After years of unrest, with many days spent at home, it feels like everyone is making up for lost time, scheduling in missed catch-ups and back-to-back events. But Elise Bialylew – doctor, psychiatrist, author and founder of the Mindful in May fundraising campaign – suggests it’s especially important to take stock at this time of year to avoid feeling burnt out.
Burnout, Bialylew says, is when you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic stress. “It’s when a fight-or-flight system has been turned on for way too long and you start feeling depleted, drained, exhausted, sometimes feeling cynical, having self-doubt and having generally less motivation and engagement in your everyday life,” she tells Broadsheet.
The good news is burnout can be reversed – or avoided altogether. Here are Bialylew’s top tips for managing stress this season.
Take care of yourself
“It’s all about ‘self-care’ in neon lights,” says Bialylew. “It’s about creating space and having an opportunity to stop, look at the week and the time going by.”
Is it time to rethink your relationship with technology? Is something getting in the way of good sleeping habits? Are you eating healthily?
Bialylew advises taking time out to meditate, even for 10 minutes, as it “increases [your] sense of flourishing”.
We’re hardwired to want to be connected to one another, explains Bialylew. “It has a calming effect on the nervous system. When we experience a social connection, it increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, and we know that oxytocin literally has a protective effect against stress and burnout.”
Connection can also mean getting outdoors. “Most of us love nature, but we forget to schedule it in and there’s a lot of science around the benefits of humans being in nature.”
Make time for reflection
There’s no better time than right now to reflect on what’s causing burnout, how to let it go, and where you can schedule more “pleasant activities” to look forward to during the week. Bialylew suggests journaling as one way to uncover those answers.
“Sit down and look at your week, write down all the main things that you’re doing and put a ‘D’ for depletion and an ‘N’ for nourishment next to each of them, and assess how many things a week you’re doing that are nourishing.”
Bialylew adds that it’s important for people to be kind to themselves, particularly given everyone experienced increased stress over the last few years. “There’s a lot of research that shows self-compassion – that is, having an active practice of kindness to oneself – can help us reduce stress levels.”