Take time out to avoid burnout

By Emma Brown

Are you missing the fundamental piece of training that professional athletes know not to ignore?

That is the time out, from swimming, running, riding, brick sessions, transition training, racing, weight sessions, stretching and Pilates, etc, to rest and recover?

Positive psychologist, Sarah-Jayne Whiston explains why we need to rest and recover not just for your body but for your mind as well.

In the competitive world of triathlon with hectic schedules competing for time for training for three sports, work, family and friends, how do we avoid succumbing to stress and burnout?

Workout well by checking in and chilling out

Next time you’re feeling pressured and occupied with stressful thoughts, from a looming race date, a grueling training set or even a conflict in the workplace, stop and note what’s around you.

Observing five things like, if you’re at the pool, a coloured wall, pool tiles, flags, a water bottle and a safety poster, is a mindfulness exercise which helps you to come back into the present moment and calm down.

We get caught up in thinking about the past: ‘I wish I’d done that training session’ or focus on what went wrong in a race.

By stopping and paying deliberate attention to the present this allows you to check in, to not get caught up in the past nor concerned about the future.

Focusing your attention with a mindfulness exercise is a practical way to bring you consciousness to the present moment and an effective tool to cope with stress.

All we have is the here and now, not the slowly swum last set, nor the early morning start tomorrow.

The benefits of mindfulness exercises include a calmer mind, more clarity and awareness, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, says the psychologist.

A strategy to counter against negative thoughts is to also focus on your strengths when practicing to be present.

Note the three Wwws

Notice things around you to be grateful for and savour them. Check in and note (the three Wwws): What went well for me today:

  • What did I achieve?
  • What was a good thing that happened?
  • What did I handle well, better than before?
  • Who allowed me to express my strengths?

It can even be a tiny thing like, ‘I breathed in and out well today’ and other days notice bigger things. By focusing on things that are working well such as improved bike times, it helps when something isn’t going well so next time you can find a way through it.

Leave work at work

The psychologist shares techniques on how to also leave work stresses behind. Avoid escalating stress and instead cultivate an attitude where you mindfully leave and let it go.

“Our demanding work lives don’t seem to be getting easier, so when you leave work don’t take it home. And prioritise your time off to reflect and experience stillness.”

She asks her clients to write down their concerns and everything they have to do at work, lock it in a filing cabinet and leave it there when they depart the building.

Or if you do take work home, such as checking emails or finishing a report, set a boundary: ‘I’ll work till 7pm, then stop, I won’t check my emails after that’.

Putting in more hours causes you to not get enough sleep and be less productive at work and training. “Don’t find an excuse as to why you can’t stop after that deadline – turn your phone off.”

Cool down to avoid burnout

Sarah-Jayne works with executives and with highly demanding careers, who are constantly in a state of drive.

They have a drive to work harder, make more money and work hard at the gym and race faster too. When you’re constantly in a state of drive you can easily burnout.

We need some drive to perform but when there’s too much, without time off to recover, we go into alarm then straight to burn out. We need calm and time off too. It’s important to allow ourselves down time, such as at lunchtime, before or after work, adhering to work boundaries and scheduled rest days, to get present, cool down, recover and repair.

Professional athletes know very well that to achieve optimum performance to have deliberate time off as Novak Djokovic did the day before his Australian Open semi-finals match, which he won over seventh seed Kei Nishikori.

“I didn’t hit a tennis ball (on pre-match day) and that happens sometimes. It’s actually good to rest your mind and body.

“Less is more sometimes, because I’ve played a lot of tennis the last four or five weeks,” said Djokovic post match.

Sarah-Jayne explains that we need to move between feelings of alarm, to drive focused and contentment.

Alarm is when cortisol is high which is needed for protection such as to be ready to react quickly in an emergency. Our resource focused system, is where we create energy and purpose. This is characterised by feelings of drive and excitement, designed to motivate us to seek out the things we want to survive and prosper and the soothing and contentment system enables us to bring peacefulness and slowing down to help restore balance, such as the feelings you get from meditation, of feeling safe and calm.

If for example you’re working late, getting up at 5am for adrenalin pumping exercise, hectic social life and so on, it’s imperative to have some calming, gentle and soothing experiences from yoga, Pilates, stretching, meditation, taking the dog for a walk to spending time in nature.

You can still move your body but allow it to rest and recover. Avoid burning the candle at both ends, by taking time out with cooling sessions that release adrenalin rather than constantly pushing yourself further. Slowing down can be as good as sleeping, says Sarah-Jayne.

Instead of running at lunchtime which creates adrenalin and increases the stress hormone cortisol it’s just as important to slow down and sit in the park to spot 10 different colours, to be in the present.

It’s important to manage stress to oscillate between stillness, time on and time off, to allow yourself to day dream and bring your attention back to the present, to refresh and refocus.

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