8 Ways to Combat Burnout & Improve Your Mental Health
Burnout. It’s a term we’ve all heard and we’ve likely experienced it, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. But do any of us really understand what burnout is, its long-term effects, and, most importantly, how to avoid or recover from it?
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we continue to traverse an unfamiliar world, it’s a good time to be reminded of the importance of self-care as a way to combat—or better yet avoid—the burnout that you and your employees may be experiencing. Living in the midst of a pandemic, combined with the demands of everyday life, has taken a toll no one was prepared for. Most people are feeling the effects in one way or another, so burnout is on the rise. In fact, 69% of remote workers said they were experiencing burnout symptoms in a survey conducted by Monster.com in July last year. This was up from only 20% just a few months earlier.
What is burnout and how does it relate to musculoskeletal pain?
In his 1974 article, psychologist and psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger described burnout as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” in the workplace. However, burnout is now an all-too-common part of our everyday lives, both in and out of the workplace.
Burnout is caused by one of the two types of stress. Eustress is mild to moderate stress that can be positive, acting as a motivator or energizer. On the other hand, distress occurs with chronic high levels of stress, eventually resulting in burnout if it’s not addressed and managed.
Symptoms of both eustress and distress include anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, poor concentration, and even physical symptoms. When stress is not managed or becomes chronic, it can increase inflammation in the body, leading to long-term mental and physical health issues such as chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) pain. Burnout and stress can increase cortisol levels in your body, which, in turn, hinder growth hormones, which are important for tissue repair and MSK recovery. Essentially, when your body is in this state of stress, it cannot heal. To overcome your MSK pain, combating burnout and stress are critical.
Warning signs of burnout include the following:
- Feeling out of control
- Exhaustion and/or depletion of energy
- Reduced interest or productivity at work or in personal life
- Physical disturbances similar to those experienced with stress, but more pronounced
- Feelings of helplessness or being trapped, numb, detached, unmotivated, cynical, or defeated
- Behavioral changes such as disregarding responsibilities, becoming isolated, procrastinating, taking frustrations out on others, and substance abuse
To prevent or reverse burnout from chronic stress, it’s important to know your limits and listen to your body’s messages. Although balance may feel elusive and, at times, impossible, it’s key to staying healthy in mind and body. As a health coach at Hinge Health, I work with many participants who are experiencing chronic MSK pain and stress or burnout. Here are my top eight self-care tips to combat burnout and stress, and ultimately, help you and your members recover from MSK pain.
1. Work/life balance
If any of the above warnings of burnout apply to you, it would be a good idea to stop for a minute and take stock of your work/life balance. Are you working long hours? Does your workload feel overwhelming? You might need to establish boundaries between your work and personal life, which can be hard to do while working from home. You also might need to talk to your boss and deprioritize tasks that can be done tomorrow or next week.
Putting work/life balance into practice:
- Schedule a firm “end time” on your calendar, such as 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., and stick to it
- Turn off notifications on your phone
- Deprioritize tasks that are not essential or impactful to your organization
- Plan a vacation to completely unplug and rejuvenate
- Go for a walk, exercise, or do yoga after work to create time to de-stress and a transitional boundary between work and your personal life
2. Good Nutrition
A balanced diet not only contributes to better focus and emotional stability but also leads to sustained energy and a stronger immune system. Sugars cause inflammation of your joints, leading to increased MSK pain.
Putting good nutrition into practice:
- Add more whole foods to your diet
- Choose complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Hydrate by drinking half your weight in ounces of water every day
- Avoid highly processed foods and refined sugars
3. Physical Activity
The CDC recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination. And for good reason. Regularly moving your body contributes to decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Plus, it improves sleep and boosts self-confidence. Going for a hike in nature in the fresh air can rejuvenate you.
Putting physical activity into practice:
- Schedule it into your weekly routine
- Find an exercise buddy
- Use an app like Hinge Health with a playlist of exercises
- Break it up into smaller chunks throughout the day
- Get up and move for at least 5–10 minutes every 1–2 hours
4. Rest and Relaxation
Making time for rest and relaxation outside of sleep is good for both the body and the mind. It releases tension, improves mood and cognitive functioning, and makes it easier to cope with adversity.
Putting rest and relaxation into practice:
- Take power naps
- Unplug from technology
- Journal or read
- Be intentional and schedule it if you need to
5. Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships enhance our lives in numerous ways. They make them richer and more rewarding. They also help our bodies heal quicker, increase longevity, lower blood pressure, give us a greater sense of purpose, and decrease stress levels. To help avoid burnout, be sure to lean on your support system and nurture the relationships with the people who hold the most meaning in your life.
Putting healthy relationships into practice:
- Create healthy boundaries
- Schedule regular time with family and friends, even if it’s virtual
- Find and connect with like-minded people through meetup groups in your community
- Spend quality time with a pet if you have one or volunteer at an animal shelter
- If you’re spiritual, nurture your relationship with a higher power
6. Fun and Laughter
We all have an inner child that requires attention, which is why regular moments of fun and laughter are important for avoiding or recovering from burnout. When we let our guard down to play, it reduces stress and boosts our mood, and that contributes to healthier relationships, less anxiety, better brain function, and a stronger immune system.
Putting fun and laughter into practice:
- Take dance, music, or movement breaks while working
- Read, watch, or listen to something that isn’t work-related
- Schedule time for fun at least once a week
- Play with your kids, grandkids, or pets
- Spend time with people who make you laugh
- Engage in hobbies or other activities that bring you joy
- Celebrate the little things in life
Feeling inspired allows us to transcend our ordinary experiences and the limitations of our lives. It leads us to believe that almost anything is possible. It gives our lives more meaning, provides a greater sense of purpose, and leads to increased productivity and creativity.
Putting inspiration into practice:
- Practice free writing, letting your thoughts flow freely and without judgment
- Create a vision board by pasting words and pictures that represent your goals and dreams on a backing
- Spend time in nature, visit a museum, or attend a virtual concert
- Connect with people who have interests and passions similar to yours
- Watch inspirational videos, such as TED Talks, online
- Sign up for a virtual class you’ve always wanted to take, read more books, or travel
8. Positive Mindset
It’s said that the mind is our most powerful tool and that what we think about is what we become. That’s why maintaining a positive mindset and being intentional about how we perceive potentially stressful situations can help combat burnout. In fact, research shows that a positive mindset leads to increased immunity, greater resilience, a longer life span, and greater well-being overall.
Putting a positive mindset into practice:
- Pay attention to your thoughts
- Cultivate a daily gratitude practice
- Consume positive media
- Make use of positive affirmations and visualizations
- Do things that inspire you
- See failing as part of learning
- Spend time with people who bring you joy
Above all else, when implementing self-care practices to avoid or recover from burnout, do so with intention. The key is to remove from your life the things that exacerbate stress and simultaneously invest your energy in the people and activities that bring you the greatest joy. Remember: don’t give your power away to stress—take it back.
For employers or health plans interested in finding out more about Hinge Health’s holistic whole-body approach to resolving MSK conditions by addressing comorbidities like mental health and stress, request a demo below. If you’re an employee, ask your employer or health plan if they offer Hinge Health.
About the Author
Casey Marie Burns is a National Board-certified Health and Wellness Coach at Hinge Health, with a Master of Arts in Health and Wellness Coaching. Originally from Southern California, she currently resides in Portland, OR where she enjoys writing, hiking, meditating, exploring the Oregon coast, and spending time with loved ones. As a health and wellness coach, Casey is inspired to help other people live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.