Calarco wishes more people knew about the early signs of impending burnout so they could take steps to rectify it before their family life suffers, or put on a hospital gown.
“Signs of burnout are feeling foggy, exhausted, or fatigued — something that would normally come easy to them takes more energy and time,” he says. “They may also have trouble regulating themselves in a stressful or challenging environment.”
While many of us are licking the wounds of coping with the unique stress of the COVID-19 years, Calarco says one of the most powerful things we can do is prioritize breaks — whether that’s taking 90 seconds of deep breathing between tasks at work or setting limits on devices present to prevent work from leaking into our evenings.
“One of the biggest causes I see is that they’re always ‘on’ mentally and don’t give themselves permission to take a break because they think it’s a waste of time,” he says.
The power of taking breaks
But Calarco says scheduling small breaks not only helps prevent long-term burnout, but it actually immediately improves brain function to boost performance.
“If you work and solve problems in this ‘high frequency’ thinking, you are usually in so-called ‘beta’ mode. We can’t stay in beta mode 24 hours a day without our clarity and mental focus diminishing – it causes the brain’s amygdala to switch on our ‘fight or flight’ response, undermining our ability to effectively solve problems ‘, he explains.
“But if you take a short break or do even 90 seconds of meditation, you fall back into ‘theta mode’, where you slow down the brain frequency, deactivate the amygdala and activate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain that helps us make decisions and come up with new ideas.”
Clarity and mindset coach Hana Jung was hospitalized twice for burnout after 10 years climbing the New York corporate ladder, and now watches over burnout prevention.
Change in regular routine
“It’s a slippery slope – you have to get there early,” she says. “For me, I find myself starting to get agitated, hate my job, or try to escape, whether that’s by drinking more, meditating less, or watching Netflix for hours on end. When I’m doing things that are out of my norm, I’m like, “Oh, this is a coping mechanism, which means I’m stressed out and need to tune in and go, ‘What can I let go of?’
Dr. Hensman says the push for better balance continues, but he’s reassured by the fact that his sleep tracker now shows up to 90 percent sleep quality, largely thanks to avoiding news and emails in the morning and late at night.
“I have resumed my hobbies that I had given up as time pressed and interaction with my family has improved,” he says.
“It’s a constant battle for me to regulate myself and say, ‘I need a timeout,’ but I have to remind myself that these measures will keep you at your best so that you can get the best out of yourself for the short life we have. ”
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