How To Prioritise Your Wellbeing and Manage Burnout at Work
Kate Montague, tutor at RADA Business, provides techniques on how to recognise and manage stress while at work
The past two years have been filled with ongoing uncertainty and stress as many professionals have grappled with isolation from friends and colleagues, along with heightened health anxiety as we all dealt with the effects of COVID-19.
With many still feeling the impacts of the pandemic, new research has found that more than 10 million people in the UK have taken time off for burnout, with two in five reporting calling in sick due to exhaustion, stress, and depression. For workers across the UK, it’s never been more important to make sure we’re prioritising our mental health.
For those looking to recognise the signs of burnout and manage this at work, Kate Montague, tutor at RADA Business, shares a range of techniques to help workers prioritise their wellbeing whilst still excelling in their role, as well as helping to prevent it in from occurring in the future.
Recognising The Signs
When we’re working at full capacity, it can be difficult to recognise the signs of burnout as we focus on the work at hand and not on ourselves or our own wellbeing. However, the first step to managing burnout is to recognise when we’re experiencing it.
There are three main elements of workplace burnout that have been identified by psychologists: chronic fatigue, increased cynicism towards the job, and reduced efficiency. We have all likely experienced one or more of these feelings throughout our lives.
The best way to notice if you’re experiencing burnout is to pause. When we take time to focus on ourselves, and not our work, we take stock of our body and how we’re feeling. We have space to notice the state of the nervous system. The ‘threat’ receptors, which are often activated for workers in fast-paced and high-pressure jobs, may be firing in our brain. It can help to observe our state and trust the body’s ability to find ways to self-regulate, soothe, and restore our energy balance.
The Importance of Breaks
Whilst it may only be a brief pause in our working day, the importance of breaks cannot be overstated. Whether to get some fresh air, destress from a complicated task, or to have a quick chat with a colleague, breaks allow us to relieve pent-up tension.
However, with many now adopting a hybrid working style which includes working from home for part of the week, boundaries have dissolved. Informal breaks in the office can be harder to replicate at home when working on our own, and without the companionship of colleagues, it can be easy to skip breaks entirely.
Without the chance to take regular breaks, you may find that resentments begin to build up as the coping mechanisms of office working are no longer as easy to access. Without a vent, resentments can linger, which can prolong feelings of stress and burnout.
Training Your Body to Manage Stress
There are plenty of ways of managing stress at work, and much of it starts with managing expectations. When consumed at work, it can easily feel like we are our achievements and performance, which only serves to add extra pressure.
To help prevent stress building up, complete something called a ‘stress cycle’. The first thing to do is acknowledge the source of this stress and how it manifests in your body, breath, emotions, and thoughts. By acknowledging the stress, you can then work to relieve it.
Firstly, stand up and complete a full inhale and exhale to refresh the breath in your lungs, then tense your body for 20 seconds before shaking out with a big exhale. Next, try the 4:7:8 technique, whereby you breathe in through your nose for four counts, hold the breath for seven, then breathe out for eight counts. Repeat this process several times before getting back to your work. Whilst this conscious breath work may feel unusual at first, repeating the 4:7:8 cycle overtime can have a long-lasting impact on your nervous system, helping you to feel calmer when faced with a stressful situation in work.
Build Your Own Stress Management Strategies
Whilst stressful situations can’t be avoided, they can be managed overtime. We will all experience stress at some point in our lives, however the ways in which we feel and respond to it varies.
Different strategies work for different people, so it’s best to find what works well for you when you find that you’re stressed. The first step is to identify situations that cause us stress. Being mindfully aware of our emotions helps us create distance from stressful situations, such as interruptions in meetings, overwhelming workload, or difficult conversations. When we make our feelings conscious, we are less likely to be reactive, and can choose how to respond. When in work, there are steps you can take to set boundaries and expectations:
Give your to-do list a reality-check. Assess what you can and cannot control. It can feel freeing even to just acknowledge what is realistically achievable in a day.
Redefine your sense of success. Allow yourself space for creative expression, and practice saying ‘no’ to things that you are not able to take on. And choose a sustainable pace. Maintaining work/life balance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Be willing to reach out and ask for support. Share with, and listen to, your colleagues, a mentor or manager. Connecting with others helps to validate your thoughts and feelings, and helps you gain a clearer perspective.
By taking the time to check in with yourself and recognise any pressure points for stress, you can build a strategy to help to minimise stress, reducing burnout and allowing you to thrive in your career.