Burnout has become something we can no longer pretend isn't with us. As we wrap up 2020, I've been talking with clients this week who are genuinely concerned about how their teams will handle 2021.
We had expected to be out of the pandemic, long before now. Indeed, politicians of all stripes promised us we would be. How could they know?
And as it looks likely that the UK will head into a third lockdown in January, people are emotionally and physically on their knees.
It's clear to see that burnout could well be one of the biggest challenges facing individuals and organisations in 2021.
The so-called 'Blitz spirit' that got us through the first lockdown had disappeared by the second lockdown. And if a third lockdown comes in January, for many this will be the crunch point.
People don't have the 'oomph' to keep pushing-on-through.
Add in Imposter Syndrome, and we have a recipe for burnout and anxiety, as I discuss in this article.
We need a different way to handle burnout.We need a core focus for 2021 to be on burnout prevention. In addition to the pain it causes individuals and their families, it damages businesses, too, as key staff get signed off long-term sick due to stress, and those still in the workplace struggle with their performance and productivity.
Preventing burnout needs to be tackled from two angles:
- The Environmental Factors
What's going on in the workplace, the workload, in people's homes (especially if remote working with children), in the wider national mood?
- The Internal Factors
How do our self-talk habits and our hidden blocks and fears impact how we experience stress and resilience, leading to burnout?
As organisations, there is a certain amount we can do to make the environmental factors as supportive as possible, but it's also limited.
Some of my client companies this year, for example, have allocated parents of school-aged children two hours per day of work-free time (and corresponding reduced workload) when they are having to home-school their children.
Some of my clients have initiated an 'is this meeting really necessary?' policy, to reduce the back-to-back Zoom calls that fill a day, forcing people having to carry out their main workload out-of-hours.
But for the internal factors, there's more to supporting with these than offering the services of a brave soul from the HR team on a telephone helpline.
There are things we can do to support ourselves.Cultivating Natural Resilience is about setting ourselves free from the 'bounce-back-and-pretend-you're-fine' version of classic gritted-teeth resilience. It's about having strategies so that things don't knock us as much - there's less to bounce back from.
If we imagine that we each have an inner still point (which we do - we've all touched that place of calm contentedness at some point in the past):
When brown-stuff hits the fan, it's like we have an inner pendulum that gets knocked.
If our thought habits and hidden blocks and fears tip us into what I call the 'mind-story drama', then that pendulum goes crazy. It fires off the sympathetic nervous system's stress response, and before we know it, we've spent the entire day stuck in fight-flight-freeze, with our system full of the cortisol and adrenalin that leave us feeling exhausted.
Chronic stress can also cause us to be hypervigilant, subconsciously on the constant look-out for potential threats or danger - but in a Zoom meeting or tone of voice in an email, instead of the tiger-filled jungle.
But once we know how to choose which thoughts to feed, how to press 'pause' on the stress cycle, and how to clear out the triggers we have inside that allow our 'buttons' to be pressed, the same external event doesn't knock that pendulum as much.
It might swing a bit, but it soon comes back to its still point.
And that's what I call natural resilience.
Based on my two decades specialising in the neuroscience of peak performance and practical psychology, I've created techniques that build on my background as a meditation and mindfulness teacher to create strategies that allow people to easily become more naturally resilient, and to prevent burnout.
Looking at those Internal Factors, we can prevent burnout, by discovering:
? how to choose which thoughts to feed, turning your inner critic into a genuine cheerleader
? the difference between what I call 'legitimate' fear and 'mind-story fear' and the role these play in driving burnout
? how to press 'stop' on the stress cycle, as often as you need to each day, so that you flow, instead of fighting your workload
This has a massive positive impact for individuals, teams and wider organisations.
It's important to bear in mind, as well, that stress kills creativity. It's a neuroscience fact. It stalls innovation. And super-stressed people can behave in ways that can turn a previously happy team toxic, in just a few weeks. And burnout can lead to someone being off work for months, meaning you're losing a key member of your team.
So ignoring this isn't an option.
Simple training and support in natural resilience can take even the most stressed people back to a place of feeling like they have more control and choice, giving them more energy, reconnecting them with their hope, and preventing burnout.
In 2020, I've been running workshops on natural resilience and burnout prevention for forward-thinking corporate clients, which attendees have described as ‘life-changing’ and ‘I wish I had had this years ago’.
These trainings teach you how to press ‘pause’ on the self-talk that triggers most of the stress we experience in life, how to gently retrain your inner dialogue to become more supportive, and how to use the Resilience Antidote to feel calmer, more confident, and happier, no matter what is going on around you – without pretending.
And I also offer an in-house version of my 12-week Stepping Up To Lead programme that is tailored to prevent burnout and increase natural resilience, both for the individual leaders and for their wider teams.
If you'd like to talk about how we might work together in 2021 to support your teams to prevent burnout, to feel more naturally resilient, and to reconnect with the energy and hope and passion they need to make a bigger difference, please book a call here.
And I wish you and your loved-ones a very happy Christmas and a joy-filled 2021.