Our society praises us when we’re limitlessly driven, ambitious, and determined. New research is beginning to reveal an even more powerful point: women in the executive world may possess even more ambition than their male counterparts(McKinsey & Company, 2014). Because of this, at times it can be difficult for us to see the dangers in our exceptional work ethics. Ambitious women: beware! That same drive that has the power to propel us forward can also stop us dead in our tracks when it leads to burnout.
Burnout refers to a general state of physical exhaustion with concurrently reduced interests in work and activities that we once previously enjoyed. We are at risk for burnout when we lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’ in our lives. When we throw ourselves into demanding work, stretching ourselves too thin and neglecting our basic needs for leisure, love, and a larger life purpose. Finding balance can protect us from burning out.
Balance is over-preached, yet under-practiced. It seems that at times we become so consumed with our work that we forget why we work.
The following are some tips for staying as present and engaged as possible in each moment of your life. Practicing these can protect you from the dangers of burnout and help you find balance in your life.
- Make time for self-care.
How often do you do something nice for yourself? Once a week? Once a month? Perhaps you can’t remember the last time you did something that was for you and you alone. Carving out time in a busy schedule for yourself is emotionally and physically rejuvenating. It should be taken just as seriously as your work efforts. Try to make it a goal to do one nice thing for yourself each day. Some days, you may only have time for small things, such as lighting your favorite candle or listening to relaxing music at the end of the day. Other days you may have time for more significant things, like indulging in some yoga or taking a long, hot bath. Making your self-care a priority is a surefire way to protect yourself from burning out at work.
- Express gratitude at every opportunity.
The research is crystal clear on this topic: Expressing gratitude is good for our mental and physical health. We can minimize the effects of burnout if we can find gratitude in our daily experiences, both at work and in the rest of our lives. What’s nice about this tip is that by expressing gratitude for people in our lives, we make others feel great too. Try to think about 3 things, people, or experiences you are grateful for each day. Write them down, go through them in your head at the beginning or end of each day, or share them aloud with the people around you. When you find yourself particularly grateful for a person, tell them. You may be surprised at how quickly and dramatically your gratitude practice can shift your mood.
- It’s okay to say “No.”
Balancing your “yes’s” and “no’s” is easier said than done, but will protect you enormously from burning out. If you find yourself wondering how you might squeeze 25 hours worth of work into your 24-hour days, take this hint: you can’t! This drive for success is a double-edged sword that makes us who we are, and may often push us to take on more than we feel we can or want to. Finding and sticking to your own boundaries is key. Worry less what professors, managers, peers, or family members would think of you saying “no” to an additional project or opportunity. You will get increasingly comfortable with this as you practice saying “no.” You may even find yourself surprised that saying “no” brings a smile to your face, because you know that in doing so, you’re actually taking care of yourself.
- Make spending time with loved ones a priority.
It may seem that the busier your school and work life become, the more you neglect the rest of the important things in your world, and the more you resent the workload! (Are you seeing a pattern here?) It’s common to feel like family members or friends can’t relate to the kind of pressure you are under or the workload you have taken on. But realize this has more to do with your choice to always put work first. You can shift this trend in your thinking and feeling when you remember why you’ve taken on the workload you have. This will be monumental in re-centering your attention towards what really matters to you. Remember that while you are passionate about your work, ultimately, you likely work so hard because you want to build a life that you can enjoy spending with loved ones. Chronic neglect of our social support systems at the mercy of work is akin to slaving away over a delicious meal that is spoiled by the time it’s ready to eat. You never get to enjoy it! True balance involves making time for all of the things you love. Try to treat each of the areas of your life (work, family, self-care, etc.) with equal weight.
- Keep the bigger picture in mind.
The creative genius behind So She Did is one of my oldest and most trusted friends. She recently said to me, “Once you know the why, you can endure any how.” These 10 simple words have literally changed my relationship to each and every one of my daily experiences. When you begin to feel the pressure of an upcoming project deadline or have to make schedule changes to accommodate your workload, remember these 10 words. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” and you’ll be instantly reminded of the bigger picture. Stress can overwhelm us when we forget that these are all little steps that go into the larger journey of our lives, helping us move closer to our goals. The next time you feel taxed or overloaded at work or school, ask yourself quickly: Why are you doing what you’re doing? If we are able to remind ourselves that these are important steps in our journey, we can more effectively protect ourselves from burnout.
– Joelle Broffman