Doing Sport to fight off Burnout

According to a research conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2016/2017 alone 560,000 people in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression and work-related anxiety. The number is worrying, and the United Kingdom is not an isolated case. As a result of the increasingly hectic pace of life that we must deal with every day, society as a whole is going through a rushing period that seems destined not to end in the short term. Part of the blames goes also to those technologies that have greatly sped up all aspects of daily life, from transport to working methods and even to the ways we relate to people. It is increasingly common for people to feel that they are no longer able to keep up. The world of work is perhaps the context where these reactions are developing most frequently, so much so that Burnout cases are constantly growing.

What does burnout mean?

According to the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Burnout syndrome is defined as “A state of vital exhaustion”. This definition, which is undoubtedly very broad, may not to be very effective to accurately identify the problem. In fact, it is precisely the nature of Burnout that forces such a broad definition: this chronic form of work-related stress can have very different manifestations.

Some people report physical symptoms, such as sleep disorders or flu-like symptoms, as well as a general sense of ongoing fatigue. Others show constant psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, mood disturbances, disinterest or even repulsion of daily activities, difficulty in concentrating and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

A lesson from the athletes

Generally speaking, Burnout is linked to excessive exposure to situations of great psychological pressure. It is therefore easy to imagine that top-level athletes, who are required to perform at their best at all times, are particularly vulnerable to this condition.

From sport, then, there is much to be learned about how best to prevent and manage the riskiest situations. And in some cases it is sport itself that provides a valid remedy.

Professor Peter Olusoga of Sheffield Hallam University, together with Göran Kenttä of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Science, conducted a research on the relationship between sport and Burnout entitled: "Desperate to Quit: A Narrative Analysis of Burnout and Recovery in High-Performance Sports Coaching". Five suggestions emerged from this study that, if exported from the sports environment, can prove useful for anyone facing particularly stressful situations.
1. Have good self-awareness
First of all, it is essential to have good self-awareness. Knowing how stress is normally dealt with and the what factors trigger negative feelings is essential to recognize any change that could equal to a warning sign.
2. Avoid the ``superhero complex``
It is extraordinarily important to avoid developing the so-called "superhero complex", i.e. the belief that everything can be faced, managed and overcome. Being able to ask for help and being willing to show signs of vulnerability is essential to avoid Burnout.
3. Set realistic expectations
Another lesson to be learned from the world of sport is the need to set realistic expectations. Setting the bar too high, thus inevitably creating a strong discrepancy between reality and the ideal image of oneself, is detrimental to self-esteem and can make the development of Burnout syndrome a real risk.
4. Focus on a small task
Much of the stress comes from factors outside our personal control. For this reason, focusing on a small task you can control, such as imposing a simple good habit, can be an excellent strategy to alleviate feelings of anxiety and strengthen your self-confidence.
5. Take periodic breaks
Finally, perhaps needless to mention, you have to take periodic breaks. Devote some time exclusively to yourself and your life outside of work, so you can build and cultivate your own relational network of support.

When doing sport is the solution

Besides having much to teach, sport itself sometimes acts as a form of Burnout prevention. If practicing meditation regularly for at least ten minutes every day has a very positive relaxation effect and helps concentration.  Exercise, increasing heart rate, leads the blood to the brain faster and frees it from toxins. Even a daily 30-minute workout can give great results for your mental wellbeing.

To explain effectively the well-being derived from a small work out session: Do you remember the sense of overall well-being that you feel after a short run? Well, it could be healthier than what you think.

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