6 Ways to Avoid Burnout if the New Year Already Feels Overwhelming

This is the only resolution that will keep you from losing your marbles (again) this year.
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This is the only resolution that will keep you from losing your marbles (again) this year.

The passage from one day to the next is usually pretty routine, but when we’re talking about moving from December 31 to January 1, the transition is quite ceremonious. (Especially if you had too many glasses of champagne.) In particular, it’s a common time to pause and take stock of what’s going on in your life—and to make a resolution or two.

While many people are busy making resolutions to lose weight and be more productive, here’s another one to consider: ensuring you don’t get burned out.

Dr. Thomas Roe, Psy.D., coordinator of graduate student counseling services at the University of California, Davis, tells us, “When I hear someone say, ‘I’m burned out,’ I will assume there’s probably an imbalance in their life at work or at home. They’ve encountered some barriers and roadblocks along the way. And they’re struggling to get beyond them.”

The good news is that you have the power to make healthy choices to regain balance. We may live in a culture that glorifies busyness and doing it all, but this more often leads to stress and burnout than to true happiness and fulfillment. So take control of impending chaos by making your second resolution for 2016 to reduce stress and prevent burnout (this one should be your first). Here’s how.

01. Pause before you dive in to the year.

It may be the beginning of the year, but if you think that’s code for “full speed ahead,” consider slowing down, especially if you have experienced burnout before. This doesn’t mean having lazy Sunday every day, but there are many productive ways to take a breather seven days a week.

Terms like “self-care” and “me-time” may feel selfish and cliché, but they describe a necessary, and often neglected, break in our day. This could mean taking a few minutes or a couple hours to shut off and focus on yourself and be intentional with the limited hours you have each week. Close your eyes and take a deep breath or treat your mind and body to a jog.

You’ll also help your health by catching up on missed sleep. Self-care may even mean using those vacation days for, you guessed it, an actual vacation (for many of us, the holidays feel more like time on than time off!). Let January be a recovery and rejuvenation period to get your mind and body cleared for the coming year.

02. Identify when and why you’ve experienced burnout.

"Burnout" means reaching a point where the daily stresses of your life—work, family, relationships, body image, and more—become overwhelming, affecting you mentally and physically. Burnout can cause fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety. A recent study published in the International Journal of Stress Management revealed that 90 percent of burned out workers met the diagnostic criteria for depression, suggesting that burnout may be a depressive syndrome.

Before you set your mind on accomplishing things this year, examine what has gone well and was has gone wrong in years past. Knowing what triggers your burnout is the first step to overcoming it.

03. Look ahead, and plan accordingly.

One of the most logical tips to reduce stress is to plan, plan, plan. For instance, if you have a bunch of weddings to attend over the summer, don’t sign up for a marathon; you’ll have to be completing long training runs during that time. Productivity is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean you have to be multitasking 24/7.

Dr. Roe says that "if you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off," you're already burnt out. Writing down what’s coming up in this new year will allow you to put what’s important to you on the schedule and do away with what isn’t.

04. Remember what makes you truly happy.

If you know something makes you happy, it’s worth resolving to do. Love going out for brunch with your friends? Schedule it in at least once a month. Do you feel ecstatic after you’ve completed a morning workout? Then it’s worth waking up a bit earlier to do it. Making room for your favorite activities will make achieving your resolutions a lot more pleasant.

What should you do about activities that don't do it for you? In The Four Stages of Burnout, Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker, says that being a team player doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your integrity or health. It's OK to say, "No, thank you."

05. Be honest about why you’re making that resolution.

Don’t just think about what you want to change. If something isn’t working or fulfilling you anymore, figure out why. You may feel like you need to lose weight, but is it because you have unhealthy eating habits and want to be more fit, or because you are beating yourself up for not conforming to an unrealistic standard of beauty? This can also apply to our friendships, relationships, and career choices.

To reduce outside stressors, motivation must come from yourself, not out of envy or pressure from others. Just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean that you should, too.

06. Reflect and reconnect.

As the year progresses, revisit your resolutions, and think about why you chose them in the first place. Whether you want to save more money, read more, or earn that big promotion, contemplate how they fulfill you. Maybe building your savings helps you achieve your larger goal of paying off your student loans. Reading more allows you to challenge your critical thinking skills. Whatever it is, putting your aspirations in perspective will remind you why you started this journey and will help keep you motivated.

And remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Dr. Roe advises, “Ask for help identifying or ranking your priorities, and learn to delegate. The same principles apply for work tasks.” Finding help when you need it will make your year simpler and happier. And you’ll nurture more meaningful relationships too. People are often glad to oblige. You don’t expect others to go it alone, so why expect it from yourself?

Even if you break your resolutions once, twice, or fifty times, this year, take a breather. Then try again. You’re less likely to make another effort if you beat yourself up for messing up. You are your greatest inspiration. So swap the scolding for a positive boost, whether it’s a mantra from Pinterest or motivational words you would tell your best friend. It may feel silly to give yourself kindness and compliments, but hey, who’s watching? Make 2016 the year you do what's best for you—those around you will benefit, too.

Photo Credit: Olivia Leigh Photography