, you seem to put in more and more time and energy into work with diminishing returns.
But it’s not the end. Burnout is something you can conquer and even grow from.
In my work as an anti-hustle leadership coach, I help professionals just like you to establish their priorities, set boundaries and achieve the success they always wanted. Here are 6 things you can do to reduce stress and chip away at burnout:
1. Become Aware of Your Stressors Awareness is the first step to overcoming stress and burnout. Just knowing you’re experiencing it allows you to give yourself permission to do something about it. Did any of the above symptoms sound familiar? Permission granted.
2. Find A Counterbalance
Stress can’t stay where it’s not welcome. To shift from an unbalanced to balanced state, introduce movement, happiness, and self-care. Some examples: leisurely exercise, the physical act of laughter or smiling, taking a long shower, walking in nature.
3. Prioritize High Quality Connections Human connection is one of the major contributing factors to our well-being. The amount of time spent inside during the pandemic had most of us feeling true social isolation as our normal routines and interactions were disrupted. The best way to combat this is to prioritize connecting with people in a format that makes you feel fulfilled. Video calls, emails, phone calls and snail mail are all great ways to show appreciation to the people that matter to you. If you can do it in person, even better.
4. Set Boundaries Becoming very deliberate about your physical environment (where you work and what it feels like) can be a game changer. For many people, boundaries are scary because they often come with the connotation of high fortress walls. Start small! Choose what suits you and say no to what doesn’t. When you block out non-negotiable time for work and rest, and when you discuss that with the people around you, everything works better. Letting others know where you stand and why it’s important to you establishes individuality and respect.
5. Adopt a Curiosity Mindset Be deliberately curious. Curiosity is an action, not just a passive character trait. When you’re having a lot of worries, you might find yourself making fixed statements like, “Everything is making me anxious.” Instead, take the curiosity approach to what you’re confronted with and ask yourself curious questions. Shift to the perspective of a detective investigating and be genuinely fascinated by what you see.
6. Choose Mindfulness Different from the practice of meditation, mindfulness is simply a way of being and thinking. It’s about shifting your attention from worries to the present moment in front of you and sitting with it, whatever it is. Increased mindfulness is correlated to all kinds of physical and mental health benefits. The primary benefit is you can self-navigate outside of your head and into your life. By doing this, you trade anxiety about the future and start living in the now.
Ultimately, making these changes requires small effort from you with a massive upside for how you enjoy life and what you’re able to accomplish. We all want better options and more agency, but very few people ever come to the realization that each of us can choose that every day by responding from a place of centered control.
If you’re interested in finding more ways to expand your sense of agency and live a life of balance, coaching or therapy might be right for you. Here’s my guide on deciding what to choose now: Coaching vs. Therapy.
Check out the Full Frame Coaching 12 Week Program if you want private support that goes in depth on all of the above.