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Motivation Monday: Our favourite experts offer their best advice on preventing burnout

We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves at the beginning of the year, but have you considered prioritising your wellness as a goal so that you don’t spend the last quarter of the year recovering from burnout? Our favourite experts weigh in...

Melissa Lainn - Integrative Nutrition Health Coach & Certified Meditation Practitioner

I call it spiritual snacking! - ‘Spiritual Snacking’ is intentionally creating mini breaks throughout the day to keep you conscious and connected to your inner self. Think conscious breathing, a quick forgiveness practice in the car, doing a five-minute meditation, saying a prayer, or being grateful. These bites of ‘self-care’ help you stay conscious and connected to your inner self, prevent burnout, and allow stress to fizzle away. Yes, a lot of what leads to and heals burnout is in your outer environment, the energy regulation in your body, and your mindset, but we so often neglect our spirit in our day-to-day life, and spiritual snacking keeps that connection to your inner world strong throughout life’s ups and downs.

Megan Hosking - Netcare Akeso Crisis Line and Marketing Manager

Set healthy boundaries. It’s okay to say no! Work on your coping skills. There will always be things that are not within your control, and so developing positive skills to help you cope with difficult times is essential. Look at your circle. Have a look at the people you surround yourself with, and build the positive relationships you have. There are proven benefits to your mental health when you have positive social connections. Don’t wait until you feel you can’t cope anymore. If you are struggling, speak to someone before your experience feels completely overwhelming.

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Claudia Brandt - Productivity Coach

Know yourself – it’s part of self-preservation - Are you able to stand up for yourself? Is ambition pushing you? Are not even aware of the full extend of your exhaustion? You don’t see a way out, but burnout is on your heels. This means that you need to change something fundamental. Burnout develops from our personal response to ongoing, unmanaged stress. A part of us keeps pushing us past our physical, emotional and mental limits. This part does not know when and how to return to a more sustainable and healthy way of dealing with this stress. My tip is to really know yourself. Know what are the instances in which you cannot really trust yourself to hold your own interests at heart. The Enneagram is a self-development tool that helps you see yourself clearly, how you steer into burnout and how to get out. Permanently steering clear of burnout is a process - a very rewarding one.

Natalie Louw, Master NLP & Life Skills Practitioner

Learn how to breathe properly. How often have you found yourself so engaged in a particular task, that you suddenly gasp for air when realising that you’ve stopped breathing. My life changed significantly when I started being conscious about the way I breathe. I would take deep breaths for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and then release for five seconds. Try this three times in a row. You’ll see the difference it makes after doing this regularly.

Exercise your body. Healthy body, healthy mind, and vice versa.

Try to have more good days than bad ones. Ask yourself what you could do to have more good days. Sometimes this could be as simple as listening to calming or happy music, or singing along to your favourite tunes. Calling up a positive friend may also do the trick.

Establish boundaries between work and personal life. This includes being clear on when the work day begins and ends. Make sure you don’t consistently take work home as these bad habits become hard to shake over time.

Practice effective time management techniques where you would take a short five-minute break for every 30-60 minutes of work. Make time to do things that you enjoy. This can include exercise, relaxation or hobbies. Self-care is crucial to one’s well-being.

Learn to be assertive. Saying no to taking on more work at times is okay, especially when you’re already overworked. Setting boundaries will help one to practice being assertive and will help improve one’s mental health.

Effective communication is key to a healthy mind. This includes speaking up when you find yourself overworked and managing conflict as it arises. Continuous learning and professional development can boost one’s confidence and reduce feelings of stagnation.

Find the small things that make you smile, and think of these when you need an emotional lift.

Pick your friends wisely. If you find there’s that one person that constantly makes you feel bad about yourself, or leaves you feeling emotionally drained after a visit or a phone call, then re- assess their position in your life. Surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you.

Having a strong support system can help against burnout. Get support from your family, friends and colleagues. You should feel comfortable enough with them to ask for help when it is needed.

Use your leave days. Having some time away from work is key for recharging one’s mind and body. Where possible, plan for more frequent, shorter breaks throughout the year.

Read up about mindfulness and practice some of the more popular techniques. This includes meditation and deep breathing exercises which can help reduce stress.

Seek professional help if symptoms like headaches or body aches persist. A qualified therapist or counsellor can provide you with coping strategies and ongoing support to prevent or manage burnout.

In parting, try to find ways to live a balanced, healthy and happy life. Only you can decide what your balance looks like and what your needs are when it comes to filling your cup. Self-awareness is vital to managing stress and avoiding burnout. And remember to breathe.

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Ashira Moonsamy, Occupational Therapist practising at Netcare Akeso Richards Bay

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-balanced routine. At times we may sacrifice the essential elements of our routine to make way for busier work schedules or added responsibilities. These elements, such as adequate sleep, exercise and other self-care activities create the foundation for our resilience toward stress.

Talk about your stressors, even if they won’t be solved. It does help to process and take the ‘mental load’ off. We must keep in mind that stress has to be managed to prevent burnout. Stress is not eliminated from our lives as we need a certain level of stress for motivation. However, if we perceive stress as negative all the time, this could influence how it affects us and how we cope with it.

Focus on completing smaller or quicker tasks first to add to your feelings of accomplishment and motivation, then move on to the bigger tasks.

Hobbies and leisure activities provide us with the energy we need to handle stressful situations. Neglecting these to make room for more work has adverse effects. We drain our cup without refilling it in healthy ways.

‘Fill your cup’ with healthy methods and avoid energy drinks or substances that promise to enhance performance. Negative stress (distress) leaves the body and mind vulnerable to quick fixes which in the long-term will have negative consequences for our body and mind.

Know your symptoms of negative stress. Create a scale of distress where you identify the different levels of negative stress and the associated symptoms. This will help you better manage stress in the early stages and avoid declining into burnout.

Don’t wait for that period of leave or that holiday to relax, ensure that you are taking time out daily or weekly to rejuvenate yourself.

Practise mindfulness. So often, we can get wrapped up in our head and not enjoy where we are. Use your five senses and engage fully with where you are at that moment – not thinking about the past or the future.

Break large tasks into smaller tasks and delegate if you have to. Be realistic about what you can take on. Setting yourself to tidy up one room at a time will leave you feeling more accomplished than failing at redoing the entire house.

Maintain different areas of your life including work, social life, family etc. Do not put all your eggs into one basket. This will help you to draw energy and support from the areas that are going better than others. Focusing too much on one area and neglecting others leaves you more vulnerable to breaking down when that area is in trouble.

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If you are having a difficult time managing stress or are experiencing emotional distress, Netcare Akeso’s 24-hour crisis line is always here for you on 0861 435 787. Trained counsellors are available to listen and can guide you on the various options for assistance, whether for yourself or a loved one.

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