There is a big difference between ‘sleep’ and ‘rest and recovery’. Rest involves allowing our bodies and minds to be free from anxiety, worry and stress. Recovery is similar but goes even further in that it involves recognising our body’s cues for when we need to stop and allow our tissues to re-energise and repair.
Many of us are under the impression that we have unlimited energy reserves with no need for rest or recovery at all. Or alternatively, even if we recognise we need to rest or recover, we have no margin in our schedule to allow this to happen. Too often I see individuals running into trouble with burn-out as a result of not resting and recovering.
What is Burn-Out?
Burn-out is literally a state where our bodies and minds are incapable of functioning well. Unfortunately, few burn-out sufferers see it coming until it’s too late. If you, however, identify signs of burn-out early enough, you can reverse the downward spiral. According to psychologist and author Sherrie Bourg Carter, the typical features of burn-out include:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of cynicism and detachment
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Together, these symptoms lead to an inability to successfully function on a personal and professional level. The problem with allowing ourselves to get to this state is that it can take a long time to recover.
How You Can Avoid Burn-Out
There are some key steps to avoiding burn-out. Firstly, throughout the day, recognise when your energy levels are waning i.e. restlessness, yawning, hunger and difficulty concentrating. Studies have shown that our minds and bodies need a break from work every 90 to 120 minutes throughout the day2. Try taking some deep breaths, stretching, and/or take a brisk walk around the block for 10 minutes. Even just shutting your eyes and meditating for a brief period is enough to restore your concentration. Other strategies to avoid burn-out include:
- Practising mindfulness throughout the day
- Taking a power nap
- Trying the relaxation technique described below
- Eating regularly to avoid low blood-sugar dips
- Avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine, which deplete energy reserves quickly
- Designating an end point to your day i.e. a ‘clock-off’ time beyond which you do not do any more work
- Taking regular holidays. Studies have shown that regular short breaks such as a weekend away can be just as rejuvenating as a longer holiday. Interestingly, holidays that are longer than nine days add no more benefits in terms of rejuvenation than those that are up to nine days long. So the key, really, is to take breaks often. I recommend taking a break every 8–12 weeks even if it is for a weekend.
- Trying not to bring work home with you
- Creating a routine in the evening for winding down. This might involve reading the paper, having a bath, or reading a book
- Prioritising enjoyable activities that are not work-related in your week. This might be a sport, going shopping, or even just watching a movie
- Seeking professional guidance if experiencing signs of burn-out
So burn-out is essentially avoidable if you recognise your early warning signs and take proactive measures to halt it progressing. Perhaps trying the below relaxation technique at least once throughout your day will help.
Quick Relaxation Break
Try this ﬁve-minute relaxation technique which can be practised any time or place for a quick refresh.
- Step One Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
- Step Two Put your hands on your abdomen and, as you breathe in, let your abdomen expand like a balloon ﬁlling with air.
- Step Three As you exhale, slowly let the air out. You should feel your abdomen rising and falling as you breathe.
- Step Four Try to raise your shoulders up to your ears for 5 seconds, and then let your shoulders drop. One at a time, rotate each shoulder backward 5–10 times, and then rotate them together 5–10 times.
- Step Five In a relaxed position, close your eyes and breathe naturally. Count to four as you inhale, then pause for one count, then exhale for four counts.
- Step Six Continue this for at least ﬁve minutes.
Health TIP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Our minds and bodies function best when we have a short break from work every 90 to 120 minutes.
Holistic Medical Doctor, Author ‘Healthy Habits, 52 Ways to Better Health‘