What can individuals do about burnout? Let's start with primary prevention. This means the things that might help everyone prevent burnout. Here we focus on resilience-enhancing behaviors.These are evidence-based activities that can benefit everyone physically, mentally, and spiritually and may help us resist burnout.
- The first of these is practicing gratitude. This can take the form, for example, of setting aside time (a few minutes is enough) each day to reflect on a few things for which we're thankful. And some research suggests that if we include in our lists social activities or something about relationships, the benefit is even greater. My husband and I try to do this together every night over dinner: each of us names three things we’re grateful for that happened in the past 24 hours.
- The second resilience-enhancing activity is engaging in daily physical exercise. You might first think of running or swimming, strenuous exercise, which is great but not always feasible. Walking, going up and down the stairs, lifting weights, doing yoga, and just moving about rather than sitting at our desks for hours on end also contribute to a healthier body, mind, and spirit.
- Equally important is eating a healthy diet. Mom was right when she said, “eat your veggies.” It’s not always easy to eat right when you’re at work, but it does our bodies tremendous good to eat the rainbow (foods of different colors) every day, stock up on fruits, veggies, and complex carbohydrates (like beans and grains), rather than eating fast foods or lots of meat.
- It may sound difficult, but getting enough sleep is hugely important. And we now know that this means something like 8 hours a night, plus a nap if you can...no kidding! I had a friend who kept an inflated air mattress in his closet at work so he could grab a nap for 20 minutes during his lunch hour every day. Research has established that people who nap are more productive at work in the afternoon than those who don’t—tell your boss!
- Another very useful way to build resilience is to develop competence (the skills you need to do your job) and confidence (the knowledge that you can do it). We can build our skills through study and apprenticeship, for example. Sometimes we have the skills but don’t trust ourselves. Confidence comes about through practice and feedback.
- One of the best-documented ways to enhance our resilience is to build and use social support. This means finding people in your personal and professional life whom you can talk to about what’s important to you (emotional support) and whom you can ask for help when you need it (instrumental support). We can do this through Skype, Facebook or other social media outlets, or good old phone, written, or in-person contact.
- It’s very helpful to try to look at life through a positive lens rather than negative one. This doesn’t mean to deny that bad things are happening. Rather, it means searching for the good in our life circumstances, facing challenges with realistic optimism rather than with dread or gloom, and trying to find lessons in the inevitable setbacks we all encounter.
- Finding meaning or purpose in your daily activities and your work can be very helpful to preventing burnout. Knowing how your job fits in to the larger picture of your agency’s mission is one example that can keep us connected to the value of our work.
- We cannot overemphasize the value of engaging in a spiritual practice. For some people, this will mean prayer or other practices reflecting their faith. For others, meditation, spending time in nature, engaging in meaningful contributions to others can all be spiritually nourishing. A friend of mine spends time almost every day helping out her friends and neighbors, with a loving heart and generous hand. She is a spiritual rock star.
- What are three things for which I’m grateful that happened or of which I was especially aware in the past 24 hours? Include at least one that involves other people.
- What could I do today to be more physically active than yesterday?
- What healthy food choices could I make today?
- How can I get more sleep tonight than last night?
- Are there skills I need to develop that would help me be more effective in my job? How can I increase my confidence in the way I do my job?
- Is there someone I could connect with today, even briefly, someone to talk (or write) to who understands and cares about me?
- Is there any positive aspect to a tough situation I’m in right now? Anything I can learn about myself or others that might help me next time around?
- How does the work I’m doing this week relate to my agency’s mission? Can I think of any benefit, however small, my work has produced in the past week?
- Where might I look for spiritual renewal, for meaning and hope today?