Many people enjoy being high performer but there is a dark side in it: exhaustion and overwhelm, which can be defined as BURNOUT.

BUT REMEMBER: Burnout isn’t just because of extreme stress; it’s peak performance with a negative „feeling-good-hormones-gain“

Burnout can be generally identified by three symptoms:
1) exhaustion,
2) depression, and
3) cynicism.

Burnout is the by-product of repeated and prolonged stress, which deploys our portfolio of feeling-good-hormones.

In spite of what people think generally, Burnout is not the result of working long hours, rather the result of working long hours under specific unfavourable conditions:
a. a lack of sense of self control on the own activities (whit the feeling to be mainly driven by others‘ expectations)
b. a misalignment between the own daily activities and the own passion and purpose, and
c. long and uncertain gaps between effort and reward.

Unfortunately, these are all conditions that arise generally during our pursuit of high, hard goals.

This is why it’s time to focus on recovery.

The challenge is that it’s hard for peak performers to relax. If momentum matters most, sitting still feels like laziness.

And the more aligned with passion and purpose we become, the more „wasteful“ time off starts to feel. Yet, since burnout leads to significant decline in cognitive function—making it one of the most common enemies of sustained peak performance—you absolutely have to become aware of the importance of recovery.

And not all recovery strategies are the same.

The main choices are passive and active.

Passive recovery is e.g. TV and a beer 🙂

Unfortunately, alcohol disrupts sleep, and TV keeps the brain active in an unusual way.

Active recovery requires shifting brain waves from beta into the alpha (and delta later) range.

And while TV shuts down your higher cortical centers—which is good for recovery—those constantly shifting images overstimulate the visual system, pulling the brain right out of alpha and into beta—which is the brainwave signature of awake and alert.

Active recovery is the opposite. It ensures that the brain stays off and the body can mend.

By flushing stress hormones from the system and shifting brain waves into alpha (first), then delta (later), active recovery practices allow us to reset.

Sure, peak performers take this to considerable extremes: hyperbaric chambers, sensory deprivation tanks, nutritional specialists micro-counting caloric intake.

These are useful tools, and go this route if interested, but the research shows you can recover in three simple steps:

1) Protect your sleep.

Deep delta-wave sleep is critical for recovery and for learning—it’s when memory consolidation takes place. You need a dark room, cold temperatures, and no screens. Our cell phone’s glow is in the same frequency range as daylight, and this messes with the brain’s ability to shut down completely.

And shut the cell phone down for a while. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but figure out what’s optimal for you, then make sure you consistently get what you need.

2) Put an active recovery protocol into place.

Body work, restorative yoga, Tai Chi, long walks in the woods (what people have begun calling, much to my chagrin, „nature-bathing„), Epsom salt baths, saunas, and hot tub soaks are the traditional methods.

My personal preference in pre-covid times was an infrared sauna.

In the sauna, I splitted my time between reading a book and practicing mindfulness. Saunas lower cortisol.

When coupled to the stress reduction produced by mindfulness, this one-two punch hyper-accelerates recovery.

3) Total resets matter.

Everybody has a point of no return. If your work is consistently subpar and frustration levels are growing, it’s time to step away for a few days.

For me, this is once every ten to twelve weeks. My go-to break is a solitary two-day weekend trip.

I’ll read books, sand write and try to talk to no one. But that’s me, FLOWING on the wave of time.

Figure out what’s you.

Most importantly, stay in front of this problem.

Burnout costs you both motivation and momentum.

In the short run, because chronic stress interferes with cognitive function, it’ll have you producing poor-quality work that needs to be redone.

In the long run, because burnout has permanent neurological effects on everything from problem-solving to memory to emotional regulation, it can completely derail a quest for the impossible.

So, while inserting mandatory time-outs into your schedule can feel like a waste of time, it’s nothing compared to the time you’ll waste once burnout sets in.

Marco Giannecchini, MD