We live in a fast-paced, plugged in, often stressful, go-go-go kind of world. Many of us have demanding jobs, way too many commitments and feel overwhelmed because we’re spread too thin. Consider these five steps to avoid burnout, find empowerment and create a more balanced life.
Americans spend almost 12 hours per day in front of screens. That includes 5 hours at the computer, laptop or mobile device and almost 4½ hours in front of the TV, according to a 2013 study by research firm eMarketer. With so much of our lives spent watching and consuming it’s no wonder doing and being get pushed to the wayside.
“In our modern, 24/7 constantly ‘on’ world, [unplugging] is even more important [than ever],” says Dr. Mladen Golubic, Medical Director for Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine. Setting aside time, even 10 minutes a day, away from our devices and spending that time “quietly” –like meditating – can have benefits like positive hormonal changes and increased brain size, says Golubic.
Tip: Challenge yourself to take conscious breaks. Start small, like 20 minutes per day. Go for a walk outside, meditate or do your favorite non-screen activity (cooking, gardening, working on your car, etc.). Push yourself and try it for one whole day. Then one whole weekend! See how you feel and take note how it affects your lifestyle.
2. EAT SMART
“We all need to eat. This is one aspect of our lives we cannot avoid. So why would we not eat foods that support the highest level of our health?” asks Golubic.
We hear it over and over, what we put in our bodies affects how we feel and what we look like. We are far happier when we feel good about ourselves and what we eat plays a very big part in that.
Experts recommend whole, unrefined foods mostly of plant origins. Think vegetables, 100 percent whole grains, legumes, fruits, lean meats and fish. “[These foods] have the most beneficial affects on our body and mind,” Golubic says. “Studies link these types of foods and nutrients with better mood – that is, less anxiety and depression.”
Tip: Eating smart isn’t about deprivation, but about making better choices. At breakfast try a bowl of steel-cut oats and top with fruit instead of grabbing that sugary donut. If you really want a hamburger, consider skipping the bun (ask for it “protein style” – wrapped in lettuce). Opt for your favorite iced-blended coffee drink sugar-free and with skim milk. “Good for you” doesn’t have to mean “boring.”
3. ‘YOU’ TIME
Making time for yourself is probably one of the hardest things to do when you’re constantly on the go. But carving out alone time is key in creating space to contemplate, prioritize and recharge.
David Sandler’s job as a relief worker in places hard hit by natural disasters (like Indonesia and Haiti) takes an emotional and physical toll. He builds downtime into his busy schedule like making dinner with friends, scheduling a beach day or writing in his journal.
“I’ll go to a coffee shop and put on headphones when I’m feeling extroverted and need to be around people,” Sandler, 37, says about journaling. “I’ll process and pray for myself for a while. No interruptions.”
Tip: Treat yourself to a massage or a facial. Grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee/tea (alone or with a friend) and unwind after work. Buy fresh flowers for yourself. Write a letter. Read that book sitting on your night stand.
4. GET A MOVE ON
Research shows regular physical activity can help you be more alert and boost energy levels. Seems counterintuitive, but if you’re inactive or fatigued even a little bit of physical activity can help.
“We recommend 10,000 steps per day in any form – walking, running, swimming, biking, etc.,” says Cleveland Clinic’s Golubic. “That would be 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic workout three times per week and 10 minutes of strength training, twice a week.”
For Andrew Yonce, feeling balanced means never skipping a workout. The 36-year-old juggles a full schedule between family, clients and running his Southern California-based commercial and residential real-estate firm.
“I can start off the day on the right note and feel like I can tackle it,” says Yonce, who wakes up every morning at 5:30 to run, lift weights, bike or swim.
Tip: Put it in the books. The first thing Colleen Quinn puts on her calendar each month is a daily run or bike ride. “I block out time and I schedule every other obligation around it,” says the single mother-of-two and media/entertainment marketing director. “Every Saturday morning, I have a sitter come [watch the kids] while I run. I’m a better mother and person because of it.”
5. SAY NO
Minimize the negativity around you. Avoid toxic people and relationships (complainers, whiners, bad attitudes), what New York City-based life coach Julie Holmes calls “energy vampires.”
“They only call when they need something, they talk all about themselves and rarely ask how you are – it feels like work to be friends with them,” Holmes says. “It can be hard to distance yourself from people you care about, but if they are sucking the life out of you, you’re better off spending your time elsewhere.”
Consider dropping activities that sap time and energy and re-thinking your to-do lists. And saying ‘No’ to someone or something often means saying ‘Yes’ to yourself.
“Last year, I employed the power of saying, ‘No,’” says Hallie Bram Kogelschatz. “I found myself too over-committed and frustrated because I didn’t have enough time for initiatives that I cared most about, or my family.”
Tip: Re-prioritize your errands (i.e. order those gifts online rather than going to the mall; ask the teenager down the street to mow your lawn; take up that babysitting offer from a friend). Make a list of people who are supportive, uplifting and challenge you to be better. Then make it a point to nurture those relationships.