Negative stress, staleness and burnout are becoming increasingly common in athletes, business people, students and performers as the demands from society are getting higher and higher. In a desire to keep up to date with the latest trends or to stay ahead of the curve, more people are working longer hours, resulting in increasing expectations and an unsustainable workload. Consistently working at this rate can lead to an overwhelming feeling of failure and a desire to mentally check out.
Staleness is a balancing act between demands and resources. If your brain feels overwhelmed with demands but knows it has enough resources to overcome the demands, it will handle the situation effectively. However, if it does not think it has enough resources, the brain will go into survival mode, which helps in the moment but leads to chronic stress and staleness over time. In the long-term, this feeling reduces the brain’s ability to function in stressful situations, reducing performance and leading to an increased sense of helplessness and failure. The brain can then adopt unhelpful patterns of behaviour to try and steal back a feeling of safety and achievement, which can keep you stuck in patterns of stress.
The best way to manage staleness and burnout and to stay fresh is to build resources.
Here are 5 simple ways to build resources to stay fresh and avoid feeling stale in your work, performance or sport:
1. Sleep. Sleep is like fuel for the body. Aim for an average of 8 hours of sleep most (ie 4 out of 7) nights of the week. Make sure you have a comfortable sleeping environment and do something relaxing before bed that helps you to wind down and shifts your focus off your work or performance, e.g., read, do a puzzle, listen to music, mindfulness practice, etc.
2. Set Goals. Set goals that are achievable and are related to something that is meaningful to you. Break big goals into little process goals everyday that are achievable and encourage you to keep going. Focus on process goals more than outcome goals but link them to something that gives you purpose and makes you come alive. Have goals outside of your work/performance space that have no connection with performance or achievement but are purely enjoyable, for example, going to the beach once a month.
3. Routine. Having a morning routine, a work day routine and a sleep routine can help your brain to feel in control and take away the feeling of being rushed. We have more time than we think and routines help us to manage our time better and automate some of our daily processes similar to systems in the workplace. Be flexible with your routines and slowly build them into your life.
4. Recovery Days. Schedule time off and spend at least one day a week doing anything except thinking about work or sport or performance. Spend time doing things that leave you feeling refreshed.
5. Be present. Schedule your day so that you are only doing one project or task at a time. When you’re at work, be at work, and when you’re at home limit thoughts about work. If you work from home, set up a thinking schedule with clear boundaries around different areas of focus. Our brains can only sustain good focus for a short period of time and the more you divide your focus the more inefficient you become. Having a 5 – 10 minute break every hour to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom or grab some water, can help you to sustain better focus for longer.
These steps will help you to stay fresh in a stressful job or environment. However, if you are experiencing burnout and depressive symptoms, it is best to consult a psychologist who can coach you through these steps and your unique situation. Seeking support is a great way to increase your resources!