Tips for Preventing Professional Overload, Stress and Fatigue

It is natural to try to do your best at work.  However, there is a big difference between working hard and overwork. A little bit of stress is okay, but not if it is affecting your emotional or physical health, or is a step away from burnout.   Here are some tips for fatigue management that will help you prevent burnout:

1. Know your “early warning signs” of over-work.  A bit of stress can be seen as a helpful wake-up call to slow down and take care of yourself. Some early warning signs include irritability, difficulty falling or staying asleep, forgetfulness, self-criticism, clumsiness or feelings of hopelessness.

2. Be intentional in slowing down.  Do something relaxing and fun, whether it’s a bubble bath, walk in the woods, listening to music, dancing, laughing or whatever fuels and nourishes you. 

3. Reach out for support from your peers, friends and families.  Create opportunities to debrief from a difficult work experience.  You don’t have to be a hero and go it alone.  If you are being triggered emotionally by an event at work, whether it is reminding you of something difficult or traumatic from your past, you are having a difficult relationship with a co-worker, or communication or assertiveness issues, you may benefit from professional guidance, from a skilled psychotherapist or counselor or from your Human Resources or EAP program.

4. Be kind to yourself.  Remember that you don’t have to — and can’t — be perfect.  Give yourself a break.  When you are feeling overworked, overly stressed out and in need of fatigue management, give yourself a gift that nourishes you.  Reward yourself for a job well done.

5. Stay healthy through restorative self-care.  As your mother always told you, get plenty of sleep, eat healthily and exercise.  Without a healthy physical foundation, the rest falls apart.  Walking, yoga and meditation can be extremely helpful when you are stressed out.

6. Set healthy boundaries.  It is OK to say no or ask to postpone an assignment, if possible, when you are feeling over-worked and don’t think you can take on another chore at that moment.

7. Leave your work at the office, even if the office is in your home.  Turn off the cellphone, iPad and computer.  Remember that the work will always be there.  Be mindful of when you are giving energy to a work assignment or work experience when you are “off-duty”, and find your own way to put it on the back burner. One way to do this is to create rituals to end the work day. For example, several years ago, I was facilitating a very emotional grief support group.  After each session, I would ruminate about the work we did and the feelings expressed on my entire ride home.  I would then talk to my husband about the group (without divulging identities or confidentiality, of course), and go to sleep still thinking about it.  This obviously wasn’t working, and I was feeling the signs of burnout, so here’s what I did instead, which helped tremendously and are tools that I continue to use:
I visualized a container in which to put everything away until the next session.  My container was a jewelry box with a lock — I would mindfully imagine putting away the work and experiences of the group in the box and locking it with the thought that it would all be there next week. I intentionally walked to my car, with the thought that I was leaving the group behind until next week.  When ruminations about the group came up, I would gently let them go. I no longer told my husband about the group, unless it was something that would nourish me.  Instead, I took a calming bubble bath, rewarding myself for a job well done.  
If racing thoughts occurred as I tried to sleep, I sent my energy away from my head and down to my feet, and let go of the thoughts.

8. Reflect on powerful or difficult experiences through journaling and the support of peers, spiritual teachers and mentors to recover a sense of meaning, purpose and connection in life.