Burned Out? Try These Secrets to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

(First appeared in WRAL Techwire.)

Greetings from Boca Raton! This week’s blog is inspired by the Florida sunshine and glass of cucumber water. Two weeks ago, I shared that I was taking April off. More specifically, I blocked off any openings that had not already been scheduled and reserved them for me.

What a difference a choice makes! The act of preserving and protecting my time has already paid off in ways I would not have imagined. By deciding to say ‘no’ to new appointments, I built in more margin this month than I have in years. That one decision made it possible to schedule a quick trip to visit my son at Florida Atlantic University and drop in on a dear friend in Pompano Beach. Margin. A gift that I’ve clearly taken for granted.

This down time has brought me back to a book called Burnout – the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Dr. Emily Nagoski and Dr. Amelia Nagoski. I’m rereading it, and like most things, it’s taken on new meaning in this season.  Here are a few of my key takeaways.

FIRST, LET’S LEVEL-SET ON WHAT BURNOUT IS. 

The Nagoski sisters use research established by Herbert Freudenberger (the man who coined the term burnout) as the foundation of their work. Here’s how they break it down.

  1. Emotional exhaustion – caring too much for too long.
  2. Depersonalization – the depletion of empathy and compassion – also known as compassion fatigue. (This was the one that stunned me into my April retreat.)
  3. Decreased sense of accomplishment – feeling that no matter what you do it doesn’t make a difference.

I know, I know… this is where you say, “I might be burned out, Jes – so now what?”

Don’t worry, the Nagoski sisters and I have your back.

EVERYDAY you must interrupt the stress cycle that causes long-term burnout.  Yes, each and every day you need to actively do something that short circuits your stress. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Move your body! – We hear it all the time – endorphins will save the day. Two weeks ago I bought a rebounder. If you’re unfamiliar, a rebounder is a little trampoline. I thought bouncing through my work day could be a fun change of pace. So, if you’re on a zoom call with me and I’m off camera, you’ll know why.
  2. Affection – Our scientific sisters are very specific with their recommendations here so get out your timers. They argue that breaking the stress cycle can be as easy as:
    1. a six-second kiss
    2. a twenty-second hug
    3. six minutes of snuggling after sex
    4. helpless laughter
  3. Self-expression – Last but not least they tell us to break out the crayons and exercise our creative muscle by writing, drawing or singing. Whatever works for you. I create playlists for every mood. If singing Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Dance with Somebody” at the top of your lungs at 2pm in the afternoon doesn’t break the stress cycle, I don’t know what will.

Well, that’s week one on burnout recovery. Next week, I’ll share a few tips from top executives in the area.  I’m excited to sit down with them and hear how they are addressing burnout in the workplace. Until then… go hug someone.

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