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Summer Break! Do you feel better?

How to Take Breaks to Avoid Burnout at School, Work, and Home.

Many of us have just come off of a very busy time of year including studying to reach school completion, along with jammed packed activity schedules, in addition to balancing the pressures of a fast-paced work environment with more limited resources, and all the while trying to give good attention to our kids, partners, friends and extended family.  Predictably there is a strong negative impact on our health and well-being to living such full and demanding daily lives.  Understandably, most individuals and families are looking for a well-needed break from the pressures, stress, and life’s responsibilities, that tend to pile up at year-end.  However, such full schedules often do not allot much time for a worthwhile vacation or the type of time-out required to reset and take a different direction and we end up continuing on the same path leading to burnout, further dissatisfaction and disillusion with the way we are living our lives.

First of all, it is helpful to understand what burn out is, identify the signs of burn out, and make realistic changes to arrest the negative cycle leading to burn out including taking satisfying breaks that make a significant difference and interrupt the burn out process.

Burnout is:  A continual level of stress that affects many areas of our lives and slowly compounds until we don’t have any energy left.  Burnout is defined as a reaction to prolonged or chronic stress and is characterized by three main areas: exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced ability. Burn out is both emotional and physical.

The Warning Signs of Burn out:

Depleted physical energy:  you feel drained and tired most of the time or you just lack the energy you once had.

Lowered immunity to illness:  you have become more susceptible to colds, flu and other illnesses. This is also why people experiencing burnout usually are more absent from school or work and tend to become less effective overall.

Emotional exhaustion: you feel impatient, irritable, moody, sad or get frustrated more easily than you normally would.

Withdrawing from personal relationships: you may feel like you have less to give, less interest in having fun, or just less patience with people.

Increasingly pessimistic outlook:  you may feel like it’s harder to be optimistic and to get excited about life. Since optimism is a great buffer for stress, those suffering from burnout find it harder to pull themselves out of their rut than they normally would.

Burn out prevention strategies:

Seek Support: Look for meaningful personal relationships and personal and professional development.  Find fellow students, co-workers, coaches and mentors who can provide you with support in the areas you are finding difficult or need some help.

Set Boundaries: start setting boundaries and learn how to say “no” in a healthy, positive way.  Begin to reset the expectations of co-workers, clients, friends, and family members for what and how much you’re willing to take on. 

Practice daily Self-Care: in order to build resilience and replenish your physical and emotional reserves daily self-care activities are essential. Activating good sleep habits, nutrition, exercise, rest, and relaxation are the remedy.  I also recommend that you explore practices that promote positive well-being like mindfulness meditation, movement, journaling, art, music, and being in nature.

But are the breaks that we take enough to recharge and rebuild the negative burn out effects, or do we need to be more strategic about how we take breaks and if we spend our breaks on our own or with others?  Some people have figured out what kind of break they need to recharge and reset, whether it be a beach vacation, time away at the cabin, a mountain hike, a different kind of staycation, or small reprieve from busy daily life.  While others dream of vacation spots, time with family, and long periods away as being their panacea for rejuvenation and are sadly disappointed when they return not relaxed and at times more stressed after their vacation. 

I encourage you to really look at the burn out strategy list and how you plan to take a break. Evaluate what type of break you need right now and how much time do you realistically have available to you.  Can you start by adding more daily or weekly self-care strategies as your mini-breaks? Or is seeking support in the areas that would help you achieve your school, work, relationship, and personal goals be what you need to add for immediate changes.  Maybe setting boundaries at work, school, or home is something that seems critical for you to enjoy your daily life right now. Whether it is one, two or all areas where shift is needed, it could be very daunting and seem overwhelming. However, it is very possible to set up a new system to shift your focus and make your life more satisfying in several areas.

- Joy E. Robinson - Registered Psychologist MSc.,R.Psych.