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3 Secrets Research Reveals to Avoid Burnout

shutterstock_511771990-compressorEver wake up exhausted and just dread going to work? Do you feel like that most days? Every day? Well, maybe you’re just tired. But tired isn’t burnout. Tired is tired. Get more sleep and you’re not tired anymore. Real burnout is clinically described as becoming “chronically exhausted; cynical and detached from your work; and a feeling of increasing ineffectiveness on the job.”

Whoa. Now that’s serious. Must need a vacation, then. They fix burnout, right? Nope. Research shows that using vacations to stave off burnout is like taking painkillers to treat a brain tumor. You feel better for a while but then the problem comes roaring back. So what gives? What is burnout really? Where does it come from? And what do we have to do to avoid it?

Burnout isn’t being overworked or not getting enough rest. Psychologists have determined that burnout isn’t just an acute overdose of stress, In other words, plain old depression …only job-induced. When work just gets too frustrating and pursuing your career goals feels futile, you become pessimistic, and some psychologists describe depression as simply “pessimism writ large.”

The opposite of pessimism is optimism, and so obviously the fist step to combat the depression that comes from pessimism is to… be optimistic.

There you go. Easy. But wait. There’s more. Research reveals a something that can make you immune to burnout, and that’s find meaning in your work.

When you find true meaning in your work — when it’s not a job, it’s a calling — you don’t burn out. When jobs are meaningful, long stressful hours don’t have to be the path to an early grave. In fact, the exact opposite can be the case: The Terman Study followed a group of people across their entire lives, from childhood to old age, and they discovered that those who stayed very involved in meaningful careers and worked the hardest, lived the longest.

Finally, the third secret is to double down on relationships. When you get busy at work, you often make less time for friends and family. That’s the emotional equivalent of being so overworked you stop eating and starve yourself to death. When the American Medical Association surveyed top doctors to find out how they avoided burnout, one of the key things mentioned was “sharing issues with family and friends.” In short, those who increase their social activity when things get hard handles stress the best.

So to sum it all up, this is how to avoid burnout:

  • Burnout is depression: You’re not tired from your job; you’re pessimistic about your job. Therefore…
  • Be optimistic. (To learn more about how to be optimistic, click here.)
  • Find meaning in what you do. (To learn how to make your current job feel meaningful, click here.)
  • Double down on relationships. Work stress is a poison and friends are the antidote. (To learn how to make friends as an adult, click here.)

Now, when you really look at it, none of these fixes actually changes what you’re doing. Optimism and meaning only change your interpretation of what’s going on. And time with friends happens when the work is done.

Working less doesn’t make your job less frustrating. It makes it less frequently frustrating. You can still be quite pessimistic about things you don’t do as much. People have jobs far worse than yours and don’t get burned out. It’s all about perspective, and you decide whether the glass is half-empty or half-full.

But just make sure to drink with close friends.

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