Preventing Burnout

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Daily life can be stressful and tiring at the best of times. I know what it is like to have to overload myself with work commitments, social get togethers or too much to do with the kids. Stress is usually short lived but if you experience long periods of crippling stress you could be suffering from burnout

Psychologists Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson define burnout as,“A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” Perfectionists who have incredibly high personal standards are often blighted by burnout but it can hit anyone at any time. Burnout affects our whole person and can be a paralysing condition leading to feeling overwhelmed, out of control, constantly exhausted and often sleep difficulties. It  can lead to depression along with serious mental and physical problems.

Try the Three R’s approach to prevent and manage burnout.

  1. Recognise – Watch for the warning signs of burnout
  2. Reverse – Undo damage by getting help and controlling stress
  3. Resilience – Build resilience to stress by looking after your physical and emotional health

So what are the warning signs to recognise?

  1. Experiencing a sense of failure, dread and a need to escape
  2. Extreme fatigue
  3. Sleep problems
  4. Physical symptoms like panic attacks, headaches, illness, or backache
  5. Withdrawing from others and experiencing isolation
  6. Procrastination, inability to make decisions or get things done
  7. Taking out frustrations and anger on family and friends
  8. Using food, alcohol or drugs to cope

Managing burnout takes more than a quick fix like a holiday or a few days off work. Long term lifestyle changes are much more effective at preventing burnout. Try these steps to reverse the effects and regain control and balance in your life.


Write down all the times you feel stressed, anxious, frustrated and helpless. Next start writing things that help relieve your stress in those situations. Just like other major life changes such as losing weight or stopping smoking, having a plan helps to highlight those elements in life which are toxic. 


Set strict boundaries around electronic devices by limiting screen time or giving yourself a social media holiday if you need it. Whilst being in contact 24X7 can be a good thing in emergency situations the downside is that technology can hijack our lives. Some parents enforce screen time limits with children and it may be that we need to practice what we preach. Work is always there on your emails and even on holiday you are contactable. So set strict boundaries around when you check emails and voicemails, use alarms and make use of screen time counters. Physically turn off phones and computers in lunchtimes and by a certain time of night. Ensure that you are mentally present at family times, especially during meals, by ditching devices. Take a Facebook Instagram or Twitter detox, try to stop taking work home and actively slow down.  


No is often the hardest word to say. People who are prone to burnout are often ‘givers’ who have a habit of taking on more than they can handle. Do not take on any more responsibilities in any part of your life. Be strict with yourself and resist that urge to say yes no matter how hard it is. Whether it’s looking after extra children, taking on more projects at work or an invite to another late night out, don’t feel guilty about saying no. Accept that you need a break and make sure you limit your responsibilities whilst you regain control of your life.


It may seem easier to do something yourself than trust others who you feel might not do something to your high standards. But it’s important to take a break and relinquish control. Whether it’s a partner doing the housework, a work colleague taking on part of a project or a child taking on some jobs to help you out. They may be thrilled at the opportunity to take on added responsibility. Who knows, you may even find it empowering to hand over tasks and gain more time for yourself.


A recent study has shown that exercise is incredibly effective at preventing burnout. Cardiovascular exercise was found to increase wellbeing and cut psychological stress and emotional exhaustion. Resistance training may have a great impact on improving wellbeing, creating a sense of achievement and decreasing stress. 


Take a physical break every day. Invest in time to meditate or be in the moment practising mindfulness. That could be on the train to work, getting up early to do some yoga, or going to a park in your lunch hour, switching off your phone and literally smelling the flowers. Go to bed early to read a good book, listen to soothing music or seek out alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture. The important thing is to step off the hamster wheel, take stock and begin rejuvenation. 


Tell someone close to you, someone you can trust that you are at breaking point. Opening up about being overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness. It may help you to accept something needs to change or it may just be a chance to vent and enjoy some quality time with people who care about you. 


If stress and burnout seem inescapable talking to others in a therapeutic setting may be what you need to regain control and teach you some strategies to manage stress long-term. Whether it’s your GP, a professional organisation or one-on-one counselling, share your feelings to help reduce stress and prevent the isolation and depression that can sometimes develop due to burnout. 


Article written by Lisa Brookman, a Freelance Writer who works in Special Education and has a passion for child literacy. She loves theatre, yoga, reading and Science Fiction.


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