Five tricks to avoid burning out

Most of us struggle to find the work-life sweet spot. And even though a healthy environment is high on our list of workplace priorities, stress is on the rise and burnout is rife.

Work-life balance might be a myth, but there are ways to prevent burnout. And finding the calm within the storm of life is not all about meditating and "oming" and switching off.

Practices such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness - or simply just periods of nothingness "can be good and helpful in their own right, but they all stand for a 'letting go' of things. They are defined by inactivity", says Matias Dalsgaard, author of Don't Despair - Letters to a Modern Man.

"This logic leads to a kind of life where the 'active' is considered to be dangerous and something that should always be balanced out by the 'inactive'. 

"We oscillate between the two extremes - fearful of staying too long in any of the camps. This oscillation is stressful in itself."

Instead, Dalsgaard suggests that we find ways to accept and enjoy the challenges of everyday life instead of attempting to escape it.

Here are five ways to avoid burnout (that don't involve meditation or yoga):

1. Work Hard

Pressure is an entirely natural part of life and work, and a degree of it keeps us stimulated, engaged and can even help us to enhance our performance


"Do not get trapped in the fear of working too hard, and embrace the rush that hard work can give you," Dalsgaard suggests. "If your life becomes nothing but work, you will of course need to take a step back and reconsider your lifestyle. 

"Periods of hard work and excitement should not be avoided - but rather enjoyed."

2. Forget about work-life balance

Instead, aim for work-life integration, suggests performance coach Andrew May.

"For some people this may involve working extra hard for a couple of years in order to get ahead financially, or to work your way into a different role or occupation," he says.

"The flip side is that you also need to take regular breaks and build in periods of restoration and renewal. 

"So while the archaic 8-8-8 model [eight hours working, eight hours sleeping and eight hours on recreational and social pursuits] is thrown out the window, it is still imperative to carve out some time to recharge and keep burnout at bay."

This might include taking the time (as we might write a business plan) to write down the type of life we want to live - including where you live and what you do to relax.

3. Fill up your mind

With things that feed you mentally and emotionally. Books, art, movies, even study can help reignite our imagination, inspire us and offer us a broader perspective on life and our circumstances.

"Most burnouts occur when someone is stuck in a simple perspective on life," Dalsgaard says. "The burned out individual no longer sees the bigger picture or the meaning in what they do, and his or her life is narrowed down to being about work and merely surviving the job. 

"Rich interests and a rich imagination keep one going when situations get tough."

4. Have a sense of humour

A little laughter goes a long way in life. Not taking it all too seriously and being able to crack a smile when the going gets tough is a great form of stress relief.

Laughing activates our stress relief response, soothes tension and improves our mood and immune system. 

"If you are able to find humour amidst hard work, the work will never control you," Dalsgaard says. "There is a pleasure in working hard, but it is important that you are able to rise above the simple problem-solving level of your job.

"The humorous individual is playful and innovative in problem solving, and can do so because they are on top of things and not ruled by work."

5. Empty your mind

To shift gears smoothly between work, socialising, relaxing and sleeping we need mental and emotional space. Taking time out is as vital as feeling stimulated.

But this doesn't always mean taking a holiday or even waiting for the weekend. Take time to let your mind wander, Dalsgaard suggests. 

"This can and should happen every day, not only on weekends or during vacations," he says. "It is a sign of health if you are able just to let go of things - and enjoy free thinking and feeling. This can happen over a cup of coffee, in the shower, or wherever."

Adam Fraser, human performance consultant and author of The Third Space, says utilising the small transitional spaces between work and home and going out and switching off can make a huge difference. 

"In a turbo charged world, the secret to finding balance, peace and happiness exists in these transitional gaps," he says, suggesting that pausing for brief moments to reflect, rest and reset are essential.

"[A moment of stillness] may only last two seconds as you duck between meetings or a couple of hours as you read a book in the backyard. No matter how long it lasts, rest is essential."