Feeling a little burned out? You might want to get a group of friends together and bang on some drums. It seems to help, according to a recent study involving some long-term care workers.

Employees at the Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community in Meadville, Pa.—nurses, dietary workers, accountants, administrators and housekeepers—participated in the study in which they joined drumming circles for one hour per week for six weeks.

Before beginning the study and at its conclusion, they completed questionnaires designed to gauge their moods. At the end of the six-week period, they registered a 46 percent improvement in their moods. Six weeks after that, the same people showed a mood improvement of more than 62 percent, leading researchers to conclude that the emotional benefits last long after the music stops.

Margaret Bailey, who facilitated most of the group’s sessions, said that playing together seems to create “a connectiveness and energy within the group.” In turn, people feel support from others, talk about their problems and learn to cope with them more effectively.

While we may raise an eyebrow at this study and its conclusion, and maybe even laugh, we can’t deny the reality of burnout. Neither can we scoff at anyone who’s found a legitimate way to deal with it, whether it’s banging drums, running on a treadmill, whacking a tennis ball or weeding a garden.

Burnout is a leading cause of employee turnover in many industries and professions, and while anyone is susceptible to it, those at or near the top—leaders—experience it most often. The stress resulting from solving problems, trying new ideas, casting new visions and seeking ever-higher degrees of success can take people straight into the dungeon of burnout. Left unaddressed, burnout can lead to depression.

Its symptoms vary from person to person, but common ones include an inability to concentrate, apathy, withdrawal, sleep pattern disturbances (too much or not enough), feelings of failure, changes in eating habits, despondency and defeatist attitudes.

Noticing the symptoms is only the first step. Moving beyond them is critical to continued emotional health and productivity. So what’s a person to do?

First, realize that slowing the pace occasionally is okay, even healthy. Even Superman didn’t fly all the time.

Focus on what’s really important. Work isn’t everything. It alone does not make a life. It can help to list priorities and the things we hold dearest. In the process, we likely will realize that (1) those generally are not things; and (2) they are likely not the source of our stress or burnout.

Also take time to list everything in life that is good, even the little things, like appliances that work and a roof that doesn’t leak.

Shake things up. Alter routines and schedules. Do things in a different order, or on different days.
Invest time in exercise, even if it’s only three times a week. Physical activity causes the body to release endorphins and makes us feel better.

Get professional help if necessary. Depression is a medical condition, and it is treatable. Left untreated, it can ruin lives, families, businesses, churches and other groups.

Joining a drumming group may be the last thing you’d consider. But beating burnout shouldn’t be. For a wise leader, it’s one more thing to add to the must-do list.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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