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How to prevent burnout and exhaustion

If you’ve embarked on 2024 with an exhaustion hangover from last year, these simple strategies will help set you up for success in the new year.

There’s no doubt that many of us still feel mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually worn down from what was yet another full-on year.

There were tell-tale signs that we were struggling to keep up with the fast-paced hustle culture of the modern world, with many of us at the point of burnout. We saw the rise of ‘snail girling’, ‘languishing’, ‘lying flatism’ and ‘bed rotting’ on social media, with proponents attempting to put the brakes on the overwhelm and overload they were experiencing in life. 

Advocates of these aptly named online fads were talking about the need for individuals to prioritise their mental health and personal wellbeing, and be protective of their leisure time, rather than adhering to traditional notions of career advancement, unreasonable workloads, success striving and unrealistic societal expectations.

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People were calling out for a psyche of less wealth, and more health. As silly as some of these internet fads sounded, a lot of them did resonate with people. To those experiencing burnout, the thought of lying flat a little more during a working week sounded quite attractive.

But on a serious note, burnout itself is life-halting and is a state of exhaustion that renders individuals unable to function properly.  Burnout is on the rise and often occurs when people are subjected to prolonged periods of stress, particularly in demanding or high-pressure environments, where there is constant overload and burden on someone’s capabilities. The flow-on effect of burnout can roll over onto and affect various aspects of a person’s life, including work, relationships, and personal well-being.

Given it’s a New Year and psychologically speaking, a fresh start, now is the time to put in some healthy habits to make sure we don’t reach a point of burnout in the future. 

So how do we find the sweet spot between reaching our goals this year and also safeguarding against burnout? Here are five tips to get you started:

Tune in to your emotions 

Listening to our emotions is crucial for self-awareness and provides us with valuable information about how we are feeling in relation to what is happening in our lives. Whether it’s anger, fear, sadness or stress, we need to acknowledge every one of our emotions and respond to our emotional status. This emotional information provides us with the knowledge about what we might need to do next, to get back to feeling content again.

Communicate to those around you

Communication is about transmitting information. It’s sending and receiving messages with the people in our lives, and in the prevention of burnout, it’s communicating to others what you need to function at your best. Communication may be talking to people about how you are feeling, but it also may come in the form of delegating tasks, asking for help, debriefing, setting boundaries or saying no.

Prioritise yourself 

Self-care is often relegated to the when-I-have-time basket. But to prevent burnout, it needs to be prioritised and scheduled into the day as though it is as important as a work meeting or doctor’s appointment (because it is!). Self-care is highly individual and involves tuning into one’s needs and reflecting on what one needs to perform at your best.

It then involves creating rituals in your day to fulfil them. For some, this may mean a morning meditation, an evening walk, alone time to relax with a good book or even just wine and a laugh with a trusted friend.

Align with your values

Values are our deeply held beliefs and principles that guide us in life. Whether we are conscious of them or not, they are the operating system that guides our attitudes and behaviours. When we are out of alignment with our values (which happens way too often), it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right and can cause us considerable distress. When we are living by our values, we feel more authentic and can operate more calmly.

Make more time for play

Whether it be for creative expression, personal fulfilment, mindfulness or just for fun, scheduling time to play and laugh is crucial in the prevention of burnout. Any sort of playful activity or enjoyable hobby and all the positive emotions that are elicited during them are the antidote to the negative emotions that can build up to burnout.

Whether it’s a team sport, a puzzle, cooking a different recipe a week, pole dancing or even just busting a move on the dance floor regularly helps to empty the bucket that so often gets filled.

Like many people bursting into a new year, many of us have personal and professional goals to actualise but must be mindful of the energy we need to maintain to make it happen. While it may not be entirely possible to eliminate the risk of burnout, there are certainly a few actions we can take in our daily behaviours to reduce the likelihood and mitigate the impact burnout can have on us.

Marny Lishman is the author of Burnout to Brilliant, published by Affirm Press.

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