Is It a Toxic Work Environment, or Your Own Bad Habits?

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The unceasing inner drive to “do more” and “achieve more” can have a significant impact on your health, your family, and your career. However, burnout is often a subtle process, and even the brightest people may be unable to identify the telltale signs of its onset until it is too late.

When we talk of burnout, we often attribute it to our work environments. In reality, burnout is caused by a complex web of interacting stressors woven throughout all areas of our lives. Generally speaking, we can boil these stressors down to a few key factors:

  1. Constant sensory stimulation (always on our devices)
  2. Social pressure to achieve more and have more
  3. Poor lifestyle habits
  4. Financial constraints
  5. Family and child expectations
  6. Adrenaline addiction (always seeking out new activities to get a rush)
  7. Poor diet high in starches, sugars, stimulants, harmful artificial chemicals, and additives
  8. Poor quality and quantity of sleep

The body’s sophisticated response to stress is nothing short of a miracle. Today, however, we are all plugged in 24/7 and constantly in fight-or-flight mode, maneuvering strategically between one high-pressure situation and the next. This lifestyle is like a ticking time bomb, just waiting to go off and unleash the burnout. Our bodies are only meant to react to perceived stress occasionally. They are not capable of withstanding prolonged periods of stress without some sort of breakdown.

If you are feeling burnout in your own life, quitting your job may not be the answer. Instead, consider taking some of these following steps to gain a little more balance:

1. Take a Timeout

Take time for yourself when you need it, whether it’s before work, during work, or as soon as you get home from work. For best results, unplug from every device and distraction. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose (expanding your belly, not your chest) and out through pursed lips while focusing on exactly what you want for yourself at that moment. Imagine what you want to feel, have, acquire, and be, with all the positive emotions that go along with it. Stay in that mental space for 2-3 minutes.

You can do this exercise anywhere — in your parked car, on a bench in a park, or in your office with the door closed. I recommend taking 10 minutes twice daily to “reboot” by using this timeout technique.

2. Build No-Fly Time Into Each Work Day

By “no-fly time,” I mean time during which you totally unplug from emails, calls, and texts. Use your breaks as actual breaks! Let yourself be quiet.

You may need to talk to your employees, boss, coworkers, or others to help them understand why this time matters. If you get some pushback, explain that you are trying a new experiment to unwind your mind and ultimately become more productive. This might even lead to you coming up with the next billion-dollar idea!

3. Clear Your Mind Daily

The daily clearing of your busy mind is a must. This practice will open up more space for creativity, ideas, solutions, answers, and genius thoughts. When you take time every day to clear your thoughts and find your center, you open yourself up mentally and emotionally, and you begin to see things differently.

I like to think of it (as Kevin Costner says in For Love of the Game) as “clearing the mechanism.” The mechanism to be cleared, of course, is your cluttered brain. If you never clear the mechanism, you will be constantly overfilled, mentally speaking. This leaves you unable to focus or react to stressful situations in positive ways. It’s kind of like how your car will break down if you never change its oil.

Try meditation or frequent conscious mental clearing. Breathe deeply and focus on releasing thoughts of anxiety and worry. Try doing this at set times during the day, and tie it to some activity you know you’ll do — like visiting the restroom — so you remember to practice it regularly.

4. Change Your Diet

You can reduce blood glucose spikes and dips — which contribute to morning grogginess and afternoon fatigue — by eating lean proteins, good fats, and high-fiber good carbohydrates like veggies. That means no bagels or muffins for breakfast! A better diet will help you sustain your focus and energy throughout the day, making you less exhausted at the end of each day.

5. Work on Your Own Vibration

By that, I mean opening yourself up to receive better energy, better thoughts, and more happiness. It’s a matter of self-care.

Remember: What something seems to be is not necessarily what it is. You need to take care of yourself in order to see things as they really are. You may be feeling burnout, but that burnout may not be the result of a toxic work environment. If you get the self-care you need, you can start to see through that illusion. You do not want to leave a great job because you were stuck in a negativity spiral or fooled by a false story you’ve been telling yourself about your work.

6. Get Deep, Restorative Sleep

A lack of sleep prevents you from truly operating at your best. Skimping on sleep robs your brain, your nervous system, your hormonal system, and your body of much-needed recovery time. This hinders the physical rejuvenation you need to make it through the next day.

If you are under stress, you need even more sleep to recover and reboot so that you are ready for the stress of the upcoming day. If you don’t give yourself the sleep you need, you will pay dearly — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Get to bed earlier, turn off all your devices an hour before bed, and make sure your room is dark and the temperature is a cool 68 degrees.

Before you assume your job is the sole cause of your burnout, try making some of these lifestyle changes instead. You may just find the solution to your problem without having to hit the job market again.

Nisha Jackson, PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP, is the author of Brilliant Burnout and the founder and owner of Peak Medical Clinics.

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