“Burnout isn’t simply about being tired – its deeper, and more profound.”

Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry on how to ‘respond’ versus ‘react’ in difficult situations.

With the global pandemic giving rise to stress and uncertainty like never before, it’s no wonder that more and more of us are feeling the effects of burnout. 

We’re cooped up and working long hours from home, or we’re chronically stressed out fighting fires on the front line. It’s a challenging set of conditions that’s been sustained and prolonged – and that shows little signs of abating.

But burnout isn’t simply the physical experience of being overtired, and in the latest episode of the Last 8% Morning, Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence expert Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry explores the important psychological and emotional dimensions of this all-too -common condition.

“Burnout is characterized by three main things: exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of reduced competence. We feel perpetually exhausted or annoyed. We feel like we can’t get anything done. We feel unappreciated. And a big one I think for me, is feeling less enjoyment in life – that I’m not enjoying the process of whatever it is I’m doing. You might feel like you just want to quit – you just want to stop because it feels overwhelming.” 

According to JP, it’s crucial to understand the precise mechanisms through which burnout develops in order to then establish the most effective ways of dealing with it. Through his research and reflection, JP highlights four main contributors to this state: 1) a lack of perceived control; 2) a feeling of disconnection; 3) issues around workload; and 4) cortisol levels in the body. 

“A lack of perceived control is the feeling that we don’t have a say in the decisions that impact our professional life or personal life. We feel controlled by something or someone else […] If this is true for you – step back and ask yourself: what exactly is causing me to feel this way?”

“Sometimes there absolutely is a lack of control. But it’s not always true – sometimes it’s just we are not taking charge. Look at it for you. And then ask yourself what you can do to shift the situation? For instance, is there a Last 8% Conversation – a difficult conversation – you need to have with your boss? Is it worth talking about how you’re feeling? What’s interesting is that many of us are afraid of doing this because we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable. But the consequence is that we don’t give our manager an opportunity to help us, or to clarify what we have control over and what we don’t.” 

“Our workload becomes an issue when we feel we have too much to do – that there’s never enough time and our ‘to do’ list is never ending. Again, while this is worth having a conversation about with your boss, sometimes we miss how a feeling of needing to be perfect can lead to spending way more time on a task than is actually warranted. This can also show up in an inability to delegate – all because of perfectionism. This to me is a big one. Are you unable to let something go, but then feel overwhelmed as a consequence? Are you treating everything like it has to be at an ‘A’ level, when it could actually be fine at a ‘B’ level?”

“With covid there’s also a greater chance that we are not feeling as connected as we normally do. This is a big one because we know from very good research that feeling connected to even one person protects us from burnout and makes us significantly more resilient. So ask yourself – are you doing the things to stay connected? When we get busy we make trade offs and let go of some of that important connecting time. In covid we have to be more planful or else we end up feeling isolated and it’s not protective.”

Cortisol is a stress hormone that functions like nature’s built-in alarm system. It works with certain parts of the brain to control mood and motivation. But if we have too much in our system on a habitual basis there are three significant consequences on our health:  

“Firstly, it diminishes dopamine which decreases activity in the pleasure pathways of the brain. When you add to that lowered serotonin, all of this reduces feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Number two, the body becomes resistant to insulin, leading to an increase in sugar in our blood and to weight gain. You can be exercising and eating well, but if you have a lot of cortisol, then you can still gain weight regardless. And number three is an impact on our immune system – when this is compromised it’s much harder to fight off viruses of any sort.”

Excessive cortisol is caused by reactions that are out of proportion to the challenge we are facing. This is a big part of the whole Last 8% Project – how can we develop insights and tools that allow us to ‘respond’ versus ‘react’ to the big challenges we face? If we overreact to the small things we end up not having energy left to deal with the big things in those last 8 % situations”

“So I challenge you to think about how you can start the day, not by looking at your phone or news feed which spikes cortisol […] but to develop your knowledge and insight so that you’re the best version of yourself, and are able to manage those difficult, last 8% situations more effectively.”

To get a head start on life and supercharge your morning, check out the Last 8% podcast now!

Edwin Tubb