Getting back to the grind is tough. Whether you’re returning from a long weekend, extended sabbatical or anything in between, switching back to work mode can be daunting. Plus, with the modern pressure of being 'always on', even when we do successfully make that switch we're often walking a precarious tightrope between that feeling of not doing enough and suffering burnout from over exertion.
What is burnout?
A state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. A study (commissioned by work management tool, Asana) found that 75% of British employees reported burnout in 2020 – compared to a global average of 71%.
So, burnout is unhealthy and way more common than you might think, but how can you prevent it (while also smashing life)?
How to prevent burnout
Thankfully, we've got your back. From nutritional advice to sleep optimisation methods, productivity hacks and mindfulness techniques, we’ve got 11 evidence-based, burnout-beating tips for getting back to the grind like a boss.
1. Improve your sleep quality
From mood and energy levels to immunity and memory, good sleep quality is essential for pretty much all aspects of human performance. Therefore a smart sleep strategy should be your first step to increase productivity while avoiding burnout.
Performance sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, helps elite athletes and teams – including the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Team GB, British Cycling and Liverpool FC – improve their sleep for optimum recovery. Here are Nick's top tips:
Get at least two hours of natural light each day. Ideally, get outdoors as soon as you wake up, so your body knows when to be wakeful and when to rest
No caffeine after 3pm. In order to ensure the six-hour stimulating effect of caffeine has worn off by nighttime, avoid coffee and strong caffeinated drinks by mid-afternoon
Follow a sleep routine. This includes no screens in bed, dimming the lights, lowering the temperature of your bedroom and preparing for the following day
Set an alarm. No sleep pattern is complete without an alarm to help you manage when you wake up. As Nick says, 'Identify the earliest you need to wake in the week and set your alarm for that time everyday, even the weekend. This helps your body clock establish a routine'.
2. Hack your productivity
Prioritising isn't easy at the best of times, let alone when you're back from a break and have stacks of emails to wade through before you can even think about starting any bigger tasks. So much so it can often feel like you're playing a rigged game of catch-up from the moment you return from your holiday.
Highly successful CEO, Nikki Carlson, recently shared some of her smart productivity hacks with Forbes. Nikki's tips include:
Focus on high value tasks. By prioritising your most pressing and high value tasks, you can get those big challenges out of the way first and alleviate looming stress, which can lead to burnout
Wake up early. As part of mastering that sleep pattern, waking up early is great to get you started. As Nikki says, it's good to go to bed early too!
Remember why you started. Whether you're an athlete, entrepreneur, teacher or office worker, remembering why you chose your job and what you wish to gain from it can help revitalise that working commitment when you return to work
Other productivity hacks include having the confidence to say no to unrealistic deadlines and workloads, setting long-term goals and remembering to reflect on your achievements.
3. Don't go overboard with exercise
Exercise has numerous mental health benefits and should be a vital part of your weekly routine, but the strain it can put on your body needs to be respected.
Many athletes have training regimes with robust recovery strategies to help them build muscle, improve their speed and agility, and boost their reaction times. But the rest of us don’t. Follow these general rules of thumb should help you make training gains without risking physical burnout:
Rest days. Muscles take 24-48 hrs to recover from training. Not only will allowing them this time reduce your chance of injury, it will actually help your muscles repair stronger.
Hydration. Fluid loss impacts everything from cognitive function to physical recovery. Drink before during and after exercise to ensure your lunchtime workout doesn't leave you struggling for the rest of the day.
Nutrition. Your body canes through vital nutrients while training. A varied, balanced diet with lots fo fresh fruit and vegetables will help replace them, but to be truly confident your body has everything it needs, consider a clinically-proven recovery supplement.
4. Be more mindful
Studies show that mindfulness can help with everything from anxiety and stress, to memory and confidence. It can even help with physical conditions such as heart disease. Get started by reading our introduction to mindfulness by the UK's leading expert, Dr Danny Penman. Then download one of the best mindfulness and meditation apps to be on the path to a more chilled and relaxed you.
5. Supplement your diet
Preparing to get back to the grind requires a healthy body and a refreshed brain. Supplements can complement a balanced diet by giving your body precisely what it needs to boost physical and mental capacity and avoid burnout.
But what are the best supplements for avoiding burnout? U ULTRA supplements were formulated by leading scientists at the University of Westminster. Containing clinically-proven ingredients in clinically-trialled doses and a patented delivery system that ensures your body absorbs all the good stuff, the range consists of:
Mind – Maintain focus during the day and relax at the end of a day
Immunity – Feel your best every day by supporting the immune system
Recovery – Recover faster and allow your body to train harder and longer in quick succession.
Energy Sport Pro – Improve your body's natural energy processes and maintain energy levels with no sugar crashes!
6. Pace yourself
Not having fun with sports can impact on your overall mental wellbeing and lead to burnout. Likewise, not enjoying your work can lead to the same issues.
A big influence on enjoyment at work is feeling a sense of achievement. Like in sport, if we don’t achieve our goals then we are more susceptible to feeling down. Life skills specialist Liggy Webb says setting smaller goals is the best way to stay motivated and feel accomplished in your work.
'Learning how to pace ourselves is key and recognising that we can't do or have everything,' says Webb. 'We are, after all, only human and we need to be very mindful of our own capacity and energy levels.
'Setting smaller goals will be helpful as there is great reward in marginal gains and this can help us to keep motivated.'
7. Holiday planning
Most of us see a holiday as a gateway to relaxation, an opportunity to switch off the mind and forget about the stresses of everyday life.
But it's not until we're rushing to the airport, stuck in a foreign city with no clue where our hotel is, or trying to keep the kids entertained on the beach, that all those stresses from home come flooding back.
Holiday planning is essential to taking the break you need to avoid future burnout. And even a short trip can help.
An Austrian study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that, 'one single short-term vacation… has large, positive and immediate effects on perceived stress, recovery, strain, and well-being.'
Planning your trip so you don't bookend the holiday with work days is important, as is avoiding those sleep-depriving 6am flights and researching a hotel that will suit your needs.
As Webb advises: 'Planning an extra half day either side of a holiday to tie up loose ends and also get on top of emails is really helpful'.
All this will aid relaxation while on holiday, and mean that you can head home refreshed and ready for action.
8. Cherish time with family and friends
In an interview with British Vogue, Beyonce revealed how slowing down to spend more time with friends and family helped, 'shed stressful things from my life'.
For all of us, spending time with friends and family can be the moment where we truly get a break from the grind. It can refocus our minds and our life goals. And it means when you hit work again, your priorities may be refreshed for the better.
'I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on building my legacy and representing my culture the best way I know how,' Beyonce said. 'Now, I’ve decided to give myself permission to focus on my joy.' And why shouldn’t you too?
9. Schedule free time
It may sound strange but scheduling free time – and we mean proper free time, where you’re not thinking about the grind – is paramount to improving your productivity and avoiding burnout.
And we’re not talking about simply taking the odd break. No, this is about scheduling activities that require you to prioritise free time, so you’re switching off from work. If you’ve just returned from holiday you may feel you don’t need (or deserve!) time off, but this isn’t true. Ensuring you take free time and enjoying it will help you steer well clear of burnout.
Researchers writing in the European Journal of Sport Science found that failure to schedule free time led athletes to overtrain and burn out. They concluded that, 'when asked to identify causes and symptoms for their overtraining, college swimmers cited: too much stress and pressure; too much training; physical exhaustion and soreness; boredom because of endless repetition; and poor rest and lack of sleep.'
It was also noted that, 'overtraining symptoms are general apathy, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, irritability, feelings of exhaustion, and increased vulnerability to injuries'.
So, as much as you may want to dive back into your work, make sure you have those scheduled spells away from the grind.
10. Eat well
There are of course many health benefits to eating a balanced diet and avoiding burnout is one of them.
When we’re on holiday we like to indulge – who hasn’t ordered an extra glass of wine in a fancy restaurant, or devoured an ice cream on the beach? Indulging in ‘naughty’ foods can have a positive mental health impact and helps us relax. Yet naturally when you get back to the grind it’s important to switch your diet back to a healthy one.
And researchers writing in the journal Nutrients have found evidence that, 'frequent consumption of healthy food items is associated with low levels of burnout symptoms'. They found that 'all healthy items were regularly and diversely included' in the diet of the least burnt-out people.
It should hopefully not come as a surprise to you that these healthy food groups include:
Fresh fruits and berries
Whole grain pasta and rice, rye bread, breakfast cereal, muesli, porridge
Fat-free milk and sour milk, low-fat cheese (fat < 20%)
Nuts, seeds and almonds
Legumes (peas, lentils, beans)
11. Talk to someone
Whether before or during your break, make sure you talk to someone about your anxieties and stresses. This can be daunting – we have a natural tendency to keep things to ourselves and not ‘burden’ others with our problems.
But often when you talk to someone, be that a close relative, friend or expert in burnout, you’ll find that they are ready to listen. In fact, many people will also be feeling the same anxieties as you – and they may have shared experiences.
As Webb says: 'Seek out some support and get some advice rather than leave it until it is too late. Identify small things that you can do that will help to ease the stress levels. Yoga, mindfulness, exercise, sleep, and a good diet can all help.'