Posted on March 11 2019
As you drift off to sleep at night, do you struggle to stop the mental loop about what you need to do tomorrow? Do you have trouble shutting off thoughts about the coming weekend’s line up? Well, you’re not alone.
“Burnout is a global epidemic,” says Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post (now HuffPost), CEO of startup Thrive Global and a reformed workaholic on a mission to help people around the world enhance their well-being, performance, purpose and create a healthier relationship with technology in today's "always on" culture.
The idea that burnout is the price we have to pay for success, Huffington warns, is not the recipe for good health, for good relationships or even for success itself, really. (And she’d know, having once had a health scare stemming from work-related exhaustion.) Huffington believes the key to thriving in work and life is prioritizing your own well-being, which includes knowing when to unplug and recharge — literally and figuratively. Here is her advice for recognizing the signs of burnout, and the small shifts in mindset and behavior that can help you course-correct.
Being present in the now
That the human attention span is now as little as eight seconds may be debatable. What’s not up for debate: that we face a daily onslaught of distractions, mainly in the forms of buzzes, notifications and texts emanating from our devices. (Recent research from Duke University suggests we receive 65 to 80 smartphone notifications per day.) Electronic communications were supposed to help us streamline and maximize our time, not make it harder for us to focus and be productive.
Yet juggling multiple devices and tasks can negatively affect performance and efficiency, according to research. (Multitasking — in the form of second screening — is becoming the norm even during activities like watching TV). But the human brain is not equipped for multiple streams of communications happening in one breath. Concentration and memory suffer, and scientists at the University of Sussex are now trying to determine if multitasking may even be responsible for physical damage to the brain.
Huffington stresses that we need a better understanding of the impact of our newfound connectivity. “The smartphone is only 10 years old,” she says. “We are just now beginning to create the new rules of the road. We need to rebuild our culture.” Equally important, she says, is the need to disconnect periodically. “Downtime is a feature, not a bug, of the human operating system,” notes Huffington. “Achieving, conquering, building, and then refueling and recharging — it’s the stuff that the ancient philosophers talked about that science validates.”
Make room for silence and solitude
“Technology can replace many of the functions that humans perform,” says Huffington. “But creativity and innovation are two of the functions technology will never be capable of replacing. Both are the first to go when we are running on empty.” People are having trouble being alone, but silence and solitude, she says, are incredibly important for creativity and innovation.
In the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive with the New Science of Success, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.” And he’s on to something: Researchers believe more than 40% of creative ideas surface when the brain is at rest, according to the book’s authors Brad Stulburg and Steve Magness. Dr. Marcus Raichle, a neurologist, attributes this activity to a part of the brain called the default-mode network, which quietly works out problems when we let our thoughts drift.
A counterintuitive idea emerges: unplugging actually improves productivity and output.
Put your own oxygen mask on first
That poor sleep or a chronic lack of zzz’s is linked to health issues such as depression, weight gain, high blood pressure and lower immunity should be no surprise to anyone. All the systems in your body — central nervous, immune, digestive, cardiovascular and endocrine — use those slumbering hours to regulate the function and production of a variety of hormones. Studies also show that we need sleep and sunlight in the right amounts at the right time to regulate our moods. And when you lose sleep, you lose focus. “Have you tried to pay attention when you’re sleep deprived?” asks Huffington. “It’s really hard!”
A major factor in sleep disruption is stress. “Stress is a deadly killer, especially for women,” notes Huffington. “Take time to reevaluate your life. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Come up with a plan to gradually eliminate the unnecessary stressors.” Start with the word no. Simply saying “no” when you are feeling overwhelmed can begin to give you back a little control. Find your purpose beyond the obligations of work, family and friends, too.
Do for yourself as you do for others.
Change starts with micro steps
Sustainable change is incremental, Huffington says. “If you go from 60 to 0, you’ll never stick to it. Be honest with yourself and make realistic goals.” If you’re scrolling through social media for four hours a day, try and take it down to 3.5 hours, she suggests.
“The most important micro step,” she emphasizes, “is to turn off your phone and escort it out of your room.” Study after study continues to paint a picture of the negative health consequences of phone and tablet use before bed. The sleep hormone melatonin, a key ingredient for a good night’s snooze, is negatively impacted by nighttime screen use. Poor slumber accounts for an annual loss of $411 billion in the US, according to the nonprofit RAND Corporation.
“Sleep equals energy equals time. Teach yourself good sleep hygiene.” Think in terms of energy management over time management, Huffington says. It’s not about needing more time but figuring out how to be more intentional with the time we have.
After all, in the “attention economy” of our world today, Huffington says, “our time and attention [are] being monetized.” Shouldn’t you, then, treat those as valuable resources, too?
Liz Puzio creates content for Citi’s Global Consumer Bank and is trying to take micro steps to slow down, sleep more and stress less. She has covered trends in health, fitness and well-being for over a decade.
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