Our society seems to be suffering an epidemic of depression, stress and burn-out, with figures as high as 10% a year being regularly quoted.
As a medical doctor working exclusively in counseling and therapy I’ve observed people come to me over the years complaining of being stressed and burnt out.
They come with a wide variety of problems and diagnoses, from straight out suicidal depression, to simply feeling like they can’t get out of bed in the morning. From paralyzing panic attacks to a pervasive feeling of no longer being able to live up to the expectations other people have for them.
In my experience there are 3 fundamental ways to avoid letting this depression and burn-out happen.
1. Have goals with a fixed end-point.
You need to turn a never-ending series of demands on your performance into a series of 400 meter races, or at the very least a marathon of known distance. If you run full pace all the time don’t be surprised when you get worn out and have to stop exhausted. Usually this won’t happen at the best possible time.
Call it a holiday, call it an exit strategy, call it a rest stop, call it a reward for a job well done, but the requirement is the same; you need to plan for the waxing and waning of your energy and motivation.
For example, if your goal is “more money”, then the striving never ends. If you want to avoid feeling overwhelmed, you will need to clarify how much is enough, or even better, define the lifestyle you want and then that will define the amount of money you need to aim for.
2. Stay aware of your bigger purpose.
There are so many different options for how to fill a day, or a lifetime, that you need to have a way of choosing from it all. If you don’t identify a bigger purpose you end up having a midlife crisis-type reaction of asking yourself what all this is for.
It is in fact better if you can ask yourself this question, and answer it, before you even get started.
Now it doesn’t have to be an overly grand purpose, like solving world poverty. It does however need to be something that brings out the passion in you to help you manage the day-to-day bumps and the bigger obstacles that are in your way.
If you don’t have a bigger purpose right now then as long as you’re happy, you don’t have to frantically search for one. If you simply wait you will find that life will give you setbacks that let you show how badly you want something, and then you’ll discover what is really important to you.
3. Create results that last beyond that day.
This is the most important one, in my experience as a counselor.
You need to build some cumulative benefits to the work you do each day. Otherwise every day is starting from scratch yet again, and you will feel like you are “never getting anywhere”, because you truly won’t be.
For example, if you are earning money but just as quickly spending it or going deeper into debt, are you better off financially than if you just stayed in bed?
Sometimes it is simply a matter of really identifying the lasting value you are gaining from each day.
More often when people come to me burnt out, they have a nagging awareness that their daily activities are not producing results that last. Results such as money kept for themselves rather than spent, passive income sources rather than swapping more time for money, business systems that last beyond the individual person, life-long habits in place of knee-jerk panic responses, better key relationships, and much more.
Here is the key to this third point.
When you go to sleep at night answer this question…
“Have I done something today to be in a better position for my future than I was when I woke up this morning?”
If the answer is yes, then you will have had a worthwhile day.
All these three factors add together, and if you miss out on any one of them then you are highly likely to be experiencing unnecessary stress.
If you’re missing all of them, then you’re probably already burnt out and need to make some of these three changes… fast.
-Dr Martin Russell