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Stay healthy to avoid burning out at work

staring at your computer screen all day and night and eating only what you have time for will take its toll sooner or later — you're likely to burn out.
Image: Worker relaxing in field
A few deep breaths of fresh air can clear your mind and refresh your body. Try taking six seconds to inhale and six seconds to exhale five times in a row once an hour.
/ Source: Forbes

Despite all the long hours and working weekends you've been pulling, you had another rough quarter. While what you really need is a nice, long break, if you’re an executive, chances are that your workload won't allow it. The rigorous schedule simply comes with the territory.

But staring at your computer screen all day and night and eating only what you have time for will take its toll sooner or later — you're likely to burn out.

If the health consequences of a lack of activity and focus on your diet aren't a motivator, consider the impact that general exhaustion might already be having on all your hard work. In a fall 2007 online survey by the American Psychological Association of more than 1,100 employed Americans, 55 percent said they were less productive at the office as a result of stress.

"It's not an easy environment to excel in right now," says Jay Singer, vice president of sales and marketing for Hummingbird Coaching Services, which provides Web-based executive health coaching. "[Executives] need help, but a lot of the time their egos don't allow them to ask for it."

Hummingbird health coaches, who counsel hundreds of executives (mostly based in North America), typically work with clients immediately following their annual physical exams. Cold, hard numbers, such as high cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, can be hard for business types to ignore.

The initial contact with new clients usually gives the coach a chance to talk to their executive assistants, who are positioned to play a crucial role. Right away, for example, they can make time in the boss' schedule for stress-reducing activities, such as a healthy lunch, Singer says.

After that, one of the ways coaches get results is through encouraging executives to become champions for health and wellness within their companies. By making it known that they support corporate weight-loss or heart-health programs, executives are much more likely to actually take the stairs or participate in a walkathon. (No one wants to be labeled the office hypocrite.) As a result, they might also make coworkers and employees feel better about taking time during the workday to hit the gym.

Preventing burnout can also be as simple as getting out of the office. Whether it's picking up a guitar or a bag of golf clubs, spending a little bit of time on your favorite hobby will help you rejuvenate, says Joshua Seldman, co-author of the new book Executive Stamina: How To Optimize Time, Energy, and Productivity to Achieve Peak Performance. Applying the law of diminishing returns, Seldman says you've got to realize that at a certain point you're too tired and stressed to do your job properly. Switching gears is a must.

Of course, if you're going to get out of the office, you might as well make it worth your while. In March, Miraval Resort in Tucson, Ariz., located at the base of the Catalina Mountains, began offering an Executive Strategy Package, a corporate retreat that shows guests how to re-energize and boost their productivity. Executives start the program by eating a nutritious breakfast in silence. The idea, says general manager Michael Tompkins, is to get guests to more thoroughly chew their food and feel fuller from smaller portions, as well as relax and experience the flavors.

If you're really crunched for time and don't see yourself cutting processed foods out of your diet or breaking a sweat in the near future, try waking up 10 minutes earlier. Use those extra seconds at some point in your morning routine to lie down on the floor, breathe deeply and relax, says Stefan Aschan, owner and founder of Strength123, which provides nutrition and fitness programs both online and in New York City.

"This will help you calm down and clear out your mind," Aschan says, "before you go out and get hit with all those issues."