Feed yourself nourishing foods. Reduce sugar, alcohol, and inflammatory foods, and add in seasonal vegetables, herbs, spices, and healthy, home-cooked meals. A recent study conducted in Finland found that the regular consumption of a healthy and diverse diet was associated with lower levels of burnout symptoms independent of age, education, physical activity, and depressive symptoms.
Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Griffin.
Nicole Griffin is a behavioral health coach at Calm, a yoga instructor, and a Middle East and North Africa retreat leader. Her yoga retreats emphasize meaningful cultural immersion and mindful travel and explore how to take our yoga off the mat and into the world around us. As a teacher and coach, she guides people to develop resilience and mindfulness with the intention to positively impact the wellbeing of all people everywhere. She has lived and studied abroad in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, has an International MBA, and owns Nicole Griffin Wellness.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in and around Berkeley, CA, which was a great place to grow up. I have traveled extensively as an adult and truly feel there is no place like home. As a kid there, I played soccer competitively and loved the San Francisco Giants, burritos, views of the fog rolling over the bay, and my dogs. I was very shy and introverted as a kid. Later in life, I came to understand my introversion as a great strength; however, as a kid, I often felt overwhelmed and lost in the shuffle. I preferred quiet and calm environments, loved to read, and always had small groups of close friends rather than big social circles. I was and still am a highly curious people-watcher and very perceptive observer. I developed a pretty strong sense of who I am in the world as a kid, and I carry that with me today.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I have had a lot of career twists and turns over the years and ultimately ended up carving my own way. I’m not the kind of person who easily fits into a box or is content to do the same thing every day. I need variety and creative outlets and independence and meaning. I have to credit my entrepreneurship professor and mentor in business school, Dr. Richard Robinson, for encouraging me to go my own way. He took me under his wing in business school and supervised me through various independent study projects and really nurtured my creativity and maverick sensibilities. Upon graduation, when I told him I was applying for full-time jobs, he was visibly disappointed that I was not choosing to pursue entrepreneurship. His voice stayed in my head over the next few years until I ultimately did start my own business and veer back into the world of entrepreneurship.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parents have helped me out so many times over the years. They have really supported me each time the ground fell through or my square-peg self still did not fit into the round holes I was trying to squeeze into. I am really fortunate to have their support.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I was once let go from a job for working from home without permission. At first I felt like a total loser and couldn’t believe I had gotten myself fired. It was definitely a scary and shameful time to navigate, but looking back, this kick in the ass was what I needed to make some major life changes. I now realize that I was simply acting according to my priorities. I had been shuffled through four different roles with four different bosses in three years and was not happy or engaged anymore. I had recently gotten a new puppy after the traumatic death of another dog, and I needed to be home more. I was prioritizing that and stubbornly railing against our stringent and antiquated work-from-home policy. The repercussions came down on me very harshly, but in all honesty, it was still worth it. Everyone should be allowed to work from home as much as they need or want to and without punishment or negative consequences.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Ok, I have two:
“In an age of speed, I began to think nothing could be more exhilarating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” -Pico Iyer
This quote resonates with me because in this day and age, it feels revolutionary to slow down. As a society, we are suffering because we are moving too fast and doing too much, and disrupting that feels revolutionary. I am a firm believer in slowing down, doing less, and being more intentional. This quote beautifully sums up how urgent it is to slow down and pay attention in an age that would have us do anything but.
“Self-care should not be about helping you be productive again. Self-care should be a reminder that you are more important than productivity.” -Gabriel Rodriguez Lemus, Jr.
This is the quote that I want to scream from the rooftops. This is the reminder of self-worth and truth that we all need. Our value is not in our productivity — it is in our humanity, and we should act accordingly.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My expertise and offerings are intentionally focused on stress resilience and mindfulness, as I have seen what a great need there is for this type of support. My private coaching offerings are designed to provide 1:1 support to people who are experiencing burnout, stress, and anxiety. I have been brainstorming ways I can increase my impact and reach even more people. One idea I am pursuing is offering group coaching retreats in addition to my yoga and culture retreats. On top of that, I am eagerly looking forward to my upcoming Morocco yoga retreat and Turkey yoga retreat — both happening in 2022!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Resoluteness. I have “failed” quite a lot of times throughout my career. I simply don’t fit into traditional molds and for many years believed I still had to force myself into them. This faulty equation has led to great frustration and disappointment. Through it all, I kept pursuing my interests and values, determined to create a career that worked for me. Don’t give up or sell out or lose track of who you are. Your path may be hella curvy like mine has been, but that’s ok.
- Steadfast self-respect. Unfortunately, there are a lot of assholes in this world. Corporate America is full of them. They love to take advantage of you, burn you out, wear you down, and insult you along the way. Don’t let them, and don’t become them. Maintain your self-respect, and advocate for your wellbeing no matter what. If burning a bridge is necessary, may it light the way.
- Creativity. I believe that we are all creative beings and that creativity is highly nourishing and inspiring. I have always initiated and prioritized opportunities that allow me to be creative and that feed my creativity. As I see it, creativity is an expression of an authentic life. I want to actively design my life rather than just go through the motions. Forty years of Groundhog Day isn’t it for me.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I am a yoga and mindfulness instructor and a behavioral health coach at Calm. I teach people practices and skills to develop mindfulness and stress resilience and provide ongoing guidance and support. As a coach, some of the most common topics I work with people on include work-life balance, burnout, stress and anxiety, and boundary-setting. My training has equipped me to hold space for people who are experiencing burnout and to offer both strategies and compassion. Furthermore, I have experienced burnout myself and have had to learn how to create a life that prioritizes my wellbeing above my productivity and to truly practice what I preach.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
Burnout is the exhaustion and forced surrender that comes as the result of prolonged and unresolved stress.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
Flourishing, thriving, sustainability, inspiration, connection, support, nourishing, balance, wellbeing, care.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some skeptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
Burnout can have both mental and physical health ramifications. Chronic stress, which leads to burnout, is correlated with things like heart disease, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, insomnia, weight gain, and memory loss. Beyond that, burnout creates resentment and disconnection — we become numb and lose touch with our own humanity. In our effort to just survive, we lose our capacity to care for our communities and the planet, we become disconnected from our own bodies and from nature, and we become less productive workers, most importantly (please sense my sarcasm). Simply put, we cannot be of any use to ourselves or to the world if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
- Living in a capitalistic society that demands productivity at the expense of wellbeing and health.
- Ignoring signals from our body and pushing through when we need to rest.
- Not having the support systems we need at a societal level to thrive.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- If you are feeling burned out by work, you need to rest. Use your sick and vacation days without any second thoughts and take care of yourself. Americans notoriously underuse paid time off for fear of backlash from employers. A recent study found that 62% of Americans fear their employers will judge them for taking mental health days. The only way to reduce this stigma is to push back against it. Take the time you need and don’t be intimidated to prioritize your mental health and wellbeing.
- Sleep as long as your body needs to sleep. Getting good sleep is the most important thing you can do to improve and maintain your overall health. Make quality, consistent sleep a very high priority. Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the book, Why We Sleep, says, “Underslept employees tend to create fewer novel solutions to problems, they’re less productive in their work and they take on easier challenges at work…operating on short sleep — anything less than seven hours — impairs a host of brain and bodily functions, said Walker. It increases your risk for heart attack, cancer and stroke, compromises your immune system and makes you emotionally irrational, less charismatic and more prone to lying.”
- Feed yourself nourishing foods. Reduce sugar, alcohol, and inflammatory foods, and add in seasonal vegetables, herbs, spices, and healthy, home-cooked meals. A recent study conducted in Finland found that the regular consumption of a healthy and diverse diet was associated with lower levels of burnout symptoms independent of age, education, physical activity, and depressive symptoms.
- Spend quality time with loved ones. Burnout can be very isolating and lonely. Seek out connection and support from those who care about you. As the Harvard Business Review reports, loneliness, whether it results from social isolation or exhaustion, has serious consequences for individuals. John Cacioppo, a leading expert on loneliness and coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, emphasizes its tremendous impact on psychological and physical health and longevity. Research by Sarah Pressman, of the University of California, Irvine, corroborates his work and demonstrates that while obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness reduces it by a whopping 70%. In fact, one study suggests that loneliness increases your chance of stroke or coronary heart disease — the leading cause of death in developed countries — by 30%. On the other hand, feelings of social connection can strengthen our immune system, lengthen our life, and lower rates of anxiety and depression.
- Advocate for yourself. If your job is the cause of your burnout, take the downtime that you need. If you don’t have the support you need to get and stay well, advocate for policies to change so mental health is truly prioritized in your workplace. This article from McKinsey offers some steps that companies can take to make mental health a real priority in the workplace.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Encourage your loved one to rest and seek a more balanced lifestyle. Take what you can off their plates, feed them, let them sleep in, take them on vacation, love them, connect with them, and give them alone time, too. Make sure they are doing the things they love, and help them create and maintain boundaries around work.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
The burden should not be on the individual. The culture needs to change. Encourage your burned-out employees to take time off and take care of themselves. Change your policies so your employees have the support they need to be well. See your employees as human beings rather than productivity widgets and treat them well.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Burnout is not a badge of honor — it is harmful and unhealthy. It is your responsibility as an employer to shepherd and care for the wellbeing of each human being you hire. Practice collective care at a policy level within your company. Prioritize humanity, care, compassion, and rest. Go beyond the minimum, be proactive about wellness, put your heart into it, practice what you preach.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
Approaching their recovery with the same mindset as they approach their work. Wellbeing, rest, and healing should not be approached from a lens of productivity or with a weaponized to-do list. Try not to be goal-oriented; instead, focus on tuning in to your body and honoring its signals. Allow things to take however long they take, and be patient, compassionate, and kind.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Americans should only work 30 hours a week and take at least six weeks off every year. We should also have much longer maternity and paternity leaves. We are WAY behind Europeans in this realm. I recently read the book The Nordic Theory of Everything, and the contrast in benefits and quality of life between the Nordic countries and America was enraging. I think shifting our approach more toward one of social democracy would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Kerri Kelly of CTZNWELL and Michelle C. Johnson of Skill in Action are endlessly inspiring to me. I was fortunate to participate in Race and Resilience, a six-month cohort led by Kerri and Michelle earlier this year. Their relentless disruption of harmful systems coupled with their deep care and skillful community-building are what we need more of in this world. I wish I could eat breakfast with them everyday!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
On social media, I am at: @nicolegriffinwellness
My website is: www.nicolegriffinwellness.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!