Our tips on dealing with burnout and stress

Posted on May 3 2017 - 10:00am by Samantha Clark
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It can be pretty difficult to identify when you’re on the crux of burnout or even when you’re caught in it. Sadly, there seems to be no such thing as a simple life anymore; we’re all expected to do more, live more, contribute more, support more and a lot of us will experience a point when we can give no more. When we hit this point, known as burnout, it can feel incredibly overwhelming and isolating- I know, I’ve been there.  But we’re pleased to say that you can overcome it. So for those of you currently feeling overwhelmed because of this, I wanted to share our tips on what helped us get through it and hope you too will find it of use.

Scheduling

Schedule exampleIntroducing a schedule covering all aspects of my life has been incredibly revolutionary. This is an aspect I admittedly put off for a long time for a fear of rigidity, expectation and pinning a success/failure marker on myself to achieve everything upon my schedule, but the key here to scheduling is keeping it flexible.

I started this year by dedicating an entire day to me. Sunday became the day of the week that was truly mine (even excluding chores). As a rule of thumb, on this day, I don’t make plans with anyone for anything. However, if my friends/family want to see me on a Sunday for longer than an hour or two, I’ll make the Saturday my day. On my dedicated day I’ll do what I fancy; I may go for a walk, potter around in the garden, read, watch a film or two, rest in bed to read etc. It has been profoundly rewarding on my happiness and mental wellbeing.

Although taking some time for me helped in many ways, I felt there needed to be a little more definition in my life. So a little while ago I created a weekly schedule to encompass exercise, breaks, work tasks, personal activities, cooking nights and a night out- scheduling my time in this way has been the most transformational activity.

Tips for your schedule:

  • Carve out a day just for you to do things you enjoy
  • Spread your tasks:  within your working day, determine the tasks you are required to do and estimate (over estimate- your schedule is a working document that can be updated frequently) the length of time it takes you to achieve them. When writing your schedule, spread the tasks out across the week to have some variation (which has also proved effective in reducing stress) but importantly gives you some flexibility so if something does crop up or overrun you know you have time elsewhere in the schedule that you can pick it up. For example, in my schedule I allocate 8 hours a week to ‘articles’: this encompasses planning, creating and editing which is spread over 4 days. If something crops up in an hour of my allocated articles time, I have another 7 to work from. If I require more, I’ve allocated Wednesday as a potential day to work a bit later and other tasks on my schedule have been over-estimated which will give me ‘free’ time to work on articles or other tasks if I need it.
  • Include time for exercise: I allocate 30 minutes every morning and a 30 minute walk break at lunch- the recommended amount of exercise per week is 150 hours- that’s just 30 minutes over 5 days. Therefore if I am unable to make 3 morning routines/2 lunchtime walks for example, it’s no problem. Remember: This won’t be factoring in any planned exercise for the weekend either so you’ll likely be meeting the recommended amount.
  • Include a time to go out: I worked out that an ideal day for me to go out is a Tuesday.I could take advantage of 241 at the cinema if I want to see a movie and it’s an ideal night to take a break before my busiest day of the week (Wednesday). Going out could be as simple as going for a walk, or a drink at the local, meeting friends for dinner etc. It’s good for the soul to be social.
  • Plan in your chores into the week to free up your weekend: Schedule in a day/night to do the chores (including your food shop) and share the load with everyone else in the household to enable you some quality time on your days off.
  • In addition to your you days, carve out a couple of hours each week to do something you love or something new for you to try. It could be: a new class, cooking from a recipe, learning a new language or skill, craft projects, reading, uninterrupted time to watch your favourite shows etc. Personally, Monday and Thursday evening I allocate an hour to doing just that and Friday nights is a night I work from a recipe.

Mindfulness

Is a proven activity to help alleviate stress and anxiety. But if the concept of meditation seems daunting or you feel it doesn’t suit your personality, you’ll be pleased to hear there are many forms to the practice.

Mindfulness by definition is the process of drawing your attention to the present moment focusing on internal and external experiences. For someone in a high state of stress and/or anxiety, it is somewhat difficult to focus on a particular task or subject because our minds tend to spiral. In instances this occurs, it’s important to take a step back and in using mindfulness, calm our minds. It may seem challenging to start but it can be achieved:

Focus on your breathing: 

This video by Martin Boroson is a great starting point to understand the process of mindfulness and how to practice it- allowing you to be mindful in just one minute.

Focus on the task at hand: 

I find that working from a recipe is an excellent way to be mindful. When working from a recipe, I have a very clear structure in which to work from and as it is usually time precious, as in each step links/follows each other, I am dedicated to the task at hand and my mind is unable to wander. So instead of finding working from a task that is unknown to me stressful, I actually find it relaxing.

But it’s also using this concept, working on the task in hand, that allows you to practice mindfulness in a number of ways. For example, when doing the dishes (whether washing up or sticking them in the dishwasher) you pay particular attention to the feel of the dishes, the external sounds as you are doing it etc. All of these are great practices of mindfulness.

This also enables us to further highlight a very positive point for the schedule- if you schedule your tasks out across the week or even break them down into time slots (mine are broken down per hour)- like in the video, you have a particular time frame mapped out to work on your tasks in hand which usually gives your mind little time to wander. If it does, because you’re thinking of other things you need to do, make a note of it, cast it to one side and come back to it later.

Worry time

Worry timeIf you find yourself worrying about a number of things throughout the day/night then introducing some ‘worry time’ into your day can be extremely beneficial.

Start off by determining a favourite spot of yours in the home that is quiet, calm, private and somewhere you can sit down; it may be your bedroom, the stairs, the garden, kitchen, lounge etc. which you can make your own for your worry time.

Carve out 10-15 minutes each day that you can sit in your space to review your worries of the day.

Any time a worry (something that causes you anxiety, disturbs or troubles you), make a note of it, push it out of your mind for the time being and/or think I’ll come back to it and during your worry time, work through your list of worries. It’s likely you’ll find that you may have worries that are no longer a concern for you in which case you can write them off, for others, sit there and worry about it or make a plan to work through it.

Thought diaries

This is another process I’ve found to be particularly beneficial,  and is a practice from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Before we dive into thought diaries though, you may find it beneficial to understand more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a talking therapy in which a practitioner can help you to manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It is a practice that is solely focused on helping you overcome your present difficulties which is how it differs from counselling, which is a practice that reflects on past events.

The Cognitive Behavioural Model is a tool that the practitioners use to help illustrate how our thoughts, physical symptoms, behaviour and mood all interact with one another to contribute to our low mood, stress, anxiety, self esteem etc.  For example, a thought either derived spontaneously or through a particular situation can cause us to exhibit physical symptoms (such as sweaty palms, sick feeling in the stomach etc.), which causes us to do or avoid something (behaviour), which in turn affects our mood. Once started, it has the potential to continually loop, but through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we can stop these anxious/stress cycles in their tracks. This is where thought diaries can be particularly beneficial.

A thought diary is the process of picking up a particular thought/s and analysing it/them. It helps you to identify how and why these thoughts occur and allows you to put some substance to it and change the thought process. Our thoughts are continually in action and when unnoticed can have a harmful consequence in sustaining feelings of low mood, anxiety etc. Download a copy of this thought record from getselfhelp.com to help with your thought analysis.

Thoughts can be fleeting and can trigger the motion of the cycle without our realising so initially this may be a process you’ll find difficult, but it is one that is worth continuing with. I also appreciate that it may not be possible to use the worksheet every time you experience a thought you feel is contributing to stress/anxiety, so in these circumstances I’d recommend making a note of it at your earliest opportunity (whether on a post-it, in your diary, a notebook, your phone) and when you’re able to, sit down with the worksheet and your notes and work through it as best as you’re able to. I found that even making a note of troubling thoughts was therapeutic in itself but being able to add context and substance to these thoughts allowed me to be more self-aware- this was both in circumstances that contributed to anxious thoughts and allowed me to take necessary steps to overcome it (avoidance only prolongs anxiety), and being able to dissect the thought into facts that support, facts against and then putting a more balanced perspective to those thoughts was particularly helpful in countering my anxiety and/or low self esteem.

The power of you

PowerBurnout and high stress and anxiety is often coupled with self-doubt and low  self esteem. It does nothing for our mood, overall happiness and this only exacerbates the symptoms.  But you truly are an incredible person and it’s so important to remember that. When we’re stuck in a downward spiral, it can be challenging to see the good which is why I suggest you always have a constant reminder.

Make a note of your accomplishments/achievements and frame it and put it out pride of place somewhere to always remind yourself. It can be as big or as small as you want it to be, it should be personal to you and what matters to you.

It may include:

  • Details of your education
  • Awards you’ve been nominated for and/or won
  • Destinations you’ve been to
  • Goals you set out to complete and achieved- e.g. giving up smoking
  • The good you’ve done: donations to charities, mentoring, helping a friend move etc.
  • Your skills that enables you to do the job you do

Contacting your local mental health service

Many of the tools we’ve talked about today form part of cognitive behavioural therapy. If you’re interested in exploring cognitive behavioural therapy in more depth, then I’d recommend getting in touch with your GP who can signpost/refer you to your nearest facility, bare in mind that there may be a waiting list to attend a workshop/seminar. Mind also have a fantastic dedicated page to help you find a CBT therapist .

If you’re looking to get started immediately, you may find the following resources beneficial:

  • Getselfhelphave a number of other CBT worksheets available free to download.
  • Overcoming series as I had to be placed on a waiting list to see a CBT therapist under the NHS, during the wait period, the consultant recommended I take a look at the overcoming series and find a book specific to my particular problem. I found the book covered a lot of ground for CBT which is applicable to most distinctions of mental health, it was just the examples in a specific book would look at that particular problem. I found it brilliant to understanding my aspect of anxiety, enlightening to see examples true to my circumstance and it contains worksheets and illustrations that you can work through.
  • The Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have released a very helpful self help library which contains leaflets on a number of conditions, including: abuse, anxiety, low mood, OCD, shyness and social anxiety and so many more. Not all the leaflets are the same; some with video introductions and workable worksheets, others are more informational. You can also download the app of the same name as a guide to read and work through wherever and whenever (we’d recommend the app as it’s more stable than the website).
  • If you’re in school, college or university, it is worth getting in touch with the wellness advisor/wellbeing service as they often have counselling and mental health support resources available.
  • Even if you’re not in college or university, they often have a number of resources made publicly. For example, University West of England have a number of self-help resources which outlines details of the condition and where you can find additional support and help; University of Exeter have a similar service and includes a number of workable worksheets. It’s worth looking at your local educational establishments website to see if they’ve any resources available that you can take advantage of.
  • If you’re feeling distressed and need someone to talk to, call the Samaritans they’re available at all times free of charge. You don’t need to be suicidal, you can contact them any time day or night; it’s confidential, non judgemental and a safe place to turn to for help. Just call 116 123.

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