How To Handle Work-From-Home Burnout

How To Handle Work-From-Home Burnout

If you drive a car hard, foot flat on the accelerator, then slam on the brakes, then accelerate quickly, the car will break down faster than if you accelerate/decelerate smoothly and service the car regularly. The same theory applies to our bodies – specifically, our adrenal glands. 

Why We Get Burned Out

In today’s challenging work environment, too many people have been spending long periods of time in overdrive, with their foot flat on the accelerator, draining their adrenals – and their resilience. 

Our adrenal glands produce cortisol so that we can rise to the occasion with confidence.  To recover quickly, they then need relaxation. Without that, cortisol levels remain too high for too long – leading to adrenal fatigue (burnout). Signs of burnout are a heart that is racing, grey skin tone, digestive issues, not stopping for even the shortest break, getting frequent colds, and making minor mistakes, diary errors etc.

At its most serious, burnout can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Thankfully, most of us only ever experience mild burnout, an increasingly common condition.  (In fact, in 2019, the World Health Organization officially named burnout a syndrome described as the ineffective management of workplace stress.) 

Boundaries Between Work and Home

With the shift to working remotely, many people are struggling to establish clear boundaries between work and home, which is draining resilience and increasing mild burnout. 

It helps to make a clean break, close your computer and remove yourself physically from your workstation. Ideally, have a change of scene and get some fresh air and exercise before segueing into “home life.”  

Burnout Warning Signs to Watch For

If that isn’t possible, keep an eye out for early warning signs of low resilience:  high blood pressure, low level anxiety, mood swings, inability to cope well with change, feeling regularly fatigued, going into over-drive, obsessing over things, and being short-tempered.

How To Avoid Work-From-Home Burnout

At the first sign of even one of these, intensify your use of resilience techniques to stop yourself from tipping in to burnout. 

Things like physical fitness, good nutrition (especially vitamin B and magnesium) and hydration, meditation, massage, sunshine, and effectively processing negative events (to regain optimism) all build resilience.

To help you allocate sufficient time for rest and recovery and create a resilient lifestyle, one simple tip is to write the word REST in blocks in your calendar every week.  Guard those windows and encourage loved ones and colleagues to do the same.  REST stands for:

  • Retreat is the equivalent of a tennis player putting a towel over their head between sets – find a few moments each week to completely disengage from the world around you.
  • Eat (healthfully). A diet high in sugar, simple carbohydrates and with lots of meat and dairy creates more acidic conditions in the body, increasing cortisol higher than it should be. We should be primarily eating green and bright colored vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, meat twice a week, rice, wholegrain bread, and good quality dark chocolate.
  • Sleep is the most powerful performance enhancer we have, more vital for brain function and good decision making than any waking activity. Countless studies recommend 7-9 hours per night.  Inch up your hours of sleep with power naps, going to sleep 15-30 minutes earlier and sleeping in on weekends.  Sufficient sleep is critical because if cortisol is too high, melatonin cannot kick in and our serotonin supplies won’t be renewed while we asleep, leading to brain fog and being short-tempered.  Creating a sleep protocol with a wind down strategy and using techniques, such as sequential relaxation can help you fall asleep. 
  • Treat – There are two types of treats – those that can be mildly addictive (sugar and alcohol being the main contenders) and those that are truly restorative. Minimize the addictive treats and indulge in the latter. Think beyond food…a long bath, calming music, a good book, a hike or bike ride, weekly football match or round of golf, watching a film, playing with the children…whatever rejuvenates YOU. Restorative treats boost dopamine (pleasure/reward chemical) and serotonin (happiness and status chemical).


Watch Out for Burnout

 Be on the lookout for burnout in yourself and your team members and ask everyone across your team and circle of friends and family to do the same.

When we invest time in this kind of ongoing REST, we build resilience over time so that we can rely on our ‘bounce back’ mechanism and can more consistently perform at our peak.  Establishing clear boundaries and creating a rest and recovery discipline will create a solid foundation that you and those around you can use to achieve more, stress less, and live and work more happily that lasts well beyond the end of the current crisis.

Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the directors of workplace performance and wellbeing consultancy Companies in Motion and authors of award-winning wellbeing book Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), available in ebook and hardback.

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  • December 9, 2020