According to Gallup, 23% of workers feel chronically burned out, while 63% feel occasionally burned out at work. Given that the vast majority of people struggle with burnout under typical circumstances where ambitious goals, frustrating bosses, and other workplace issues are their greatest stressors, a global crisis is enough to push most people over the edge into experiencing crippling stress and anxiety.
Global crises are so challenging to cope with because they threaten nearly everything important - your health, job, and economic security, and extreme uncertainty about what the future holds for yourself and everyone you love.
Despite this, it is possible to continue pushing forward without burning out. Here are five ways to prevent burnout while dealing with extreme levels of stress.
1) Block Off Time for Mindful Activities
If you’re the type of person who hates slowing down, meditating is probably the last thing you’d think to do during a crisis. However, numerous studies show that mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to guard against burnout.
When you’re dealing with a crisis or any high-stress situation, you’re highly likely to burnout if you continue to push forward non-stop. Eventually, you’ll hit a point where your brain stops functioning productively, and you’ll lose motivation.
Mindfulness prevents that by refreshing your brain, so you have the mental energy to continue tackling the new issues that come your way.
Here are some quick ways to practice mindfulness if meditation isn’t your thing:
- Reflect on life while you have your morning cup of coffee or tea.
- Take a few minutes every day to think about all of the things you’re grateful for;
- Take brief breaks throughout the day to listen to and reflect on meaningful songs.
- Go for walks and let your mind wander.
You can practice mindfulness by doing any activity where you pause and positively reflect on your life. Taking the time to briefly slow down will enable you to keep running forward.
2) Stop Making Mundane Decisions
Research shows that people make an average of 35,000 decisions per day. This seems high but when you consider that it includes everything from what shoes to wear to what to eat multiple times per day to which emails to respond to first, how to respond, and the vast number of other small and large actions you need to decide on throughout the day, that estimate is reasonable.
The challenge of making so many decisions is that it drains your mental energy. This is even more true during a crisis when you’re often forced to make higher-risk decisions faster and more frequently. Feeling overwhelmed by all of these critical decisions on top of your responsibilities triggers burnout.
Having to make fast, difficult decisions in a crisis is inevitable. However, you can reduce your mental burden by eliminating inconsequential choices, including:
- What to wear
- What to eat
- What emails to respond to first
- What order to work on tasks
Instead of making these decisions every day, choose default options, and stick with them unless something drastically changes. For example, you can wear the same type of outfit every day, eat the same thing for breakfast, have leftovers for lunch, tackle work projects in a specific order, etc.
Eliminating some of these small decisions will reduce the variety in your life; however, it helps prevent burnout by freeing up your mental capacity to focus on the choices that have the greatest impact on your happiness and success.
3) Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks
One of the biggest drivers of burnout is constantly feeling like you have more responsibilities than you’ll ever have time to complete. To overcome this issue, you need to ruthlessly prioritize all of the items on your to-do list and eliminate the ones that don’t have a direct impact on your success and won’t have severe consequences if you stop doing them.
When you’re in a crisis, this can be challenging since everything on your to-do list seems so important; however, you likely have lots lot small time-wasters that add up including:
- Unproductive meetings
- Projects that are no longer relevant due to changes brought on by the crisis
- Manual updating of systems that could be easily automated.
- Producing reports and other materials for your team they barely use.
And a variety of non-essential tasks that vary based on your role. Eliminating as many of these kinds of tasks as possible will help you overcome burnout since you’re able to focus on your urgent projects without also dealing with a ton of distractions.
4) Make Exercise a Priority
Research shows that exercise is one of the easiest ways to fight burnout. Not only does it improve your physical well-being, but it also plays a critical role in your mental health. Here’s how:
- Exercise reduces your levels of stress hormones while increasing your levels of mood-boosting hormones. This helps you feel more optimistic and resilient, even as you deal with chaotic circumstances.
- Completing activities gives you a greater sense of control. For example, deciding to run a couple of miles or do fifty push-ups will give you a sense of accomplishment when you’re done. Those positive feelings can carry over into your work and help you feel like your goals are more achievable.
Keep in mind that making exercise a priority doesn’t mean you need to train like an athlete. To use exercise as a stress reliever, you should focus on tasks that make you feel good and not push yourself to achieve ambitious goals. For some people, it means going for a long run every evening to burn off frustration from the day’s activities. For others, the right balance of exercise is going for walks in the mornings to clear their thoughts before work.
To prevent crisis burnout, focus on the exercises that make you feel best, and accept that your routines may evolve with new developments in your life.
5) Foster Your Creativity
Regardless of whether you’re in a creative role or a business executive who makes financial decisions all day, pursuing creative hobbies is one of the most satisfying ways to boost your performance and prevent burnout.
Research shows that people who work on creative projects outside of work perform 15-30% better than those who don’t. Improving performance may seem irrelevant when you’re trying to avoid burnout; however, it has a powerful impact since experiencing success reduces the stress you have about work.
The reason creative hobbies are useful is that they improve your problem-solving skills, allowing you to feel confident, rather than overwhelmed when confronted with stressful situations.
Additionally, the beautiful thing about creativity is that it has no rules. During a crisis where you feel like you lack agency over the events happening in your life, spending time letting your mind be free is one of the best ways to relax.
To reap the benefits of fostering your creativity, you have to make it an essential, non-stressful part of your life.
- Choose an activity that you genuinely find interesting even if it has no practical applications. If you currently don’t have any creative hobbies, you may want to try out a few different options until you find one that you enjoy.
- Don’t set specific goals or deadlines. This hobby should be a reprieve from work stress, not add to it. Freeing yourself from expectations lets your mind wander freely and experiment in ways that you won’t if you’re trying to achieve something specific.
- Work on it consistently. A lot of people get excited when they first start (or resume) a hobby, and they dedicate a lot of time to it. Then a couple of weeks will go by, new life events will take priority, and they stop fostering their creativity. To use creative hobbies as a burnout prevention tool, you need to do them consistently, regardless of what’s happening. It’s your busiest times that you need it most since your hobby can be an outlet for all of the emotions that you have no other way to express.
Over time, your creative hobby, like exercise and mindfulness, will become an escape from all the stresses in your life while simultaneously helping you become increasingly effective.
Join productivity coach Alexis Haselberger for our upcoming webinar to learn how to reduce stress and thrive while working from home.
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.