Burnout: Even the word sounds terrible, conjuring images of lost souls walking through — and losing to — flames. Unfortunately, this very real work-life hazard appears to be on the rise, and communications professionals are as vulnerable as anyone.

Preventing burnout isn’t as simple as de-stressing when you hit your breaking point. Nor is the answer as easy as educating people on burnout. Most of us already know the common symptoms: exhaustion, loss of motivation and an intense feeling of stress with no end in sight. We also know the risks of burnout, which include a long list of physical health problems, mental health issues including depression and anxiety, and significant drop-offs in work performance

The problem is that burnout is often thought of as “just a work problem,” so we don’t often consider the cyclical effect burnout has on many areas of our lives. When we’re burnt out, we don’t have the emotional bandwidth or even the desire to keep up with our hobbies or close relationships. Social isolation and lack of enjoyable activities can further lower your mood and energy levels. When you’re fatigued and sad, you can’t perform your best at work. And when you fall behind, that ever-present feeling of stress continues to increase. 

You can see how burnout has the potential to sink its claws into every part of your life. This is why it’s so important to get ahead of burnout before it becomes a really big problem. 

For those whose workplace locations are changing with increased vaccination rates, and who are returning to the office part- or full-time, you have a great opportunity to hit “reset”. It’s the ideal time to consider starting new habits that can limit your risks of developing burnout. Here are a few ideas: 

Clarifying Expectations: Unclear work expectations are among the leading causes of burnout. Why? Because when our minds are left to fill in the blanks, we often come up with unrealistic interpretations. Ongoing uncertainty can create ongoing stress around performance, and more. One idea is to use your quarterly or mid-year review as an opportunity to clarify expectations, if no nearer or simpler opportunities present themselves.

Work vs. Personal Time: One of the easiest ways to get to Burnout Town is by chronically or just frequently working past business hours. This is particularly easy to do today because COVID-19 has changed many of the built-in physical boundaries that we used to have, which were supportive. Where we previously had to go to the office to do work, or leave the office by a certain time to catch a BART train to go home, working from home has erased those needs. That means the onus is on you to prioritize and value your personal time. One suggestion is to give yourself a hard cut-off for the day, like 6 pm. Your ability to do so will be somewhat dependent on the needs and culture of your workplace or work team, but the point is that work-life balance is a really important part of preventing burnout. 

Making a Conscious Effort to Schedule Fun Activities: A common feeling associated with burnout is feeling trapped. After all, when you look at your calendar and all you see is work that needs to get done, without enough time to do it all — how could you not feel trapped? Having fun activities interspersed throughout your day gives you a little space to breathe and get refreshed before jumping back into your work. 

Roni Kholomyansky, Psy.D is a licensed psychologist providing telehealth and in-person appointments in the East Bay. Roni’s specialties include perfectionism, depression, anxiety, trauma and shyness. You can learn more at www.ronikhol.com.