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3 STRATEGIES TO AVOID BURNOUT (HINT: THEY ARE FUN TOO!)


Burnout has reached epidemic levels in the world - I have been through it, and it is not fun! For those wondering if burnout is a real thing or how prevalent it is in our community, consider some of the below eye-popping numbers:

· A 2013 ComPsych survey of more than 5,100 North American workers found that 62% felt high levels of stress, loss of control, and extreme fatigue

· More recently, in a 2021 Indeed survey of workers of all ages and ranks, 52% of respondents reported suffering from burnout. This is up 9% from 43% in 2020.

· Google searches for “burnout symptoms” hit an all-time high in May 2022, as we weathered the third year of the pandemic, while facing the uncertainty that comes with a faltering economy.

· In recognition, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis.


What does Burnout mean and how does it manifest? The most common symptoms of burnout are physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of being cut off from ourselves and others, and a decrease in desire to do our home or work activities well. According to Freudenberger & Richelson (1980), it mainly strikes highly committed and hard-working people when their devotion to a cause fails to produce the desired results.


On the positive side, "burnout" is our soul telling us that our current path has reached an end, and that if we recognize and accept this, it's easier to be true to ourselves and start healing.


So how does one avoid burnout or gradually progress from burnout to blooming? Here are three time-tested strategies:


Strategy #1: Move from Work-life Balance to Work-Life Harmony

The work/life overlap is only getting bigger and bigger. As the recent pandemic and WFH model has shown us, the lines that demarcate work and life are getting blurrier by the day. Many activities straddle this cusp – Happy-hour mingling with coworkers? Cooking a meal or taking a walk while on a work call? When we overdo this balancing act between “work and life”, we get depleted and it typically results in burnout.


Our bodies have finite energy to expend in a day, so it is critical to decide which activities are to be prioritized. The outdated model of work-life balance/ integration targets the “what to do, when, and how”. The more relevant concept of work-life harmony, laser focuses on the “why”. Once we start asking why we are doing certain activities within the overall framework of our lives and optimizing our health and wellness, it provides a fresh perspective on what is truly important and needs to be prioritized.


Some tips to accomplish this exercise:

· Give yourself the needed headspace. Trying to cram this between back-to-back meetings is a task in futility. Take the occasional “5-minute PAUSE” to concentrate, collect your thoughts and get creative. Create “white space” in our calendars and our minds. This will give you time to incorporate more play and joy into our daily lives.

· When prioritizing, introspect on where you sit with regard to modifiable lifestyle factors – nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress management, relationships and mindset.

· Don’t think too long-term when prioritizing, while also breaking down and simplifying the process

· Recognize your limitations – be honest regarding yourself on your ability and/or bandwidth to do something


Strategy #2: Increase your positivity ratio

One way to go from burnout to blooming – and stay that way – is to fortify JOY and building mental resilience. In her book "Positivity", Dr. Barbara L. Fredickson presents research that shows that the tipping point from a languishing life to a flourishing life is trying to bring in at least a 3:1 ratio of positive and negative emotions in your day and life. It is unrealistic to expect to always have positive emotions, and it is actually quite stressful to force positivity. The idea is to keep adding to your positivity reservoir, so we can get to that 3:1 positive/negativity ratio. The best way to bring out more positivity? That gets me to my third strategy that I believe is a “home run” strategy that is highly undervalued and underutilized today – and that is bringing more play into your life!


Strategy #3: The Power of Play!

Play, or more accurately the trait of playfulness, is not specifically referring to the just an activity that can “distract you”, but rather it is the mindset of curiosity, creativity, open-mindedness, and the ability to manage stress and negativity. This is what makes PLAY a POWERFUL antidote to burnout!


Backed by this scientific research, play is found to have the following physical and mental health and wellness benefits:

· Reduced stress/burnout, improve mood and emotional wellbeing - when we play, our brains create what can be called our intrinsic D.O.S.E. (acronym for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins). They are the neurochemicals that help us be creative, connect with other people, trust others, give us a sense of belonging and provide increased focus.

· Improved growth mindset and resilience - Resiliency means the ability to “bounce back” from difficult or negative situations. This resiliency that you build through playfulness and positivity can help insulate you against burnout and reduce chronic stress. Playfulness also increases our openness to facing challenges and obstacles, dealing with uncertainty, and collaborating with others rather seeing them as competition. Thereby it helps with avoiding or addressing burnout. It encourages teamwork.

· Stimulates the brain and boost curiosity & creativity - We learn new tasks better when it's fun and we're in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate our imagination, helping us adapt and solve problems. This is incredibly useful in the workplace, or community, when faced with challenges and issues, to look at them in new ways with a different mindset. There is a sense of competence.

· Refresh the mind and body - Boosts our energy/ vitality, and turbocharge productivity. It reduces boredom, when the brain is more PRESENT and looks at all tasks, as mundane as they are, to be new, entertaining experiences. Helps dealing with trauma.

· Improve overall health - Protect our heart (lower heart rate/higher heart rate variability and lower blood pressure), strengthen our immune system, fewer aches & pains, combat disease and extend life.

So, how do we bring in more play?


Here are some of my favorite tips to build our “playfulness muscles”:

· Insert play into all activities, however mundane – like singing while cleaning the house or dancing while cooking a meal

· Pick a hobby, like playing the guitar, and recruit colleagues and friends to participate

· Mindset reconditioning by taking a different route to the grocery store or brushing with my non-dominant hand

· Play with the experts – kids and pets!

· Surround yourself with playful people

Seeing the scientific research and positive impacts in my own life, I am a true believer of incorporating play into the rhythm of our lives – it is integral to any kind of success, however one defines that.


So start small, celebrate the wins, learn from failures… and most importantly, have fun along the way!

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