It’s the height of busy season. You’re working (at least) double the hours you normally work, dealing with countless emails and voicemails. Last night, you didn’t even get to see your kids because they were in bed before you got home. Dinner consisted of a stale donut you found in a box in your office and half a package of Girl Scout cookies (mmmmm Samoas).
What is Burnout?
Burnout makes every day seem like a bad day. When you are burnt out, you can’t muster up enough energy to care about even the most cherished people in your life. Wikipedia characterizes burnout as exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness.
Watch out for symptoms of burnout, like:
- Severe physical and mental exhaustion
- Lack of interest
- Lack of appetite
Pay attention to these symptoms – you may think you are simply stressed when you are actually approaching burnout. Stress and burnout actually have opposite reactions in most cases, according to the chart on HelpGuide.org. When you’re stressed, you are over-engaged. With burnout, you disengage. With stress, emotions are heightened. With burnout, they are dulled.
What Causes Burnout?
Unfortunately, busy season brings all the ingredients of burnout: high volume of work, quick deadlines, monotony and chaotic environment with lots of demands. Feeling undervalued is also a huge risk factor in causing burnout, as are lifestyle trends, such eating and exercise habits.
Seven Tips to Prevent Burnout
Now that we’ve got a grasp on burnout, what can you do to avoid it? Here are seven tips:
1. Eat right. Drink water.
The flight attendant on any airplane will tell you to please place the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting anyone around you. After all, you’re no good to anyone if you aren’t healthy.
So, commit to good eating habits. That means watching the caffeine and carbs and eating veggies and protein. If you don’t have time to shop, look into services, such as NatureBox, that deliver healthy snacks to your home or office.
I know, I know, when are you going to find time to exercise? But, sitting at your desk all day will make your brain stale and eventually kill you, or so they say. As a certified app lover, I’d recommend getting an app like Stand Up! The Work break Timer, which reminds you to get up and move around. Time Out is designed for the office worker who sits hunched over the computer all day; it regularly reminds you to adjust your posture to avoid that aching back.
3. Set boundaries.
Boundaries define how you want work with others. Used properly, they can help you set up “no trespassing zones” and keep your sanity.
During busy season, let your calendar be a boundary. Schedule “communication time” and respond only during that time. Don’t even look at the inbox or check voicemails until then.
Define responsiveness. I pride myself on being responsive, but I also set boundaries on how I respond. I hate phone calls, so I ask people to text or email me for a quick response – in busy season and all year long.
Determine what time you are going home every night and commit to it. Even if you have to work after you are home, you’ll get to see the family, stretch your legs and hopefully rest your brain during the commute.
Setting boundaries also means being realistic in the amount of work you can take on: file extensions for clients getting you materials late, and say no.
4. Get some sun.
Find a way to get some sunshine and fresh air. Unfortunately, busy season is one of the nastiest times of year for those in the Snow Belt. If you’re working from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., you may never actually see the sun.
That said, find a way. On sunny days, get outside, if only to stand in the sun for five minutes. Sunshine not only improves your mood, but it also provides essential vitamin D, can lower blood pressure, improve brain function, decrease signs of depression and enhance your immune system, according to LifeHack.
It’s long been said that laughter is the best medicine. It relieves stress and improves your outlook. You can quickly incorporate laughter into your day. Call an old friend for a quick relief, chat with your kids (or borrow someone’s) or smile. Read Facebook. Watch short YouTube videos, such as Jimmy Fallon’s funniest commercials or old SNL clips. These six seconds ALWAYS put me in a good mood.
6. Reward yourself.
Set mini-goals and rewards for yourself. Each time you file X number of returns, do something you love. Buy yourself flowers, stop at your favorite restaurant, go to a movie or call a friend. By breaking down tax season into bite-sized projects, you make it more manageable.
7. Don’t forget your family.
Work/life balance is a myth – there is just no such thing. I like to call it work/life integration. You just have to figure out how to make time for both. Yes, you probably won’t see your family for as much time during busy season, but you need to see them for your own sanity. Come home at the same time each night or leave later each morning, or schedule a lunch date with your child at school – it will do your whole family good.
Good luck through the rest of busy season! Avoid that burnout.