Talking about mental health as something we all have, and approaching it with the same attitude, curiosity and openness as we do with physical health, helps give it equal weighting.
Dr Kate Daley wrote our series on Overcoming Burnout. Here are her top tips on how to prevent it from happening.
Our body gives us warning signs when burnout is approaching, but we often attribute symptoms to something physical or ignore them completely. For example we put our upset tummy down to something we ate, our muscle pain down to having slept funny or we brush off our headaches as just one of those things. There may of course be a physical cause but we should also consider if stress is a factor. Pay attention to any changes in your body as it may be trying to tell you something. Your body produces these sensations for a reason, it is important to listen so you can take action.
It sounds obvious but this is one of the first things we drop when we become busy or stressed. We de-prioritise ourselves in favour of other tasks, but taking care of our physical and emotional wellbeing is essential to replenish our energy and allows us to refuel. You can do this by ensuring good sleeping habits, taking regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Seek social connection, laugh, be kind to yourself, do activities you enjoy, practice relaxation, explore nature, use compassion. If you struggle to find time, book self care in your diary so that it becomes a priority, and treat that appointment as you would any other meeting or commitment.
Remember that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
Self care also involves taking breaks. Too often we skip lunch or eat at our desk, and neglect simple things like going to the toilet on time. Give yourself permission for regular breaks, stretching your legs, taking a walk, sitting and enjoying food somewhere without distraction. This actually allows your mind to rest for a moment and makes you more productive when you get back to work.
Put boundaries in place between work and home. When you leave the office turn off your work phone, put an out of office on your emails, keep your laptop closed. If you have a job where this really is impossible, then set specific times when you will check your email and tell your colleagues to only call in an emergency. Being accessible 24/7 is often unnecessary, it sets unrealistic expectations and is unsustainable. Often people think things are urgent when they are not. Don’t fuel this, part of your role may be to help them to gain perspective. Sometimes people like being available as it makes them feel important, don’t fall into this trap, you don’t need to be a slave to work to be valued. If you don’t disconnect, essentially you’re always at work so have no time to restock and recharge. Life is about balance and without it you’ll burnout.
When we are stressed, we often try to juggle tasks as it makes us feel more productive. The problem is that this is just a feeling. It is actually really ineffective to multitask and it leads to more stress. Every time you move between tasks, your brain needs time to readjust and so you’re actually losing time. You’re much better off sticking to one thing at a time. Help yourself by reducing distractions, go work in a quiet space or tell your colleagues that you can't be disturbed for a while, turn off push notifications or social media. Be in control of what you pay attention too.
Seek support from a colleague, a friend or your manager if you are feeling overwhelmed. They might be able to offer perspective, suggest strategies to use or even take work off your hands. It is also important to lean on supportive people outside of work. It can be tempting to withdraw when we feel stressed or low, but it is helpful to connect with friends or family. It might feel odd at first, but letting your friends or family know that you need to talk about how you're feeling ahead of meeting them will make sure that they are in the right mindset to support you. It's good to talk about what's making you feel overwhelmed at work, but talking to people about things outside of work will help reduce your stress levels and may help you gain perspective, putting things back in balance and reminding you of your life outside of work.
If you'd like to find out more about Dr Kate Daley, click here.
Sam Watson from William Hill shares how they are using Unmind to help employees thrive in the workplace, while Minds@Work Founder and Unmind collaborator Geoff McDonald talks about mental ill-health in the workplace and how to Flourish at Work.