Fighting Burnout When Your To-Do List
Is Already Full
The American Institute of Stress reports that in 2014, the majority of Americans regularly experienced physical and psychological symptoms caused by stress.
It’s almost the end of 2017 and you probably feel like everything needs to get done. And not just by the end of the month, either, but before the holidays even kick in. For many of us, it’s not a deterrent from our existing to-do list – it’s just a reason to add even more items to it.
The American Institute of Stress reports that in 2014, the majority of Americans regularly experienced physical (77 percent) and psychological (73 percent) symptoms caused by stress. Thirty-three percent felt they lived with extreme stress. Almost half said their stress increased in the previous five years.
If unmanaged, stress can lead to burnout, which is much more difficult to bounce back from.
Those most prone to burnout are high achievers with an “I can do everything” personality, says Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter in her book High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. Carter’s research finds that the “superwoman” type (sound familiar?) is not only least likely to see a burnout coming, but also most likely to ignore the symptoms when they are still easily controllable.
It’s easy to dismiss the warning signs – tiredness, irritation, forgetfulness, headaches and the need for a sugar fix or adrenaline rush – when you’re trying to get things done. But ignoring these symptoms for too long leads to more serious problems like insomnia, digestion issues, rapid heartbeat, hopelessness, anger and anxiety.
When you’re really burned out, even fun activities like reading a magazine or coffee with friends feel like obligations because we lose the ability to feel pleasure. Our jobs and our personal relationships suffer. On top of that, diseases like depression, heart attack, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome and diabetes are all linked to unmanaged stress.
Recognizing and paying attention to the symptoms is often hardest, but reducing the number of pressures we have in our lives isn’t easy, either. Telling a busy working mother to cut her hours at the office or not to invest so much time in her kids, for example, is unrealistic.
So what’s the key to preventing burnout? According to Dr. Michael Leiter, it’s all about replenishing energy. The psychology professor and co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth About Burnout says that in order to feed our energy, our daily goals should have meaning and be linked to the things that we value.
This can make a brutal to-do list feel like a worthwhile investment rather than a drain. But when we’re already feeling overwhelmed, adding another obligation feels almost impossible – even if that task is supposed to be something that motivates.
One of the simplest things we can all do is limit the use of electronic devices.
Minimizing work outside of the regular business day is obvious, but the 90 minutes before bed are critical, explains sleep therapist Dr. Michael Breus. Not only because we need to wind down our minds, but also because the bright light from screens inhibits the production of vital neurons and melatonin, which are essential for sleep…and sleep is essential for managing stress.
Feeling overwhelmed by these suggestions? Don’t stress. Instead, make one change at a time and the rest will come easier. As the end of the year brings changes (maybe even reductions) to your to-do list, consider making your New Year’s resolution all about replenishing your energy and preventing burnout.
Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer/photographer and former sufferer of burnout. She left her life as a government executive to live her retirement dream of traveling and writing. Her publications on travel, food and turning lemons not only into lemonade, but lemon pie, are on TravelEater.net. Follow her travels on Twitter @TravelEater, Instagram @TravelEaterJohanna and on Facebook.