So, you’ve got a great job that you love. You look forward to making each day a really productive one. You give it your all, go above and beyond, aim to please. Before you know it, your plate is stacked sky-high with tasks, projects and responsibilities. Suddenly you’re feeling more and more exhausted. Anxiety and irritation set in. You end up working longer hours to catch up and sleep comes hard. Worse still, your productivity has hit rock bottom and you just wish you could hide in a dark broom cupboard where no one can find you. Burnout has hit you full force.
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion resulting from chronic work stress. It can affect anyone, whether you’re a lowly office worker or the CEO of a cross continental conglomerate. You may think that it’s just part and parcel of the job; that it will pass. But in some serious cases burnout can lead to secondary trauma and depression. That’s why it’s paramount that you deal with it in a holistic manner with a good dose of self-care. Sometimes even the smallest change in your lifestyle can really help get that bounce back in your step.
If you’re feeling the burnout creep in, then take a deep breath, relax, and follow our handy guide that will help you banish the burnout blues and regain a healthy work-life balance.
Clock out and switch off //or// Be disciplined with your time
We all say that we want more time away from work. However, most of us don’t make proper use of the free time we already have. One of the key causes of burnout is that we remain ‘switched on’ even after we clock out. We’re compelled to read that email as soon as it pops into our inbox, or answer that work call even if it’s right before you’re about to sleep. But more often than not, it’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. So why ruin your downtime? Instead, use those free hours to unwind and disconnect. Spend quality time with friends and loved ones. Get lost in that gripping paperback or head out for a revitalising jog. Give your mind a chance to step away from work. You’re bound to feel better equipped to deal with any pending tasks when you return.
On a side note, it’s awesome to be part of a Facebook chat or WhatsApp group with your work mates where you can share all the latest gossip and have a laugh. But it’s not so cool if people keep updating you with work issues. If that’s the case, why not set your phone aside for a few hours or install an app to limit your social media usage. Some great suggestions to get you started are the Freedom and StayFocused apps.
Step away from the desk //or// Take your break away from your desk
Another trend that has come to afflict the desk jockey lifestyle is spending break times at your computer. It’s easy to think that gobbling down your lunch at your desk will help you save time or make you more productive, but this really isn’t the case and only adds to burnout. Take half an hour away from the computer screen and get some fresh air. Head out for a little walk to give yourself a break from the nine-to-five of sitting. It may seem antithetical but sitting at your computer all day can lead to severe physical fatigue. So try to break up those large chunks of sitting time with some stretching. Even minimal amounts of movement can lead to a significant mental boost and relieve tension.
Swap the jellybeans for the proteins
We all know it but it’s well to remind ourselves: the food we eat is the fuel that nourishes our body. Poor food choices will only add to our stress and anxiety levels. This is because our bodies use up more energy digesting unhealthy foods, which in turn takes energy away from our mental processes. You may think that that yummy Mars bar is a treat that you deserve; a little boost to deal with the burnout. But comfort food isn’t very comforting once your realise how sluggish it can make you feel.
So swap the fleeting junk food rush for a longer lasting uplift that comes from a fresh fruit smoothie or a salmon-and-avocado multigrain sandwich. You’ll soon realise that the simplest changes to your diet will help you remain more focussed and energised for longer hours.
It may not always be easy to prepare nutritious meals from home. Thankfully, recent years have seen a string of health conscious eateries open up shop across Malta. That delicious nourishing lunch is just a short stroll away—all the more reason to get away from your desk. If you’re in the Ta’ Xbiex, Gżira or Sliema areas be sure to check out Dr Juice, Balance Bowl, Mint, and Po-K, among others.
The fasting track
On the topic of food, a popular health trend that has proven to be effective in increasing our energy and focus is Intermittent Fasting. To put it simply, Intermittent Fasting is when we alternate between periods of fasting and of eating. You might fast between dinner and breakfast the next day, for example. Others try to increase the period of fasting by holding out until lunchtime. Some even opt to eat meals on alternate days only. Studies held by the Harvard Medical School and the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that intermittent fasting is not only beneficial for weight loss, but also allows our metabolism to work more efficiently.
By limiting our calorie intake to a set number of hours each day, we programme our bodies to digest fat from foods slowly. This stored energy is then then released steadily throughout the day, which improves our energy levels and allows our cognitive processes to function better.
Intermittent fasting does take some getting used to, however. So ease into the process and see what works best for you. It’s vital that you don’t starve yourself or deprive yourself of essential nutrients. If you stick it out for a few weeks, you may find your body acclimatizes to this new lifestyle and you’ll feel less hungry and more energetic.
Workout before you burnout
Physical exercise is about much more than getting that perfect beach bod. It also helps us get out of our heads and be in the moment. One of the key effects of burnout is that it can leave us feeling a lack of vitality. When this happens, we tend to coach potatoe the evenings away in front of Netflix with a pizza. Pushing ourselves to exert more energy is a lot less appealing. But the endorphins released during physical exertion help to relieve stress and boost our happiness levels. A good workout will also help you get a great night’s sleep, the better to face the next working day.
Don’t feel pressured to do one specific type of exercise. Find the activity that best suits you. Whether it’s a calming session of yoga or a fast paced game of squash, your exercise of choice will give you a break from your emotional and mental fluster. Choose something you enjoy and not with the aim of losing weight. Let that be an added bonus. Your primary goal here is to find yourself again. Above all else, have fun.
Some top sports and fitness centres around the Sliema area include: Fort Fitness, Reflex Gym, CrossFit Martell. For yoga and Pilates check out Freemyme, Amanda Marga Yoga, Hota Yoga & Pilates, and Raw Yoga Studio. And if you prefer the outdoors to an enclosed sports hall, why not head out for a jog along Sliema’s picturesque seafront promenade.
Find your inner Zen //or// Try to meditate
When we’re stressed, we tend to overload our minds with worry. The benefits of meditation is that it teaches you to control your thoughts rather than letting your thoughts control you. It helps you focus on the present moment and to be more aware of what is happening around you. Meditation does not mean dedicating time to having no thoughts at all. It’s about practicing to focus your mind on doing one thing at a time. Thoughts will come and go, but you learn to watch them float by rather than to engage with all of them at once. This is a technique which you can then turn to your work life, by focussing at the task in hand rather than trying to multitask and sending your mind into meltdown.
For something that appears so simple at first glance, meditating can prove an extremely difficult skill to master. That’s why beginners would do well to join a meditation group where a trained practitioner will lead you through the breathing techniques and core principles to quieten your mind and melt the worries away.
There a number of meditation classes of all kinds hosted around the island. For guided meditation see Living in Harmony Meditation at the Lotus Room Yoga Centre in Zebbuġ. The Argentine Tango centre in Mosta hosts sound meditations, while Ballads Heller in San Ġwan hosts Tibetan singing bowl sessions.
If you prefer to go the solo route there are plenty of apps that can help you find your inner Zen. Some popular favourites include Headspace and Calm.
Activate holiday mode //or// Go on holiday
When you find the small changes aren’t quite doing the trick, it’s time for a complete change of scenery. Holidays aren’t just enjoyable experiences. They’re also known to be therapeutic and especially helpful with the stresses of burnout. And this isn’t just a load of psychobabble. A study by Nuttfield Health & Kuoni Travel has linked travel and holidays to an improvement in our general health. They show that holidaymakers have a 29% increased ability to recover from stress. Not only that, but persons who do not travel much suffer a 71% decrease in their resilience to stress. New experiences trigger a sense of wonder in us. These memories are rewards, our brain’s way of reminding us to take a break from the ordinary and seek out new experiences that will revitalise us and get us out of our normal everyday routines.
Talk to someone
Sometimes when burnout really takes hold, self-care can feel like an impossibility. This neglect can prove detrimental to your mental health. This is the time to reach out and enlist the help from someone else. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a professional. Although a good therapist or life coach can do wonders to helping you overcome a tough situation. In an ideal scenario, you’ll have an understanding manager or supervisor who you can talk to about the pressures of work. But if that isn’t the case, you may find solace through a good friend or colleague who will listen to you without judgement.
Some people find it uncomfortable to bare their soul to someone they know. Rest assured there’s still lots of help at hand both online and over the phone. Anyone residing in Malta may wish to contact Supportline 179, the national helpline which offers all kinds of support to people in need of a chat. 7 Cups is a great international resource for finding a caring listener for free emotional support.