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How To Avoid WFH Burnout, According To An Expert

Cultivate the attitude to begin the slowdown and learn to relax.

What is understood by ‘burnout’?

Credited to German-born psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who used the term in a 1974 study of the condition, “burn-out syndrome” is the exhaustion produced from continuous and disproportionate strenuous work in any field.

Freudenberger analysed the phenomenon after he observed it in some of his colleagues, who described themselves as being “burnt out” and later also experienced it himself.

It generally occurs when one is driven by a compulsion to achieve what you are expected to achieve. This entirely modern phenomenon is increasing by the day as the common lifestyle has become vastly more external.

Our goals are set by others rather than by our own judgment of what we truly need. Again, these goals are becoming more difficult to attain while many of us are not aware of how to recharge ourselves.

Nowadays, rental prices, poor commuting services, unpaid internships, burning climates, lack of job security and self-enforced activism are all being considered as contributing to burnout. 

Not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing most to work from home and work well beyond their 9am - 5pm timetable.

We spoke to career and coaching psychologist Sinéad Brady about the importance of recharging amidst the contemporary obsession with being 'always on'.

"It's worth mentioning that our education system has trained us to remain switched on," she mentioned. 

"Cast your mind back to school. Secondary school started at 9am, finished at around 3:30pm but your day did not end once the final bell rang.

READ: Burnout is Officially a Diagnosable Condition

"No, you went home to do your homework and then study! From age four we are preprogrammed, by the education system, to stay switched on in the evenings and weekends. We translate this always-on into our work lives."

She credits both device multifunctionality and modern ambition with the difficulty with switching off at evenings and weekends. 

"When the notification sound chimes, our attention is immediately drawn to our work and, more often than not, the obligation to respond is so powerful that we either do or take action.

"And even if you don’t, the knowledge that you are ignoring something that might be ‘very important’ means your mind is now alert and drawn to your work."

To combat this, Brady recommends the tried and tested method of cognitive shutdown. 

"Cognitive shutdown is your way of signalling to your brain that it is time to switch from one part of your life to the other. It is giving yourself permission to take the time that you need to rest, relax and recalibrate on a daily, weekly and monthly basis."

"It is a skill, and luckily skills can be built and reinstated over time. Unfortunately, it is not a skill that many of us are taught."

However, simplifying is key.

One really simple way of doing this, according to Brady, is to have a different routine for going to work and a different routine coming home.

"This has had massively successful results in businesses with whom I have rolled this out and with the senior leaders I work with. It’s simple and very effective. On your morning commute – which may only be from bed to desk now – you might listen to the news, catch up on emails, make work-related calls, write your to-do list or read the news headlines etc.

"On your way home, you alter your routine making it a non-negotiable promise to yourself that you will begin to wind down on the commute home."

For this, she once again heralds the importance of simplicity.

"Again really simple things like, listen to a funny podcast, read a book, make a call to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or turn off email notifications.

"The key thing here is that you shift the focus on your way home to send the message to your brain that a different part of your day now begins. It becomes your daily signal to debrief so that when you get home your focus has now moved from work to the other important parts of your life."

Main image by @pechuga_vintage

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