Burnout and how to prevent burnout is a hot topic, now more than ever before. One of the solutions often touted for burnout prevention is improved time management. The problem is, there will always be more “to do’s” than time to complete them.
You can truly be a master at time management and still come up short. Why? The fact is time will always remain a limited resource. You cannot create more of it. In contrast, energy levels can increase and decrease. Imagine you are engaged in the task of difficult calculations. You are tired and hungry; you feel completely unmotivated to do it.
Now imagine a scenario where you had a great night’s rest, you are well fueled with a great breakfast, and you are excited about the financial implications if you can make the math work out for your favorite cause. Clearly your energy output varies greatly from Scenario 1 to Scenario 2.
You don’t have to be at the mercy of low energy. To optimize energy, you have to understand how energy works. Everything in nature has a rhythm moving between activity and rest. Imagine tides, seasons, night and day. Human energy fluctuates between spending and recharging. Healthy patterns of spending and recharging is at the core of maximizing performance and preventing burnout.
Too often high performers become addicted to stress. Instead of moving between spending and recharging, they will just push longer and harder. But how could stress be addicting? Stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol fuel arousal and create a high of sorts.
Unfortunately, this is not healthy or sustainable. Performance is impeded and burnout follows. When we operate at a high enough intensity for long enough, we eventually lose our ability to “shut off.”
Sometimes that looks like someone that just can’t sit still and must keep busy, even if it is not necessarily meaningful activity. Sometimes it is a constant feeling of guilt when not working.
To prevent this state of stress addiction or to get back from burnout, energy may be derived from a number of different sources. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Physical energy may be gained through a variety of practices. Optimal physical energy comes from eating a number of low-calorie, but nutrition rich meals a day. This helps the body to stay consistently fueled and prevents crashes. Optimal physical energy is also dependent on staying well hydrated. A suggested intake is 64 ounces of water daily.
Sleep is also crucial to physical energy. Most people require 7-8 hours a night to function optimally. Additionally, going to bed early and waking early helps optimize performance. Physical exercise is a part of the recipe for optimal physical energy. More specifically, interval training is most effective in building physical capacity.
Something else to consider if you have a job where you spend most of your day sitting, is to reenergize your body. Stand up every 30 minutes to stretch and take a 10-minute walk every 2 hours to get the blood flowing.
Emotional energy is key to peak performance and is derived from experiencing pleasant and positive emotions such as joy, challenges, adventure, and opportunity. Positive emotional energy is also derived from self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness, and empathy.
On the flip side, negative emotions drain emotional energy and have an adverse impact on performance.
Mental energy is best described as a state of mind, how you interact with the world. The most optimal state of mind for gaining mental energy is one of realistic optimism. This allows you to see the world as it is, yet also consistently taking active steps towards a desired outcome. Some tools that aid positive mental energy, include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, and creativity.
Spiritual energy fuels passion, perseverance, and commitment. This helps us stay on course when things get tough. Spiritual energy is gained from always being connected to deeply held values and purpose beyond our selfish needs and always keeping these values front and center.
Dr. Siquilla Liebetrau, Psy.D., HSPP, is a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Bowen Center. You can contact her at Ask.DrLiebetrau@BowenCenter.org.