Burnout and the winter blues have common effects. Feeling irritable, lethargic, unhappy and generally stuck by your circumstances, are common to both. I have been working with overworked and tired health care professionals who felt stuck with no way out (with jobs that are just too demanding) in the ACTion program.
ACTion is a 10-week phone-based, personalized coaching program to provide workers with the skills and resources to help manage personal, work, and life demands. It is designed to build individual resources and resiliency in order to improve well-being and reduce stress. This program is part of the EMPOWER healthy workplace research program.
The first step in the process is to clarify values, which is what my coaching clients did. My ACTion coach clients not only identified values related to their jobs, but also deep-rooted values connected with their families (partners and children) and friends.
The next step was to identify whether they have been acting consistently with those values. When confronted with this question, they began to notice that by their actions, they were always sacrificing family and friends for the sake of their work, even in circumstances when the work demand was not urgent or critical. In other words, they were acting inconsistently with their values. They also noticed they held a belief that they had no choice but to choose work over family, and that this belief was disempowering and detrimental to their well-being.
The belief that we don’t have choices is at the core of being stuck and can lead to burnout.The truth of the matter, however, is that the one power no one can take away from us is the power of choice. Even in the direst of circumstances, we have the power to choose.
The psychologist Victor Frankl, while a prisoner in a concentration camp, noticed that those prisoners in the camp who chose to offer acts of kindness to others or who chose to appreciate simple things like a sunrise, were more resilient and more likely to survive. Choice was the one thing that their captors could not take away from them. Frankl wrote:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
When my ACTion coaching clients began to exercise control over their lives by choosing to act more consistently with their values, they actually started to cope better at work. They felt as if they could step off the treadmill and ‘smell the roses’. They had an improved outlook on work and life.
So, whether you have a case of the winter blahs or you think burnout may be setting in, start by asking who is important to you. When you are faced with a choice between everyday work tasks and doing something that will help you move toward someone important to you, choose the person over work. Take small steps at first. By doing this, you might just start to realize that you do have control over the choices you make!
 ACTion coaching is based on ACT, a 3rd wave Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The interventions in ACTion coaching are all evidence based.
 Man’s Search for Meaning, 4th ed. (1992,Beacon Press)