Ten Ways to Beat Burnout

Posted 06.02.2021

Burnout can be like the weather. Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. I’ve been thinking and talking about burnout for a long-time. It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, Overworked and Overwhelmed, back in 2014. Seven years and a global pandemic later, burnout is an even hotter topic (pun only slightly intended).

When I was writing that book, I interviewed several dozen highly successful people from the CEO of Hilton to the former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, to learn about how they managed themselves. They all had two things in common – a common belief and a common commitment. The belief was that the only person who’s going to take care of me is me. The commitment was so I’m going to make sure I get at least a little bit of what I need every day to be at my best – not just for work, but for my family, friends and myself.

That belief and that commitment are both especially relevant during this current epidemic of burnout. In this post, I’m going to share ten simple and practical things you can do to beat burnout. That’s coming up, but first some quick background on why you feel so burned out to begin with (and if you’re reading this, I assume you do).

You feel burned out because you’ve fried your autonomic nervous system by living through a pandemic while working really hard under strenuous and abnormal conditions. Your brain-body connection has been in a chronic state of continuously producing stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. The impact of all those hormones floating around is that you’ve grooved unproductive thinking and behavioral patterns that make the burnout worse. It’s a nasty cycle that you need to disrupt.

Last week, I wrote about alternatives to saying yes to every request. If you’ve been practicing some of those, you should have created a little space for yourself to start doing some things that will help you disrupt the burnout cycle by amping up the happy hormones and tamping down the stress hormones.

So, here are ten simple, practical and immediately applicable ways to beat burnout. I’ve organized them in three categories based on your self-assessed level of burnout – singed, fried or extra crispy. The ideas in the extra crispy category are ones that should provide immediate relief. The same with the ones in the fried category. The ones in the singed category are a bit more focused on prevention than cure. As you apply any of these, you’re not going for 100% perfection; try going for a 5% improvement each day in feeling less burned out. If you’re successful with that on a daily basis, you’re going to feel 25% to 35% better in a week and, in a month or two, you’re going to feel amazing. For sure, don’t try to do all ten things at once; start with one or two that would be relatively easy for you to do and likely to make a difference in reducing your level of burnout. Rinse and repeat on those until you feel a difference and then move on the next.

Here, then, is the list:

If You’re Feeling Extra Crispy…

Allow Your Body to Override Your Brain – Pick a work out like HIIT, a run or power walk or a well-taught yoga or Pilates class that is so appropriately challenging that you quit thinking about what you’ve been obsessively thinking about. Shifting your thinking is as much as the point as is moving your body. And by moving your body, you’re going to create endorphins that will make your feel better both mentally and physically.

Reconnect – Now that more and more people are fully vaccinated, we’re beginning what the Wall Street Journal has called the great American reunion. If you’ve been vaccinated, start creating opportunities to reconnect in person with family, friends and colleagues. And when you do, focus on transformational, not transactional engagement. Forget the to-do list; focus on the be-with list.

Go Deep on Old Photos – This is one of my favorites. On your phone, tap pick a favorite person on the photo app and scroll through all the pics of good times you’ve had with that person. Speaking from experience, doing that will release a bunch of oxytocin, the neurochemical of connection. That’s going to make you feel connected, grateful and a lot less burned out.

Listen to Wise People – One of the primary antidotes to burnout is to shift your perspective from the micro annoyances that are right in front of you to the bigger picture perspective and how you fit into it. Being in conversation with wise people who have seen and lived a lot of life is a great way to do that. Fortunately, Max Linsky has made that easy for you with his new podcast, 70 Over 70. In every episode Max has a warm and wise conversation with a modern elder. I’ve listened to every episode so far and have been consistently transported from my head to my heart.

If You’re Feeling Fried…

Get Out in Nature – This is standard anti-burnout advice and for good reason. To get the most from it, don’t just walk through nature; slow down and notice it, study it, question it. For instance, how long did it take for that tree to grow so tall and how tall is it anyway? How many different kinds of birds or flowers do you see today? Noticing the natural world gets you out of your normal monologue.

Listen to the Music and Sing Like No One’s Listening and Dance Like No One’s Watching – Pick some music that moves you and let it transport you. For me on my morning walk today, it was Sinatra singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin on a continuous loop. My neighbors probably wondered who that weird guy was dancing down the sidewalk. Did I care? No. Do I feel happier and less stressed? Yes.

Do Something for Someone Else – When you’re focused on someone else, you’re not focused on the recurring soundtrack in your head. Look for and act on simple opportunities to do something kind and helpful for someone else. You’ll do some good and generate some more of that wonderful, burnout-busting oxytocin at the same time.

If You’re Feeling Singed…

Keep a Journal – Just a few minutes a day of writing about what’s on your mind, your wins, your concerns and anything else on your mind can go a long way by getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Journaling is great for pattern recognition and problem solving. Over time, a journal also provides a record that demonstrates that just about all of those problems that had you stressed out and burned out have been resolved.

Read Outside of Your Space – Many of us have to process so much information to do our jobs that we groove neural pathways that can get our brain stuck in a rut based on what we read day in and day out. Rewire those pathways by reading something completely out of you day to day experience. For me right now, it’s Ron Brownstein’s book Rock Me on the Water in which he explains how four of my favorite things – music, movie, television and politics converged in Los Angeles in 1974 to shape the next 50 years of American culture.

Take the Long View – When you’re feeling burned out and like you have too much to do, it’s easy to think everything has to happen or be done right now. It doesn’t. There’s been a whole lot of time and a whole lot of people that have come before us and there will be even more after us. We’re here right now to do what we can do and leave it better than we found it, but it’s not all on us. It never has been.

So, what’s your self-assessment on the burnout scale? Singed, Fried, Extra Crispy or something else? What’s been working for you on beating burnout? What do you want to do that you haven’t tried yet? As always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts and ideas in a comment if you’re reading this through LinkedIn and via email if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog.

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