Health & Wellness

Battling Burnout: Skills for Fighting Stress and Exhaustion

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, burnout—or severe exhaustion caused by prolonged stress—was a serious concern. With the addition of changes to the way we’ve been working, living, and connecting with people due to COVID-19, things have felt busier and more stressful than ever, and that only increases the risk for burnout.

How Burnout Affects You

Burnout has a number of negative effects. Symptoms can vary, but often include both physical and mental issues. Common signs that you’re nearing or have already reached burnout are:

  • Feeling unmotivated or no longer capable of doing your job
  • Exhaustion/lacking energy to get work or tasks done
  • Feeling pessimistic or apathetic about the future
  • Losing enjoyment in things you enjoyed about your work or activities outside of work

Physical signs can also include frequent headaches, stomachaches, or intestinal issues; loss of appetite; and trouble falling or staying asleep. Recognizing these signs is important, because you can start to address burnout before it puts a serious damper on your life.

One way to combat burnout is to monitor and manage your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors - what can be called "self-assessment." Self-assessment can take a number of forms, such as allowing yourself space to recognize your feelings or tracking some emotions and behaviors daily. Emotion regulation can also help with burnout, such as calming yourself with deep breathing or having an outlet for expression like a journal or arts and crafts.

Remember Your ABCs, and Say PLEASE

To help with emotion regulation, you can look to Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s ABC PLEASE skills, which are specifically designed to reduce emotional vulnerability and burnout.

ABC skills tell us to:

  • ACCUMULATE POSITIVE EMOTIONS: Do things that are pleasant to combat the unpleasant, such as engaging in an old hobby or noticing the small things outside a window to get back to the life you choose.
  • BUILD MASTERY: Work on projects - big or small - that help you feel accomplished and effective. Do a load of laundry, follow up on emails, or try attending virtual class.
  • COPE AHEAD: Anticipate challenges and consider ways to deal with them effectively beforehand, then rehearse this in your mind so you are ready when it happens.

And the PLEASE skills include:

  • TREAT PHYSICAL ILLNESS: Don’t deny yourself a visit to the doctor when you’re sick, and take medications as prescribed. Also, don’t forget that sick leave exists so you can use it!
  • BALANCED EATING: Don’t skip meals, and try to eat the food that is right for your body.
  • AVOID MOOD-ALTERING SUBSTANCES: Be cautious of the effect that alcohol, drugs, and even caffeine can have on your body. If sobriety is important in your life, engage in things that help you maintain this.
  • BALANCED SLEEP: Get sufficient sleep, and talk to someone if you have trouble sleeping. Try to develop effective sleeping habits, such as having a bedtime routine and putting down your screens before bed.
  • EXERCISE: Get regular exercise, and take breaks to move your body with a walk or household chores like gardening and cleaning. Consider using a tracking app to keep tabs on and to inspire your progress.