When you’re on the verge of executive burnout, the walls feel like they’re closing in. Anger, frustration, depression, stomach distress, and heart palpitations are just a few of the physical and emotional symptoms brought about by high-pressure schedules and tense negotiations.
The first step in this situation is to schedule a physical. Your physician will want to rule out complicating conditions that masquerade as executive burnout. Once your doctor has given you a clean bill of health and it becomes clear that work-life imbalance is to blame for your feelings, it’s time to take the reigns. Listen to your body, your emotions, and your close friends. Colleagues and loved ones often notice mood shifts and unhealthy behaviors that you would otherwise not recognize.
Fending Off Burnout
It is possible to manage executive burnout in a healthy way. As you decide to take action and stay the course, keep these tips in mind:
Embrace boundaries. People who suffer from executive burnout have trouble telling people “no,” recognizing their limits, or creating margin. If you live a boundary-less life, it’s time to talk with a professional about setting healthy limits at work, at home, and socially. It is wise to say no to unreasonable deadlines, constant interruptions, or meetings that don’t require your input. Having clear boundaries between your professional and personal life allows you to improve the quality of your work while spending high-quality time with those you care about.
Insist upon “me time.” Self-care is not a naughty word. Professionals who take care of their personal needs are better employees, better managers, and better executives. Pencil in time on your calendar for the things that bring you joy: hobbies, family time, exercise, or vacations. Treat your “me time” the same as mission-critical meetings or tight deadlines: as a nonnegotiable.
Don’t be a people-pleaser. Many executives fall into this trap because they want to be high-achieving performers who never disappoint peers or authority figures. Unfortunately, this attitude is an energy drain that leads to emotional, mental, and physical fatigue. Rather than viewing your work through the eyes of others, strive to produce work that satisfies YOU.
Be thankful. People suffering from exective burnout excel at identifying problems rather than solutions. Make a list of the things you are thankful for and happy about. Include work projects, family blessings, and personal achievements. Gratitude journals are an evidence-based way of lowering blood pressure, embracing positive thinking, experiencing joy, improving sleep, decreasing physical aches and pains, and becoming more productive.
Differentiate the urgent from the important. We live our lives as if everything is urgent and neglect things that are important. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix teaches people to distinguish between these two. Urgent activities put us in crisis mode. They demand immediate attention but are not critical to achieving our personal goals. Examples might be booking travel, answering a text, or getting gas. Important activities contribute to our growth, personally or professionally. Examples might be saving for retirement, spending time with aging parents, or getting enough sleep. Make sure that you allow time for managing the important alongside the urgent, rather than allowing the urgent to hijack your life.
Get peer support. Find a group of like-minded individuals in a similar situation to yours. Gather once a week or once a month for lunch, coffee, or brainstorming. Support from others helps to energize you and keep you off the path to burnout.
Most importantly, you must make a fresh start. Decide to change before executive burnout takes over your life. Old patterns are hard to break, but burnout leads down a dark path when left unaddressed. When you determine to change, whatever the cost, you will reap the benefits of a balanced, healthy life.