6 Ways To Avoid Burnout And Get Your Energy Back

October 14th, 2021 / Lifestyle Medicine / Mindfullness

Burnout, or that frustrated, irritated, exhausted, helpless feeling people get when they experience a high level of chronic stress over time, especially related to work, is a common but preventable problem. Burnout can make you want to quit a job you used to love, stop volunteering for a cause that used to matter to you, or give up on a passion project because the passion seems to have evaporated. You can avoid burnout if you understand what leads to it, and you can also recover from it when you recognize you have it.

Stacie J. Stephenson, DC, CNS, DABAAHP, FAARM, is a recognized leader in functional medicine focused on integrative, regenerative, and natural medicine modalities. Dr. Stephenson is the founder and CEO of VibrantDoc, author of the bestselling book “Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Own Your Health, and Glow and serves as Chair of Functional Medicine for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).

Dr. Stephenson champions holistic, patient-centric care with equal emphasis on conventional and complementary therapies. Follow her six steps to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur and get your energy back.

1. Protect Your Self-Confidence And Self-Esteem

There will always be those people who try to undermine your confidence, but a lack of confidence is a slippery slope to chronic stress. Feeling confident in yourself and your abilities is protective against burnout, at least according to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology that examined rates of burnout in 719 health professionals as related to self-esteem, social support, and empathy. “Confidence can lead to more achievement, which leads to more job satisfaction, and a lack of job satisfaction is inversely related to burnout. To protect your confidence, be kind to yourself,” says Dr. Stephenson. “Notice your strengths and be proud of them. Work on accomplishing and celebrating even small goals. Avoid people who make you feel bad about yourself and cultivate positive, supportive relationships.”

A 2019 meta-analysis of the scientific literature on the link between self-esteem and social relationships confirmed what researchers have long believed: That the link between social relationships and self-esteem is reciprocal at all ages throughout the lifespan, and shows that positive relationships support self-esteem and negative relationships tear it down.

2. Regain Control

“One thing that is likely to cause burnout over time is the perception that you don’t control your own situation, environment, or position at work. Psychologists have long known that a sense of control is associated with good mental health,” adds Dr. Stephenson. You might feel at the mercy of a supervisor, controlled by your job description, taken advantage of by those you are trying to help, or pigeon-holed into a role that isn’t fulfilling. Your lack of control might feel inevitable or impossible to change, but there are always little ways you can regain control over aspects of your situation.

“First, pinpoint exactly where you feel you don’t have control, then think about what you can and can’t change. Maybe you could negotiate more flexible hours, request a transfer to a different team or location, or take on a project you can be in charge of. Focus on what’s negotiable and see the rest as temporary,” reminds Dr. Stephenson. “If your situation is really dragging you down, taking even small steps to find a new position more in line with your passions can give you hope and optimism for a better future. Investing in something you do outside of work that is more fulfilling to you and that you alone control can also help to give you back a sense of personal autonomy.”

3. Sleep 8 hours

”Impossible, you say? It sometimes it feels impossible to me, too, but aim for seven to nine hours on most nights and you will feel more alert and capable,” notes Dr. Stephenson. Research has shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to miss work, have decreased productivity, have more accidents, and pay more for health care. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to poorer organization, worse personal health habits, less self-control, problems with decision-making, suppressed immunity, and a subjective sense of having to work harder to accomplish things.

“Ease into an earlier bedtime by going to bed 15 minutes earlier every week until you get there. Your circadian rhythm is designed to stop eating and start sleeping after dark, so honor that and you will feel and be healthier. Besides, what are you doing when you could be sleeping? The dishes can wait, and your health is more important than anything on a screen,” says Dr. Stephenson.

4. Eat Better

Junk food, sugar, high-fat food, and processed food can all lead to fatigue, brain fog, and lower job performance. One study showed that late-night snacking is related to reduced work performance. Unhealthy eating also reportedly decreases people’s willingness to be helpful and increases withdrawal from others, both scenarios that can lead to more problems and stress at work. You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet, which could add more stress. Instead, try working more whole foods into your diet: Fresh vegetables and fruit, fresh seafood and lean organic meat, whole grains if they agree with you, nuts and seeds or yogurt and berries for a snack, or find a good-quality protein shake as a default instead of potato chips or candy. If you’re trying to maintain a sense of confidence, control, and job satisfaction, it doesn’t make sense to eat in a way that undermines your efforts. The link between stress and unhealthy eating behaviors is a feedback loop: Stress can cause poor food choices, and poor food choices can cause more stress. Break the cycle! Consider it a gift to yourself, rather than another chore you have to do, and remember that the temporary false sense of stress relief you might get from junk food is misleading. It’s actually making chronic stress worse.

5. Keep Moving

Sitting at a desk all day can negatively impact job satisfaction and increase fatigue at work, according to a 2020 study, and a 2021 study looking at sedentary behavior of people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that duration of sitting during the day directly correlated with worsened work performance. To flip this effect without quitting your job, invest in or create a standing desk and take frequent breaks to walk around, even for just 5 minutes every hour. Walking breaks throughout the day can be a better modifier of a sedentary job than exercising hard once a day before or after work. Although you may see those 5 minute breaks as interruptions, what you lose in work time will be more than compensated for in increased efficiency, energy, and job satisfaction.

6. Take a Break

Whether you have real vacation time due from your company or you just want to take a few days or long weekends to decompress, consider it necessary mental health care, rather than a luxury. Research over the years has consistently confirmed that people report less stress and relief from burnout after taking a vacation. If budget or time constraints are holding you back, even a single day of complete rest and pleasure can make a difference, and if you take a day like that at least twice a month, those benefits will accumulate. Or, maybe you just need a break from your job, rather than an actual vacation. If it’s possible to take a leave of absence or a sabbatical and spend some time on a passion project, this may be the time. You may come back to your job refreshed and renewed. Or, if you have some savings, you could even quit. Unfulfilling work can eat away at your physical and mental health over time, and something you truly love may even be worth a pay cut, although who knows—eventually it could turn out to be even more lucrative if you’re doing something you’re born to do.

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