Q: How can I battle burnout? I feel like it’s a losing battle?
First, let’s describe what we mean by burnout. Burnout is a term that has three layers:
- Emotional Exhaustion – the fatigue that comes with caring too much, for too long.
- Depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and
- Decreased Sense of Accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
Our bodies are conditioned to respond in times of stress. For instance, if we see a lion approaching us, our bodies kick into high gear. Think of the lion as a “stressor,” something that begins the stress cycle. Seeing the lion makes you push blood to your muscles, makes your heart beat faster, and your blood pressure increase. If the stressor is a lion, you either get eaten or you get saved. If you get eaten, there’s nothing to talk about it. If you get saved, it’s likely because you ran really far and really fast or because someone saved you. Both running far and fast and being saved by someone help calm the stress response your body. It allows you to complete the stress cycle.
But, what happens if the stressor is not a lion? What happens if the stressor is a really rude boss at work? Your body still has the same response, you push blood to your muscles, make your heart beat faster, and your blood pressure increases. In that case, your body tenses, but there is not end to the stress cycle. As the authors of the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle put it, instead you are still “soaked in stress juice,” and this can happen day after day.
So, how can you complete the stress cycle and ensure that you are not stewing in stress all day every day? In other words, how can you attempt to avoid burnout? The authors suggest two very effective ways:
- Exercise. There’s a reason why you often feel so calm after you’ve exercised. There’s a real scientific reason why exercise is stress relief.
- Affection. Spend time with people you love, especially those who you like to be close to. Feeling safe and secure around your loved ones can help complete the stress cycle.
Of course, nothing is foolproof, and there’s no easy solution, but burnout is tough, and we can all benefit from a little stress relief in our lives.