What Can You Do to Prevent Burnout? Start with 3 Questions
Lit match; burnout

How emotional intelligence (EI), mindfulness, and meditation can help mitigate and manage burnout that impacts job performance.

Amishi Jha, neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami and author of the book Peak Mind about the science of attention, lost feeling in her teeth from grinding.  She was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania with two young kids, teaching classes, developing a lab…and her stress levels had skyrocketed.  One day she attended a talk neuroscientist, founder, and chair of The Center for Healthy Minds Richard Davidson offered at Penn State. During the conference, Dr. Davidson showed images of electrical activity in a brain, primarily in a negative affective state and of another brain in a relatively positive mood. Jha noticed that these two brains were different from each other. Jha asked about it, and Dr. Richardson explained that the difference was related to meditation.  She decided to check out meditation as a last resource before quitting her job. She started listening to Mindfulness for Beginners and committed herself to spending mindful periods every day. She reports that after two months, she noticed a change. In her own words, “I felt different in my relationship to everything.” She still was running the lab, and she still had two kids and busy, active life, but now she was calmer and more in control.

Contrasting this story with my own experience practicing meditation for over 12 years as well as practicing mindfulness and emotional intelligence, I can attest that these are resources that are available to us to help us navigate life situations in awareness which subsequently give us the capacity to continuously self-regulate. In other words, if we are self-aware, we have more and better choices than if we are unaware of our emotions, feelings, and mental motives. I am not suggesting that we are imagining the constant pressure or deadlines, but based on my journey and research, we relate to our daily chores, roles, and activities differently when we are aware. We do not only relate differently to our to-do’s, we also relate differently to ourselves in recognizing our needs, wishes, and desires.

Without a doubt, after 18 months of significant disruption from different fronts, one of them the Covid-19 pandemic, and according to reports from LeanIn.org, women are taking a heavy toll in the workplace, leading to burnout. According to researchers, “job burnout can easily lead to apathy toward others, harm the individual, and have a negative impact on the organization.”

We need to explore the useful tools available to deal with the rampage of emotions, feelings, and thoughts that can be out of control, causing women to feel overwhelmed, fatigued, and alone. How can emotional intelligence (EI), mindfulness, and meditation help mitigate and manage burnout that impacts job performance?

Emotional intelligence is “the ability to control emotions of oneself and others, to distinguish them from each other and to apply this information to guide one’s own thinking and action.” When we experience job burnout and our performance starts to falter, we have options. We can keep going on autopilot, unaware of our experiences until we fall into a deep hole, or we can start asking ourselves, is there another way to do this? How can we better navigate disruption, change, constant pressure in ways that serve us, our family, and work environments, so we do not reach the point of burnout? Even better, we could acquire practices that prevent burnout altogether. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and meditation offer options that can help us prevent complex situations arising out of our unattended inner state and lack of tools.

According to a study published in 1981, “job burnout includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal accomplishment. Among them, exhaustion is the star quality of burnout; depersonalization is an attempt to distance yourself from the service recipient by actively neglecting the qualities that make it unique. It is difficult to gain a sense of accomplishment when feeling exhausted or helping people toward whom one is indifferent.” We begin to fall into a spiral until we cannot do it anymore because we have hit our lowest possible point. This is true today more than ever.

I specialize in emotional intelligence, and according to my practice and research, self-awareness and self-talk are two powerful tools that support my mental health and a general sense of wellbeing. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize what is happening in our inner world, which helps us navigate our outer world because we realize that we have choices. There was a time when I lived mostly on autopilot. After acquiring and committing to daily meditation, a yoga practice, and developing and cultivating emotional intelligence skills and capacities, self-awareness being the pillar of it all, my relationship with life has changed and, thus, the way I navigate pressure, deadlines, long working hours, and relationships.

My daily meditation and mindfulness practice, especially with the tool I designed, 1 Minute of Self-Reflection, helps me develop the habit of self-awareness. I intentionally pause at least three times a day and ask myself three questions:

  • What emotions are present?
  • What feelings am I experiencing?
  • What mental movies am I believing and giving power to?

And, I experience Aha! moments. These moments of self-awareness help me self-regulate and keep the glass half full. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.” Non-judgement does not mean we never have a point of view about people or experiences; it means we choose not to judge but to observe. Mindfulness helps us get out of our limited ways. Dr. Davidson considers that mindfulness is “a person becoming more and more familiar with the quality of awareness.”

I meditate every day for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night before going to sleep. I practice yoga three times a week, and I run twice a week. Exercise keeps my body light and my mind clear and helps alchemize the energy of emotions. I pause three times a day to practice 1 Minute of Self-Reflection, which allows me to fine-tune and keep my glass half full instead of overflowing. I have learned to set boundaries, be aware of my needs and take care of them, recognize habits, patterns, beliefs, old emotional reactions, and behaviors that are in my subconscious and which influence me 95% of the time, so I can choose new habits and beliefs that serve me. When I am running on autopilot, and my subconscious tendencies silently pull me to the edge, I can recognize what is happening and make minor adjustments that allow me to return to the center where I feel self-confident, sovereign, and in control of my life.

Related content:

Creating Space to Re-energize the Self and Business

Cut Down on Stress and Be More Productive

The Power of Rituals


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