Strategies for Self-Care and Burnout Prevention

Strategies for Self-Care and Burnout Prevention


So, burnout has now been described as the
modern epidemic and the new normal. And, as professionals, we
have to push back on this. Even the World Health Organization had
a recent report. They came out and said, burnout is no longer being
seen as a health condition, but a workplace condition.
And by definition, burnout involves what they call
a syndrome of depersonalization. What that means is we feel sort
of disconnected from other people. We might even be experiencing
loneliness. And by the way, loneliness has now been called
the new smoking as a health risk. So, these issues of burnout and
engaging in work and life have suddenly, you know, started to present risks
that we have to pay attention to. Burnout can also involve
a sense of cynicism, like that high level of
skepticism, like no matter what, things aren’t going to change.
This is kind of an inevitable feat. Whatever you’re contending with,
whatever you’re dealing with at work, it’s just like there’s no way out of it. And it can also involve a sense
of feeling like, you know, you have to perform like a robot. Like things become mechanical in
your life and they become automated. Obviously, we are human
beings, not human doings. And, none of us want to sort of feel
relegated to this fate of just overload, overwhelm, or to find ourselves depleted and feeling
disengaged from life and disengaged from our work. I think that’s a really sad thing for
any of us who have worked towards upward mobility. We’re working to find our definition of
success and then to find ourselves in these places of disconnect
and oversaturation, and, just feeling, you know, not in a
place we want to find ourselves. So one of the things that we have
to pay attention to is first of all, to recognize we don’t have
to accept this as our fate. That prevention, for example,
is less costly than repair. And oftentimes what we know is that we
don’t recognize the symptoms of burnout or of stress or overwhelm. We might know we’re feeling a certain way, but we don’t recognize its cumulative
effect on us until we start to really get to that point of sort of
overwhelm on our threshold. And in fact, the American Psychological Association
says that we often don’t know how stressed we are until we
actually physically get sick. So, picture yourself after, let’s say you’ve been hauling at
work or in your academic life. You’ve been pushing really hard. You have a lot of things you’re doing
and you’re sort of like just driving hard and let’s say you’re lucky
enough to kind of catch a break, and have some respite, or you
know, a holiday. What happens? You get sick, right? Because all that
adrenaline comes off your system. And, I’ve actually written a lot about
this, and sort of said, you know, it’s almost dangerous to wait for
your next vacation to enjoy yourself, to sort of practice what
we call self-care. And you
know, think about vacations, cruise ships sink, people
people throw up on you at the, at the event, at the amusement park,
someone breaks their ankle. Or, like I said, you might just get that bad
cold. Your adrenals are kind of shot. So the first thing I want you to think
about is that burnout is preventable with direct attention to our wellbeing.
And, again, this is called self-care. And, it’s not that we want to sort of start
to employ these strategies when we’re feeling at that level 10.
We want to be proactive. So, what behavior science teaches us in terms
of cultivating resilience in terms of shoring up protective factors is that
self-care is a phenomenal path towards that. And by definition self-care means that
we set an intention that we engage in a regular and deliberate
process of attention to mind, body and soul. So all this means is we’re
avoiding self neglect, right? Where we’re paying attention to the
signals of our body that sometimes quite frankly we’re taught to override. We’re just taught to sort of
just go no matter what, you know, kind of down our coffee and push through
what our brains and bodies are craving, which is some respite time. So one way you could think about self-care
is that on the daily you are infusing something called a break ritual into
your practice. And, when I say practice, think about it. Practice
is something we need to do. It’s not something we’re perfect at
right away or that it just comes, you know, on an intermittent
level or once in awhile, but it’s regular practice, so it becomes automated for us
to take care of ourselves. This, it’s so easy to sort of set. I think
sometimes the mistake people make, and I’ve seen this in my clinical world
is we’ll set this like big plan for self-care. Again, like that
could be that vacation, like, ok, I’m going to push so hard. And then
when that vacation comes, then all that, like all the magic will
happen then. Or, you know, once I finish my degree, or once I
get through this deadline at work, or once, you know, the holidays
are over, whatever it is, we sort of make these false promises to
ourself that don’t necessarily pan out. Well, what behavior science teaches us and what
the research reveals is that regular, everyday break rituals can help
us prevent overload and burnout, and can help us really anchor ourselves
down within very chaotic and complex environments. So what this means
is doing an inventory, you know, self-assessment is an important tool for
us to recognize what small activities have a high impact on our lives. So, it might be something as simple as
a 20 minute walk as recalibration. It could be time with a friend
that makes you crack up, that makes you belly laugh, that is a source of great recalibration
and just bringing you to back to homeostasis, back to a place of
presence and feeling good about life. Humor is a very big protective
factor for resilience. In fact it could be that you just
really enjoy your cup of tea. And, like that seems so simple, but how many times are we like distracted
and on our screens, and too busy, or it’s not the right temperature? We’re either like gulping it down while
its too hot or it gets cold before we can even finish it. So, this is
actually also tied into mindfulness, but it’s really about intentionality and
being in that moment and taking things in. You know, our senses are actually
a very powerful tool with self-care. Marketers know this. They’ll try sell us a lot of candles and
fancy chocolates and wines and things like that, but our senses are a tool that we can
actually take control of and leverage and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. We don’t need to go to the spa for the
week, even though if you can do that, that’s awesome. But it could just involve just
actually taking in a sunset. That doesn’t cost any money to actually
look at a sunset, to be present in it, to look at the tapestry of
color to connect with that. It doesn’t cost any money to breathe.
So many times when we’re under stress, we actually forget to breathe. We
clench our fists, we clench our jaw. We hold our breath in. That kind of position unfortunately
is sending an alert to our brain. Something’s wrong. That sense of constant urgency and
frenetic energy actually has a negative impact on us. So, even just the act within your
self-care practice to just breathe, to slow down, to pause, to be
in a space to be in that moment, can be a very powerful tool
for recalibration and also
a protective factor for resilience. One of the most important things about
self-care is to actually give yourself permission to do it. What I
found in my clinical practice, my research, my teaching and my own lived experience
as a person who pushes really hard and sometimes even as an expert in self-care
can leave it by the wayside. And, I’ve had moments of burnout
and difficulty as a result, recognizing again that we have
to give ourselves permission. Every person really needs and
benefits, even if you’re, you know, you pride yourself at kind of being like
a Leslie Knope kind of prototype that you know, you’re a go getter, you
know, you’ve always, you know, just had that strong sense of work
ethic and, and accomplishment. All of us, you know, again, are
not machines. We’re not robots. And we benefit from taking pauses. And what’s interesting is sometimes
people think if I just like stay on the screen longer, if I just push myself
harder, that the outcomes will be better, when in fact brain
science contradicts that. It says that a well-rested
brain or well-nourished brain, or brain that engages in fun and novelty
and variety and creative endeavors. That kind of brain is actually one that
is going to be more likely to sustain itself under the throws of stress. So
again, those rituals really matter. So whether or not you feel like you’re
really, you know you don’t need it, we all need to give ourselves
permission. The other issue sometimes, especially for those in leadership roles
or caregiving roles is you’re so busy taking care of everything else,
putting out fires, the triage, helping everybody else that it sometimes
becomes that you forget to put your own mask on first. So, self-care starts with
permission to recognize that
you need to schedule this in. You need to ritualize it on the daily
because one day doesn’t always happen. We can, we can sort of
think, oh I’ll do it when, and it doesn’t always get registered,
as something we actually put into play. The other piece of self-care is that
there is no one size fits all formula for any of us. So again, that’s
where self-reflection comes in. When you think about career
resilience, wanting to be resilient, then you need to think about, okay,
what’s my high impact activities? And given the variables in
my life what’s possible. So for some people it’s like the choice
to take stairs to elevate their heart rate instead of the elevator because
they only have that little slice of time. For some it’s that they get up a little
bit earlier to meditate or they go to bed a little bit earlier and they get
off their screen to really allow for full decompression. Or they make sure there’s at least a
yoga class or a spin class on their calendar in a week. Or, they learn the
power of a two letter word, saying no, setting boundaries, not letting everything else infringe on
your time so that there becomes no time for self-care. So this
level of permission, this level of ritualization, this level of assessing
what works best for you, what small things make a
big difference for you, those high-impact activities.
And then actually again, making sure you’re practicing them are
the things that can help us to truly cultivate a sense of
resilience, to avoid burnout, to avoid the modern epidemic of today
and to feel well and to be able to do well.

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