Beat Burnout With Exercise

Most people in pressure positions at work will experience some sort of burnout at one point in their careers. But what happens exactly when we get burned out? The signs of occupational burnout include exhaustion; lack of enthusiasm or motivation; cynicism; and feeling ineffective. But burnout isn’t something that happens out of nowhere. Usually, there’s a lead-up period called brownout where employees become disengaged and demotivated.

As mentioned in a previous post, many devs solve their burnout problem by taking time off or leaving the industry entirely. That course of action may not be an option for a lot of people. Psychologists suggest we should ease brownout is by unplugging. Taking a technology break gets your mind off of work and forces you to live in the present.

And this sounds great…in theory. In reality, working in technology means being constantly surrounded by technology. Often times, tech toys are a huge part of the way we relax. So if neither unplugging nor sabbatical are viable options, what’s left? Movement.

I’m sure most of you have heard about what exercise does in the brain. Regular exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals (i.e. endorphins, neurotransmitters, and endocannabinoids) that may ease symptoms of depression. Exercise also reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression while also increasing body temperature that may have a calming effect. And several studies have proven that exercise eases depression.

A 1999 study published in the Archives of Medicine went as far as to say that, for those looking to avoid drugs, exercise might be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants. The study divided 156 men and women with depression into three groups: exercise only, antidepressants only, and both exercise and antidepressants. When scientists followed up with 133 of the original patients six months after the first study ended, they found that exercise’s effects lasted longer than those of antidepressants.

So what does this have to do with burnout? Take a look at a few of the symptoms associated with it: disengagement, loss of interest in hobbies, stress. Now compare those symptoms to that of clinical depression: irritability, fatigue, difficulty with concentration. Sounds similar, right? That’s because some researchers believe that burnout is a type of depression. The difference is that symptoms of depression can subside when treated with the correct medication. Burnout, on the other hand, requires more of a person’s time and energy to solve.

That doesn’t mean that some of the treatments used for depression can’t also be used for burnout. Namely, exercise and eating well. Along with the physiological benefits of exercise mentioned above, there are other reasons why exercise is a great cure for many problems.

One big reason is that it increases confidence. Setting physical goals for your body and then working towards them is a great accomplishment for many people; seeing your body change physically is great for self-esteem. Exercise is also a healthy way to cope when work or life gets difficult. It can serve as a temporary distraction while also elevating your mood. In short, exercise can give you a different perspective on the problem.

When you are experiencing burnout or brownout symptoms, the best course of action is to practice healthy habits daily. Self-care isn’t something we should only talk about at conferences; it’s crucial maintaining your health and wellness. If necessary, take a week or two of your vacation time to reacquaint yourself with hobbies you love. Clean and organize your house. Spend time with your family and loved ones.

Once you do go back to work, commit to an exercise program. Try to take a quick walk during the day to get some sunlight and fresh air. Bottom line, take care of yourself. Defeating burnout or avoiding it completely can be a simple as 30 minutes of exercise a day.