We all know that anxious feeling you get when you feel like you can’t cross things off your to-do list fast enough.
While many of us have days where we feel overloaded, too much stress can cause burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, have too few resources and too little recovery times. As stress builds up, you may begin to lose the motivation that got you to your current position. Burnout is more than just feeling tired. It saps your energy, reduces your productivity, and can cause you to feel hopeless and even resentful.
Paula Davis-Laack understands burnout. A former commercial real estate lawyer, Davis-Laack left her law practice after a series of panic attacks landed her in the emergency room three times in the course of a year. “I didn’t really know what was happening but it was this awful combination of exhaustion and cynicism. I’ve always been somebody who loves hanging out with people and I noticed myself really withdrawing and staying in my office,” she says. Davis-Laack left the law, got a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and now helps others build resilience to manage their stress to avoid burning out.
But not everyone has to leave their job in order to deal with burnout. Davis-Laack offers some tips to avoid burnout before a career change is in order.
“[Job crafting] is a way to change your job without leaving your job,” says Davis-Laack. Since burnout causes you to become disengaged with your work, job crafting is about reordering your day and boosting your engagement by doing the things that give you a lot of energy and vitality during the day. “Figure out what tasks are sources of energy and engagement for you each day and choose when you do those tasks,” says Davis-Laack. For example, if you love writing articles for your company’s monthly newsletter and you want to start your day with a jolt of energy, working on the newsletter article first thing in the morning will give you something to look forward to on your morning commute and will give you that energy you need early on to get through the rest of the day.
Feeling hopeless is a symptom of burnout. If you find yourself saying “I feel stuck,” “I don’t know how to get out of this,” “I don’t know where to go from here,” you’re likely experiencing burnout. Finding hope is about creating realistic goals and defining steps to achieve those goals.
It should come as no surprise that individuals who suffer from burnout tend to also be perfectionists. Satisficing is about making a choice that is “good enough” rather than continuing to search for the absolute perfect solution. If you’re planning a lunch meeting, for example, and have been tasked with finding a venue, a satisficer will stop searching as soon as they find a venue that accommodates the must-have’s on their list. A perfectionist, on the other hand, will continue searching even though they’ve found multiple venues that match their must-have’s, but they want to see if there’s something even better out there.
“Chronic exhaustion is one of the main drivers of burnout,” says Davis-Laack. Managing your energy levels means taking frequent breaks. Davis-Laack recommends a five- to 10-minute break every 90 to 120 minutes. These micro-moments of recovery are key to preventing burnout, as they allow your mind and body to momentarily escape from the situation that’s causing you stress.
Ensuring your body is healthy can also help minimize the effects of burnout. Davis-Laack admits she let self-care slide when she was working as a lawyer. “I didn’t take longer than a weekend vacation for four years. I never took a lot of time for lunch. I’d sprint out the door to grab some food and wolf it down at my desk,” she says. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can help keep burnout at bay.