Tuesday 6 October 2020 3:32 pm

Top five tips for preventing burnout

Dr Sarah Vohra is a consultant psychologist and author of The Mind Medic: Your 5 senses guide to leading a calmer, happier life. She has partnered with flex office provider TOG (The Office Group) to share tips and advice on tackling burnout and fostering wellness at work.

Are you struggling to focus? Lacking motivation? Maybe just feeling a bit overwhelmed?

These are just some things to look out for that might be signs of burnout. And they’re worth thinking about: 36 per cent of us have experienced burnout in our careers. 

That’s according to our new research — and it’s even more important to consider now than ever before, as our working patterns undergo a massive shift.

Read more: For young Londoners, working from home is a cramped and dismal experience

With more of us taking a hybrid approach to working since the pandemic, whether you are at home or in the office, it can be all too easy to blur the boundaries, to constantly remain “switched on” and skip that all essential down time.  

But prioritising our wellness at work is essential in remaining healthy, happy and more productive. So to help, here are some top tips that will help set you on the path to avoiding the dreaded burnout. 

Make clear distinctions between your day and night-time routines

Whether you are commuting to the office, working from home, or a combination of the two, make sure you have consistent wake and sleep times. This helps regulate your body’s 24-hour circadian rhythm.

Disrupted circadian rhythms can affect both the quantity and quality of your sleep, which not only impacts your energy levels, concentration and performance the following day, but may also have long-term implications for your mood, with links to depression and anxiety. 

Having a simple routine helps to make clear distinctions between your day and night (work and play), and will stop you running into the trap of working every waking hour without pause. 

If you are working from home, get into the habit of showering and dressing into a fresh set of clothes (even if it is loungewear) as soon as you get up. And keep out of the bedroom during the day — keeping you “workspace” and “sleepspace” separate.

Set aside “must-dos” for the day and write them down

Studies show that committing our plans to paper can increase our productivity. But be realistic. Don’t overload yourself with tasks on any given day if these can be spread out through the week. What do you absolutely have to get done today

The more tasks we commit to simultaneously, the lower our attention span is. This can affect how quickly we complete our tasks, with time often wasted switching between them, making us less efficient and more prone to making mistakes. So focusing on the task at hand, whatever that may be, can make a big difference.

Exercise and take a break if you’re flagging

As soon as your focus starts to go, that’s your cue to get up and give yourself a change of scenery. Research has shown that more flexible working arrangements in open work spaces are linked with less mental demands, felt to be in part due to greater autonomy but also improving efficiency and productivity.  

Walk around your local park, go for a short run or do a burst of lunchtime yoga — meditation is also another great way to reset and refocus the mind. It’s important that your employer recognises the importance of such breaks when it comes to your wellbeing too.

Exercise helps lift our mood, improve our energy levels and concentration, as well as helping us sleep better at night.

Screens: set those limits

Repeated studies have found that the longer we spend on our screens (seven hours or more per day), the higher our risk of depression, with some linking it to increased risk of anxiety too. There is also evidence suggesting that the combination of computer use (more than four hours per day) and phones is linked to prolonged stress and depression, especially in women.

Where possible, take regular breaks from your screen throughout the day, and consider temporarily muting incoming notifications on your devices to avoid that constant need to pick it up. Think about all your daily tasks. Can some of these be replaced with non-screen activities: picking up a print book rather than an e-reader, arranging a face-to-face (socially distanced) meeting rather than a video call?

Exposure to natural sunlight

Your 24-hour body clock relies on repeated patterns of loss of light (night) and return of light (day) to help reset it. Given the pace of modern life, you can be forgiven if you go all day without a dose of sunlight. Pre-pandemic, many of us had to work from windowless offices, commuting to and from work in the dark, and using bright, artificial light late at night. 

But this can take its toll. Again, the research shows that workers in workplaces with windows not only had significantly more sunlight exposure during work hours, but also slept an average of 46 minutes more each night. That’s why it’s great to see some office providers (TOG included) think hard about the design of their buildings, with a focus on optimising natural light and how it floods into the building’s spaces — an element which is ideal for better working conditions and productivity. 

For workers, think about the opportunities of the changes to working life: stagger your commute to get more sunlight, or make sure your home-working space is bright and welcoming. Not only will it help you sleep better, but you’ll be protecting yourself from the risk of burnout further down the line.

Read more: We are facing a mental health crisis among our young people — one we cannot afford to ignore

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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