Self-care to Avoid Burnout in the Workplace

The term self-care has officially hit the mainstream. Google searches for it have risen 100% in the past 5 years. Who can blame us? The always-on nature of work and life these days can easily lead to stress and burnout. But is self-care really the solution or just the latest fad? We spoke to Shane Pearson, Wellness Coach & Managing Director at Design Your Life Coaching to find out.

Why Self-Care is Important

The first misconception about self-care is that it’s all about booking yourself in for spa days or spending hours meditating. But it’s actually a lot more accessible than that and, as Shane explains, small things every day are actually more beneficial. “Think of it like brushing your teeth,” he says. “Brushing your teeth really, really well once a month isn’t as good as three mins every night -and it’s the same approach with self-care.”

Destination Burnout? 

“Self-care is a way we can consciously work on helping our mind and our bodies through periods of stress and to help us recover from stress,” Shane explains. “If we don’t pay attention to self-care, burnout is the end destination.” For Shane, there are three main areas that are important to self-care: sleep, diet and movement.

Sleep:

Poor sleep is often our bodies first warning sign that something is off-balance “When our sleep becomes disturbed, it’s usually a sign of excess stress,” Shane explains. “A good, deep sleep is like a miracle drug in terms of recovering from stress and preparing us for a busy day ahead.”

If sleep has been evading you, try incorporating the following into your day: 

•    Limit your caffeine: “Half of the caffeine you ingest will be in your system 8 hours later,” Shane notes. “The rule of thumb is no caffeine, ideally after 12 noon, but 2 pm is probably a bit more realistic for people starting off.”
•    Turn off your devices: “Screen time is incredibly addictive, particularly social media, so cutting out screen time an hour before bed is another key principle.”
•    Calm a busy mind: “If your mind is busy but your body is tired, 3 -5 mins of a simple breathing exercise is all it takes to slow down the brain waves and guide us into a good quality sleep.”

Diet:

Ever been so busy that you simply forget to eat? “When we’re stressed, we often run on adrenaline and we don’t feel hungry,” Shane explains. “If we’re not eating to balance our blood sugars, we can experience the 11 am slump, a sign the brain doesn’t have enough fuel to perform optimally - it only has enough energy to run emergency systems.” This results in brain fog, irritability, anger and memory problems – not to mention we reach for sugary foods and caffeine to compensate. Self-care means paying attention to what you’re putting into your body.

“Replace the whites with the browns,” Shane advises, “get rid of white bread, pasta, rice and replace them with whole grain. Eat more fruit and veg. Long periods between meals can cause those slumps, so have healthy snacks ready to break up the gaps between meals. Include protein in every snack and meal, as it slows down the release of carbs and gives us a much smoother ride.” 

Movement:

Smiling woman walking in the woods

“Stress primes your body for that fight or flight response. If we’re sedentary all day, the stress hormones can build in the body,” Shane explains. “Movement and exercise are a great way to release the stress out of the system.

Not everyone enjoys exercising and that’s ok, take the first steps towards better self-care by focusing on building more movement into your day. “Things like taking the stairs, going for a walk or parking your car at the far end of the carpark, can make a difference,” Shane notes. “Exercising for long periods of cardio can actually be quite stressful on the body. A much friendlier exercise in terms of stress is shorter periods of higher intensity exercise.”

Some Simple Self-Care Strategies

3 Friends chatting and laughing over coffee

Incorporating self-care into your day can be as simple as taking a conscious breath. “Start with a breath,” Shane advises. “Take a pause and when you’re feeling present you can return to the task but in a much more present way.”

The key ingredient to being able to adapt to the demands that are on us socially and at work is building in adequate rest and recovery. “People often find it hard to make time for meditation, which is incredibly important, but simple things like setting a reminder on your phone to be mindful is an effective way of building self-care into your day.”

Help Yourself So You Can Help Others

If the concept of self-care seems indulgent, it can be useful to remember the advice given when flying – tend your own oxygen mask first. “Sometimes you have to stop and think, 'if I keep looking after everyone else first then who’s going to look after me?'” Shane explains. “If you don’t look out for yourself and that plays out for ten years, you may well need a lot of people looking after you.” Shane acknowledges that this can be difficult - particularly for parents. His advice? “Look for the windows in the day when you have a bit of time, it could be the last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Look for those windows where no one will be pulling at you. Start small and build it from there.”