CEO of One, Needs a Vacation
We are the Chief Executive Officers of our lives. (Our homes, however, might be a different story — in my house, I report to the big boss, my wife, with a strong dotted line to the small boss, our dog.) We are each responsible for our own emotions, ethics, and ultimately happiness. But 2020 being what’s it been so far, it often feels like CEO stands for Chief Emergency Officer. And I don’t know about you, but I find it exhausting.
On the Brink of Burnout
According to Christina Maslach, a social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, burnout “refers to a syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism that frequently occurs among people who do ‘people work’ — who spend considerable time in close encounters.” (2)
People suffering from burnout generally have the following identifiable characteristics (3):
- Chronic fatigue
- Anger toward those making demands
- Self-criticism for putting up with said demands
- Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
- A sense of being besieged
- Hair-trigger display of emotions
If this sounds like you right about now, you’re not alone.
Right now, all the Zoom business meetings, homeschooling, and sharing home-office space with your family are forcing us into near-constant “people work” and very “close encounters.” And piling on to that is the financial, physical, and emotional stress, as well as the overall uncertainty everyone is dealing with.
What CEO’s Brains Tell Us About Burnout
CEOs certainly fall into the category of doing “people work” in high-pressure environments. As CEOs are deemed “important” in our world, it’s no surprise that we want to better understand their brains. In fact, there has been a good bit of research done in this area. The neuroscience of leadership shows that sustained exposure to stress and fatigue that leads to burnout actually changes the size and health of your brain. It enlarges your amygdala, which controls your emotional reactions, and thins your frontal cortex, which is responsible for cognitive functioning. (1) As a result, you’ll struggle with attention, creativity, problem resolution, and controlling your emotional swings.
The Upside of Downtime
We need to create space and set boundaries to disengage — so we can be healthier when we reengage. To practice self-care, look at your schedule or list of things to do today or this week and plan out your breaks. Formally establishing downtime and sharing the plan can be almost as rewarding and relieving as the downtime itself. Then take a walk. Do some stretching. Work in the garden. Clean your desk. Call a friend or relative. However, you choose to spend that time, allow your brain to relax and your muscles to decompress.
If you think you can’t do this — you’re too busy, with too many responsibilities — consider the Dalai Lama. The demands on his time and the burdens he shoulders are far beyond what most of us have to face. But Pico Iyer shared with me that the Dalai Lama sleeps nine hours every night and meditates for several hours every day. (It’s not the stoic zen meditation — he listens to the world news and documents his thoughts for the day.)
You are the CEO of your life and a leader of your ecosystem. What are you doing to avoid burnout so you can be your best boss, employee, colleague, partner, parent, and friend?
Hope you are all happy and healthy. Please, during this increased time of need, remember to give back to your community as you can.