5 Ways To Recognise And Prevent Burnout

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Learn from the past

Look out for signs that stress may really be getting on top of you – you know yourself best and you know what is “normal” for you. If you think that your current set of circumstances at work is impacting your health, try to identify what is not working and make some changes. You may notice that when you work 14-hour days for two weeks straight without socialising or exercising, you feel exhausted, irritable and disillusioned. Ask yourself – are there ways I can structure my days and weeks so that these unhelpful patterns don’t repeat themselves?

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Use your support network

Many of us don’t want to lean on our support network for fear of being a burden, or appearing like we can’t handle things. This fear can get in the way of us receiving some really valuable help. It is important that we utilise the support that is available to us. That’s what it’s there for. None of us can be expected to carry stress alone. Asking for help can be incredibly difficult for some of us, but it may be the factor that prevents stress from getting to unmanageable levels. If you are going through a difficult period in your professional or personal life, resist the temptation to say “I’m fine”. Letting people know what you need help with is sometimes the first step to realising your own needs.


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Recognise and address (unrealistically) high standards

We are all guilty of saying yes to things we know we shouldn’t take on because we don’t want to let people down. Try to get some perspective; ask yourself how much saying yes to this task or this networking event will actually benefit your wellbeing or your career progression in the long run. Learning to say no is a valuable skill that can actually help us to grow in confidence, even if it provokes anxiety in the short run. Saying no can also make the things we say yes to far more valuable and enjoyable. 

It can be easy to fall into the trap of telling ourselves that we have to do things perfectly, putting additional pressure on ourselves and increasing the stress we feel around completing tasks at work. But holding ourselves to unrealistic or perfectionist standards can place us at risk of burnout. It may be better to complete more tasks to a “good enough” standard than to focus on completing one task perfectly at the expense of other things on your to-do list.

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Discover and live by your values

It is easy for our working days to be consumed with deadlines, focusing on trying to deliver for other people. We may then end up “firefighting”, tackling crises as they come up but not devoting much time to our own development. This approach is not very rewarding for us and it can leave us more susceptible to burnout.

We derive much more satisfaction from behaving in ways that are true to who we really want to be. You can try to align your behaviour with your values by asking yourself: Who do I want to be at work? What do I want to be known and remembered for? Asking yourself these questions can help you to connect with your values and identify whether you are prioritising what is truly important to you at work. This may mean having some difficult conversations or asserting your views more firmly than you usually would. Having a discussion with a trusted manager or colleague can be a helpful first step. Being true to your own values will payoff in the long run.

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Address your self care routine

Of course, some stress is unavoidable and we will all experience peaks and troughs in the pressures we face at work. Although there may be aspects of this that you cannot influence (you may not be able to ask your boss to postpone that deadline for you), recognise what is within your control. If you know that going for a 15-minute walk at lunchtime helps you to reset, what is stopping you from doing this more often? Are you telling yourself “I’m too busy?”.

After finishing this article, try listing five things that help you to relieve stress during the workday. This can be anything from, morning workouts and taking a proper lunch break away from your screen to quick momentary releases, like making a good cup of tea. This week, try to make sure you do at least a couple of them each day. If you notice you feel more relaxed and, in turn, productive because of it, you might just make it part of your routine.

Editor’s note: This article was originally written in June 2019 by Hannah Sugarman, and was updated in July 2020. 

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