Have you ever felt like a candle burning at both ends? Work and everyday life are increasingly demanding and with today’s 24/7 technology, the boundary between work and our personal lives is getting blurrier and blurrier. Compound that with a myriad of obligations and little or no time to relax and chill out, and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state in which you are emotionally, mentally, and often physically exhausted as a result of prolonged or repetitive stress. Though it’s often a result of work, it can also occur as a result of parenthood or caregiving.
Besides hectic work or taking on many responsibilities, other factors may lead to burnout. These include how you ‘live’ life, and how you ‘view’ life.
Classic signs of burnout include:
- Feeling exhausted most of the time
- Feeling like a failure
- Getting sick a lot
- Turning to unhealthy living, junk food, drugs, or alcohol to deal with life
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t disappear by itself and if left untreated can result in chronic ailments like depression, diabetes and heart disease.
High functioning anxiety and burnout
About one in five people suffer from some form of anxiety condition. So, chances are that you know one of them; perhaps that person is you. Many people with anxiety suffer from what is termed “high functioning anxiety.”
Someone with high functioning anxiety can handle career and relationship obligations. However, their anxiety causes them a lot of emotional pain. So, they likely don’t require hospitalization for their anxiety, but it is distressing enough for them to be able to benefit from some sort of ongoing outpatient therapy.
People with high functioning anxiety have a myriad of symptoms that can lead to burnout. These include a need to constantly be busy, perfectionist tendencies, and not being able to say no to others. So, by treating the anxiety through modalities such as individual/group therapy, and medication, this not only helps manage the anxiety, but may also prevent burnout.
So, now that you know what burnout is and how detrimental it can be, how can you prevent it? Here are my 5 easy-to-implement ways to prevent burnout:
Deal with your emotions
Life is packed with emotional challenges. These include trying to keep up with the neighbours, the pressure to be successful in life and work, and the innate desire to have good personal relationships and a satisfying work life. It’s no wonder that we’re a ball of emotions.
However, from a young age, we’re taught to stuff and avoid our emotions rather than work with our emotions. This leads to the all too common “coping” mechanisms such as alcohol, prescription/recreational drug use, and being glued to our screens all in an effort to repress our emotions.
But, repressing our emotions isn’t good for us; in fact, symptoms such an anxiety and depression may be the result of repressing of our emotions. This is because when we try to repress our emotions, it causes emotional and physical stress. This leads to not only emotional problems but physical problems such as cardiovascular disease, intestinal disorders, headaches, and autoimmune disease.
We can learn to deal with our emotions by practicing mindfulness-based meditation. The practice of mindful framing teaches how create a mental framework to acknowledge and sit with our emotions, to feel them deeply, and to let them pass on their own, as all emotions do eventually do.
Embrace life-long learning
When we’re in a job that feels monotonous, we have little control over, or doesn’t align with our life purpose or in which we don’t receive recognition, it can lead to burnout. But you can take control of your career by finding opportunities to learn and prepare for a brighter future.
By embracing life-long learning you’re more in control of your career. This is because as you learn new skills, you can progress in your career or even switch careers if need be. Learning also helps you become more adaptable to change, which is a source of stress for many people.
It will help you be resilient when a project doesn’t go away, when your organization shifts gears, or if your job changes. Having a learning mindset will help you weather the storms of change, which is a constant in today’s work environment.
Pursue a hobby
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to pursue a hobby. This allows you to discover your creative side. When you focus on a hobby you are truly passionate about, you give your mind a break from your day-to-day stressors.
Ideally, you want to pursue some form of hobby that has nothing to do with work, or your stressor. You also want your hobby to be free of deadlines or rules in order to allow your mind to recharge.
What hobby you pursue depends on your interests. If you like writing, perhaps you can write a short story or even a memoir. If you like to work with your hands, gardening may be a good fit.
Pursuing a hobby is also a great way to amplify your life-learning goals. By engaging in something meaningful to you, and progressively learning, you further develop a sense of self-worth and competence, which may be lacking in other areas of your life.
Eat a balanced diet
When we’re under a lot of stress, good eating habits are often the first thing to go out the window; however, eating a balanced diet is even more important when we’re under stress. That’s because what you eat can significantly affect your mood and energy over the course of a day.
For instance, when you are under stress, you may turn to comfort foods such as French fries, pastries, or potato chips. Carbohydrates give us a sugar high, followed inevitably by a sugar crash in which our mood and energy crashes. Instead of food high in refined carbs, you want to focus on low-glycemic foods, which are foods that give you a constant stream of energy. These include foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
You also want to increase your intake of foods that contain omega-3s. Omega-3s are fats which help boost your mind. These include foods such as fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), flaxseed, and walnuts. Try and spread these foods over the course of your day. For instance, have some oatmeal sprinkled with ground flaxseed for breakfast, then for lunch, have a salad with walnuts, and for dinner have some salmon and vegetables. Or try intermittent fasting!
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough zzz’s is one of the risk factors that predicts burnout. So, it behooves you to get enough sleep. How much one needs varies from person to person, but in general you should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. You want to get enough sleep where you feel rested when you get up, and alert for most of the day. By getting enough sleep, your mood will also improve, further reducing symptoms associated with burnout.
To get a good night’s sleep it’s important to minimize distractions that prevent you from going to, and staying asleep. These include limiting your blue light exposure from devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. That’s because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone.
You also want to make sure you sleep on a comfortable mattress, so you’re not tossing and turning during the night. Comfortable sleep wear is also beneficial as being either too hot or too cold at night can disrupt your sleep. By getting enough sleep you’ll be better able to handle the stresses of the day.
Life can get pretty stressful, and when that happens, you are more prone to burnout. Burnout has serious ramifications that impact your emotional and physical health. By learning how to prevent burnout from happening in the first place, you are creating a rock-solid platform to live your best life.
Do you believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” If not, you should. Life knocks you down again and again. We lose loved ones, lose jobs, get our hearts broken, and our hopes get dashed. How can you overcome life’s challenges? By developing resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to maintain your emotional balance and physical wellbeing when dealing with stressful life circumstances. In other words, it is your ability to get back up when you’ve been knocked down.
Why Being Resilient?
Being resilient may seem like a nice trait to have, but not a must-have; however, did you know that being resilient could not only improve your health, but save your life as well?
In a study looking at patients with chronic pain, those who were resilient to the impact of chronic pain were 25% less likely to die within 10 years than those who were not resilient. Resilience boosts your immunity and this increased immunity has even been shown to lead to less mortality in bone marrow transplant patients.
Besides this, resilience can help you in your day to day life. For instance, if you are more resilient, you are less likely to miss work because of illness. You are also less likely to engage in risky behaviours such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and using drugs.
Being resilient even helps you age better and have an increased sense of wellbeing. Now, we all have to get older, but who doesn’t want to age better and thrive in old age.? Focus on your “healthspan,” how many years your are healthy, instead of your lifespan.
The good news about resilience is that it is not a static personality or character trait. You can learn it. Learn more about the 5 infallible practices to become resilient.
How do you reframe what happens to you? Quite simply, by relabeling your present situation or changing the way you think about any challenge. Ask yourself: “Is the glass half full or half empty?” The situation or circumstance is static. However, the way you view and interpret it is dynamic. You can reframe your perspectives at any time point. And you should.
Start by reframing stressful situations or unexplained anxiety. Instead of thinking about negative effects in your life, think of it as improving the quality of your life by providing you opportunities to learn and improve. Research shows that those who do this have better physical and emotional wellbeing than those who don’t.
So, instead of seeing stress and anxiety as overwhelming, think of it as a valuable lesson in life. Here are 3 simple ways to change your mindset when confronting stress and anxiety.
First, find the “why.” For instance, if you took a job that is now causing you stress, think about why you took the job in the first place. Say, you took your job just for the money. Maybe you realize that another lower-paying job could beef up your resume and would have been a better choice. By focusing on the why, you take a high-level perspective and become resilient by resisting immediate gratification.
Second, focus on the “how.” How will this stressor help you grow? Perhaps, this lower-paying job will teach you skills that you can use to become an entrepreneur, be your own boss and live life on your own terms. By imagining a brighter future, you can build your resilience.
Lastly, move from a subjective to an objective view of the stressor to “change your perspective.” Once you know the why and how, focus on identifying the opportunities posed by the stressful situation. You are now transforming your frame of mind and will feel an improvement of your mental and emotional state.
People who are resilient realize that situations which may feel overwhelming right now, may not impact them much in the long run. One way to maintain a long-term perspective is to visualize yourself as just a tiny element in the universe, realizing how unimportant you really are.
The stoic Aurelius did this by reflecting on how vast the universe was, and thought about infinite time in his meditations. By doing this, he was able to put his life into perspective. When you don’t take yourself so seriously, your present worries pale in comparison, and you don’t feel like your mess-ups are the end of the world. This helps you power on.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase resilience. When you are under stress, the first thing you need is to calm your mind. When you are under stress, your mind can go haywire. The skeletons of the past and the ghosts of the future start to take over your thinking patterns. Circular and repetitive thoughts overwhelm your mind and interfere with clear judgement when you most need it.
Practicing mindfulness meditation or mindful framing lowers this rumination process. And the good news is that the more you practice, the more your brain circuitry changes. This is called neuroplasticity, anatomically imprinting your resilience into your brain to handle future stressful events.
And you don’t have to engage in a long-winded 60-minute practice every day. Just 10 minutes dedicated regularly to your favorite practice can reap benefits. Just do it.
In today’s pursuit of happiness, we are told to ignore or minimize negative emotions. It’s easy to distract our mind with all kinds of tricks like excessive eating or drinking. However, those who are resilient have learnt that having negative emotions is okay. So, they don’t suppress them or run away from them. Instead they embrace negative emotions as teachable moments.
This is how to handle negative emotions. Start by acknowledging your emotional state. Second, attach a label to the emotion, even if it is an unflattering emotion, for instance envy. Lastly, establish a positive framework around that emotion. For instance, if you are envious about someone else, the envy may reflect a sense of inferiority about yourself. Your life is telling you that you are missing something. If this is the case, make plans to get ahead and feel confident. Be specific. Take action.
No man or woman is an island. We all need people to hold us up when we are facing stressful situations. The more deep and meaningful relationships you have at work and home, the more resilient you will be. Don’t have a good support network now? Look around you, be truly empathetic. Build or reinforce relationships with your family, at work and your social network. Volunteer, take evening classes, join community and/or faith groups. By aligning yourself with others, you will have a tribe that you can rely on to bolster your strength for those difficult times.
We all face tough situations. Whether we rise from the ashes, or burn with the embers, depends on how resilient we are. Build those muscles of resilience so that you are better able to handle what life throws your way.
By Jennifer Scott
For some people, anxiety is something you have to manage on a daily basis. For others, anxiety pops up out of nowhere, especially around stressful times like the holidays, weekends and vacations. Personally, I fall somewhere in between these two. Dealing with chronic anxiety means I have to stay committed to healthy activities that help. Yet, even with these strategies, there’s something about the holidays that can quickly derail my mental health goals, despite my best efforts.
As Verywell Mind explains, holiday stress is predictable. I know it’s coming each year, but for some reason, it still creeps up on me. After years of this catching me off guard and struggling with episodes of anxiety around the holidays, I’ve finally realized how much it helps to simply anticipate vacation stress. This realization has been life-changing, which is why I felt it was so important to share how powerful it can be. Because when you accept that vacation stress will happen, you can find strategies to handle it and even keep it from turning into full-blown anxiety.
Strategy #1 – Keep Up with Healthy Habits
Wait, weren’t we talking about anxiety?! The truth is that many people underestimate the role our habits play in managing stress and anxiety. Being active, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough rest are all habits that keep you healthy physically, but they also keep mental health in check. This doesn’t mean you should do anything drastic! In fact, the nutrition blog Lively Table recommends not starting a diet over the holiday season. Instead, aim for balance, with healthy breakfasts, extra helpings of vegetables, and supplements that fill out your nutritional needs.
It’s also a good idea to consider supplements that help with anxiety, such as CBD oil. CBD oil comes from the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t contain the psychoactive chemical THC. What this means is that it delivers a calming effect without the high feeling you get from using marijuana. When it comes to buying CBD oil, the best quality can often be found through a CBD dealer who comes highly recommended, or through a marijuana dispensary that also sells CBD products, which may include capsules and edibles in addition to oils.
Strategy #2 – Lean on Your Support System
As much as personal habits can help you manage anxiety, no one should try to cope without the help of a strong support system. And while many of us spend extra time with family during holidays, weekends and vacations, all that family time may lead to extra stress — not support. This is one of those stressors that you can anticipate, which means you can have a plan for how to handle it. If you’ll travel to visit family and will be away from your support network, stay in touch with those who can help most by calling and texting. Just be sure that your data plan will have you covered, as you don’t want to get hit with overage charges, especially around the holidays. If you need to make changes such as adding more data, survey your provider’s unlimited phone plans before the season gets hectic.
Strategy #3 – Embrace Acceptance
Even when you have the healthiest routine and the best support system, stress during your periods of time-off will still happen. This is why Greater Good Magazine encourages acceptance. Accepting stress may sound unconventional, but it’s actually a smart way to protect your mental health. Along with acceptance, it’s also important to have realistic expectations around those days without work routines. You can’t do everything, so focus on setting limits that put your top priorities first. For example, if you have a long list of personal and family responsibilities, consider whether some events are absolutely necessary or if certain ones can be skipped. If spending money on gifts during the holidays is a stressor, talk to family about having a more minimalist holiday so that your budget gets a break.
Setting these limits is actually one of the best ways to take control over a hectic weekend or holiday schedule. Of course, stress will still happen, even with the best strategies. However, when you confront it head-on, the stress becomes more manageable and the joys of the season will outweigh the anxiety.
Why do you breathe a sigh of relief when a stressful situation is resolved? Why is deep breathing or stretching your neck so relaxing?
Be thankful to your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. It contains ‘vagabond’ nerve fibers driving the ‘rest and digest’ response to key organs and body systems. This is the key pathway for our brain to connect with the entire organism and deactivate the ‘fight and flight’ response leading to anxiety and stress.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve wanders throughout your body and in so doing connects your brain to a number of vital organs in your body, including your gut, lungs and heart.
It is the key component of the parasympathetic, ‘rest and digest,’ part of your autonomic nervous system. The other component of the system is the sympathetic, ‘fight or flight,’ response. An imbalance or lack of control of your autonomic response leads to anxiety and chronic stress. The sympathetic nerves are the gas pedal, revving you up, while the parasympathetic or vagus nerve puts the breaks in motion and slows you down.
The vagus nerve is key to feeling a sense of calm. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, feel-good hormones like prolactin and oxytocin are released. As a result, you feel less anxious and depressed, experience less tension headaches and form stronger social bonds.
It also controls many functions in your body that happen unconsciously. So, a well-functioning autonomic nervous system means better blood glucose and blood pressure control, better digestion and immunity, and less inflammation. You will also experience better heart health and less allergies.
On the other hand, if your vagus nerve is not functioning well, you may experience weight gain, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and chronic inflammation. Even, the so-called invisible disease or dysautonomia, affecting millions of people globally.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The vagus nerve extends into the digestive system. In fact, close to 20% of the vagus nerve cells form connections with the digestive system and send messages from the brain in order to control movement of food along the gut. In addition, the bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which not only affects how much food is eaten, but inflammation and mood as well.
As a result, stimulating the vagus nerve can improve digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. On the other hand, damage to the vagus nerve can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea and slow down the emptying of the stomach.
Can the Vagus Nerve be Stimulated?
As a medical treatment, the vagus nerve can be stimulated to treat a number of diseases including medication-resistant epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To stimulate the vagus nerve, an electrode is implanted along the right side of the vagus nerve, thus providing regular activation of the vagus nerve.
Unless you are a yoga master, you cannot directly stimulate the vagus nerve, but you can do so indirectly to relieve anxiety and depression. Do it yourself in 4 natural ways:
Breath Slowly and Deeply
Most of us don’t breathe well. We either breathe too fast; about 10 to 14 breaths per minute, or we breathe too superficially; from the chest instead of the diaphragm. Thus, we short-change ourselves from the life-giving force of the vagus nerve.
By breathing deeper and more slowly, we are able to stimulate the vagus nerve, and thus reduce anxiety. So, how exactly can you practice abdominal breathing? It’s actually quite simple: When you are breathing, think about slowly filling your abdomen up like a balloon. This will make you naturally inhale slowly. Then, slowly exhale.
How often you practice slow abdominal breathing depends on you. You can make a daily routine of it by fitting it into a daily meditation or yoga practice. On the other hand, you can also just practice it whenever you feel on edge. Just 3 cycles of slow abdominal breathing can work wonders for activating your vagus nerve!
Because your gut and your brain are intimately connected via the gut-brain axis, whatever affects your gut also affects your brain and its connections such as the vagus nerve.
So, by taking good care of your gut, you’re also taking care of your vagus nerve. One way you can take care of your gut is by practicing intermittent fasting. Much like you need to give your body a rest in order to recharge, intermittent fasting gives your gut a break from digestion, so it can recharge. In fact, research shows that intermittent fasting increases your heart rate variability, which is a measure of the activity of your vagus nerve.
An easy way to begin intermittent fasting is to stop eating, snacking or drinking alcohol after 7 p.m., and not resume eating or snacking until 7 a.m. the next day.
Stretch and Exercise daily
Participating in daily physical activity has tons of benefits, one of which is stimulating your vagus nerve. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system decreases your stress and anxiety levels, your anger, and even inflammation.
However, there is one caveat when it comes to physical activity; it should be done regularly and include moderate cardio and strength routines, which provide a sufficient increase of the vagal tone without overexerting yourself. This is because when you exercise too intensely, your vagus nerve activity actually diminishes.
Yoga is an ideal type of practice since stretching in certain yoga poses has a proven beneficial effect on heart rate and blood pressure, especially stretching the neck in the cobra pose.
Be Aware and Empathetic
In today’s technology driven world, we can feel isolated despite social media. Research has demonstrated that when you feel socially isolated, your vagus nerve function decreases.
But the good news is that there is a remedy for this; face-to-face interactions. The same study found that when those who felt socially isolated were engaged in fact-to-face interactions with others such as family and friends, the vagus tone increased.
Not able to have face-to-face interactions right now? Not to worry! By practicing mindful framing, a mindfulness practice that transforms your anxiety into vital energy through visualization, you will increase self-awareness and become more empathetic towards people in your family, at work and other acquaintances.
Or you can practice loving-kindness mindfulness, projecting warm feelings of love, empathy, and forgiveness toward others in four stages; first with friends and loved ones, then strangers who are suffering around the world, then your enemies and those you hold grudges against, and finally, yourself.
By naturally stimulating your vagus nerve, you will have at your disposal a powerful tool to relax and rebound from anxious thoughts and life’s stresses. Discover how your mind can control your body by sending the right signals to your heart, your lungs and your gut, while creating an aura of peace and relaxation around you.
Did you know that adrenaline, an essential booster of mental and body energy, can also trigger the ‘fight and flight’ response, causing stress and potentially getting you in trouble?
When you’re about to give a presentation, your throat is suddenly parched, and your heart begins to pound … that’s adrenaline kicking in.
When you have a deadline fast approaching and your feel sweaty palms, your feel a knot in your throat and can’t think clearly … that’s adrenaline rushing through your vessels.
What is adrenaline?
Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in your adrenal glands; those found on top of your kidneys. It is produced when you face a situation that requires an immediate increase of energy: a tiger threatening your life. Epinephrine is also a medication that emergency doctors inject to patients with a sudden life-threatening allergic reaction, also called anaphylaxis, or a when the heart stops beating. It immediately opens up airways in the lung and narrows blood vessels, normalizing breathing and heart rhythm.
Adrenaline and the stress response
When you face emotional, physical, or mental stress, adrenaline is released. In a healthy person, adrenaline expands your oxygen intake to your muscles. This happens because blood is squeezed from the skin and internal organs and rerouted to major muscles, preparing the body to flee a danger or fight it. Adrenaline increases the production of glucose in the liver while reducing insulin release by the pancreas, leading to improved muscle function, you feel stronger.
Your nervous system is able to decrease pain, increasing your ability to keep fighting despite injuries. Simultaneously, an adrenaline rush heightens your sensory perception, letting you enjoy every second of sky diving or watching a horror movie.
Impact of increased adrenaline
Craving for an adrenaline rush may lead to misusing prescription medications, drugs or seeking ‘hyperventilating’ activities. Your mind and body may ‘enjoy’ stressful situations, even confrontation or dangerous activities.
When you have high levels of adrenaline, you’ll feel agitated and irritable. Over time, high levels of adrenaline can lead to insomnia, anxiety, weight gain, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Thus, it’s crucial to ensure that your adrenaline levels are under control.
At some point the mind may be use stress and anxiety to keep adrenaline rushing into your bloodstream. on the other hand, a mind full of worry and thoughts will have a hard time falling asleep, this would drive an increase of adrenaline leading to insomnia.
You can control your adrenaline levels by focusing on stress management. Here are 4 simple ways to naturally control your adrenaline levels.
Know thy self
Sometimes, we’re stressed out because we don’t know our limits, we lack long-term self-confidence and look for a quick fix, an adrenaline rush. For instance, being a yes-person, unable to say no to others. When you have a stressful job, and you’re taking care of an ailing parent at home, but someone comes along and asks if you can coach your daughter’s soccer team. Instead of saying no, you go ahead and say yes. This may help you feel good momentarily but adds unnecessary stress to your already full plate.
To learn about your limits, practice self-reflection and you progressively will feel being more self-assertive. Also, engage in role-playing, practice being a naysayer, which will give you the confidence and experience to be able to say no assertively, yet gracefully.
Be truly social
Having social support helps lower your stress levels. When you have a solid social network system, you don’t feel alone, and you have people with whom you can unburden your stressors.
In today’s world, we are lonelier than ever despite being more connected digitally. It just may be that we need more face-to-face interactions.
There are a number of ways to develop good social support. For instance, get out and volunteer. By volunteering, you not only help others, you also get to meet other people with similar values as yourself. Another way you can develop good social engagements is by getting involved with your community association. joining a gym or religious organization. By being less isolated, you’ll not only feel less stressed, but happier as well.
Go for a walk
To reduce your risk of adrenaline addiction, it’s important to balance stimulating with relaxing activities. After a stressful situation, move towards an unchallenging, systematic, routine task to allow adrenaline blood levels to drop. Going for a walk around the block and focusing on the environment is a well-established recipe to decompress.
When you’re facing a looming deadline at work, or a challenging relationship with your loved ones, the last thing you want to do is to move, exercise, challenge your body. Yet, it’s extremely beneficial.
When you make time to exercise, you give your mind a break from the stressor. As a result, you come back rejuvenated and ready to tackle the stressor head on, or even have a completely different perspective on the stressor. Also, when you exercise, you release endorphins, the feel-good hormones.
Get enough sleep
Have you noticed how much smoother your day goes by when you get enough sleep? When you get enough sleep, you’re more relaxed and are better able to handle stress.
Getting enough sleep will let your mind and body normalize adrenaline and several other hormones and neurotransmitters. One way you can ensure you’re getting enough sleep is by practicing good sleep hygiene habits. For instance, make your bedroom a technology-free zone. Instead of scrolling through social media at night, read a good book.
Another good practice to ensure you’re getting enough sleep is to let go of the day’s worries. You can do so by focusing on your senses to distract your mind while in bed, practicing sensorial mindfulness or mindful framing.
Life has its fair share of challenges and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by them. By practising stress management techniques, you can not only lower your reliance on short-term adrenaline rushes, but lower your tendency to be overwhelmed by life’s challenges as well.