The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress. The main signs include fatigue, exhaustion, and less productivity, motivation, and satisfaction with the work you perform. Whatever job you work, you’re at risk of developing burnout, but the nature of the military mission and duties can add to everyday, work-related stressors. It’s unrealistic to expect to completely remove stress from work and life, but Service Members can develop habits and behaviors that help them be more resilient.
Use Total Force Fitness to build resilience in the face of burnout
The 8 interconnected domains of the Total Force Fitness (TFF) paradigm—social, physical, financial, spiritual, medical and dental, environmental, nutritional, and psychological—are designed to optimize your health and performance and enhance your readiness holistically. Your fitness level in one domain impacts your performance in the others.
Optimizing your performance in all TFF domains can directly improve your health and wellness and can help you prevent burnout. The following are some evidence-based strategies that directly impact your brain health and body function, making you more resilient to the impact of work-related stress.
When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that shield your mental performance from the harmful effects of stress. Regular exercise is an effective way to boost your brain health and prevent burnout. Being out in nature also supports health and well-being so, if you can, combine exercise with exploring green spaces.
Eating balanced, nutrient-dense meals can also help you endure work-related stress. The food you eat provides the building blocks for chemicals that support brain function, increase motivation, and promote overall wellness. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that help protect your cells from damage, including damage caused by stress.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that trains your attention to focus on the present. When you’re done with a stressful day of work but you can’t stop thinking about (and sometimes re-living) it, your brain keeps stimulating the release of stress hormones. With practice, mindfulness meditation helps you disconnect your mind from past stress or thoughts of future tasks. When your present moment is filled with activities that promote happiness and well-being, you have a powerful combination to beat stress.
A gratitude practice can help you focus on the present and be content with the people and things you have in your life. It can help you build your resilience and protect against burnout. Use HPRC's gratitude calendar to recognize all the good you have received. Reflect on the parts of your role you enjoy most and are grateful for. Maybe it’s the ability to be outdoors or meet new people. If possible, find opportunities to do more of those things. Reconnect with why you chose to join the military and the sense of purpose it has given you.
Fostering healthy social connections with your family, friends, peers, and work leadership is another way to prevent burnout. Like exercise, social interaction increases brain chemicals that protect you from stress, enhance your tolerance to pain, and promote well-being. HPRC has various tools to help you build and strengthen meaningful relationships. If a particular work-related situation is bothering you, schedule a time to talk with your Commanding Officer about it and chart a plan to move forward and help you achieve your next goals.
Sleep is considered part of mental fitness under the TFF framework, but it directly impacts performance in most domains. Sleep affects your ability to manage stress, self-regulate, read other people's emotions, empathize, choose healthy foods, and get the benefits of exercise. This self-check can help you identify effective ways to improve your sleep.
Start fighting burnout before the signs appear
TFF tools can help you prevent burnout. If you're not sure how you're performing across the TFF domains, complete this self-check to identify areas of growth and set goals. Focus on what you can control and make daily choices to positively impact your body and mind.