How to avoid burnout

Photo credit - Milada Vigerova via

Photo credit – Milada Vigerova via

Burnout is not something you want to go through. Those who do though, may have been able to prevent the experience if they heeded some warning signs. The nub of the solution, is recognising the signs in yourself early. But how, if you are going through a rough time?

What is burnout?
Burnout is characterised by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of self-confidence resulting from chronic stress. Many people associate stress with things like long work hours, high pressure and work crises. Stress causes vary. What may be perceived as stressful by one person, may not be by another.

How do you mitigate burnout?
Preventing burnout is do-able. It relies on a person’s emotional intelligence to recognise and respond to the signs of excessive and sustained stress. Easily said, I know. What it comes down to, is knowing yourself and being honest about that. While the latter part of that sentence may be the chestnut to address, let’s first look at knowing yourself.

Know thyself understand the sources of your frustration or anxiety

Manage thyself – consider different responses to frustration and anxiety.

Emotional intelligence competencies
These are competencies of emotional intelligence (EI). Recognising your emotional state and managing yourself are made possible when you have reflected on your personal experience and the ways of responding that you have learned that enable you to stay on an even keel. That is, stay calm, control impulses and act appropriately in situations you find stressful.

Being honest with yourself is important for developing EI competencies. People can sometimes become defensive about not coping with stress. This could be denying it, justifying it or blaming events/conditions as causal. To get past this requires acknowledgement that stress is a consequence of an individual’s reactions to things/conditions, and that it can be managed.

Developing your EI competencies
In an article by Kandi Wiens and Annie McKee (2016), entitled “Why some people get burntout and others don’t” they report on research in this area that promotes some simple steps to practise to develop your EI competencies. To change your behaviour means practising new techniques until they become habits. This means developing your vigilance in times that are not stressful, so that when stress levels rise – you are ready to manage yourself.

If it is to be, it’s up to me.
~ Brian Tracy

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you develop your EI competencies:

  • Are you the source of your stress?
    Some people create their own stress, for example

    • thinking about or anticipating future episodes or encounters that might be stressful
    • having a high need to achieve or perfectionist tendencies

If this is you, learn to recognise it. Talk yourself out of that mindset. Nip it in the bud, before ideas get entrenched in your mind. Frame your thoughts positively, rather than being hard on yourself.

  • Do you know your limitations?
    Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. If you need some help with these, ask a trusted colleague/friend to give you some ideas.

If the demands on you are outweighing your abilities, ask for help. Find out where you can get support or assistance in your team or from other people in your networks.

  • Do you have a strategy to alleviate tension and anxiety in the moment?
    Is there a mindfulness technique you practise?
    There are breathing techniques you can use to slow your heart rate and bring down tension levels.

Practising mindfulness helps to heighten your awareness of your body’s response to stress by developing an awareness of it when not stressed. Bringing that to your attention to the difference in these states is the first step towards changing your responses.

  • Can you re-evaluate your perspective in situations?
    Your perspective on situations can greatly influence how you manage them. Like the glass half full or half empty, you can choose to see problems as threats or as opportunities to find solutions.

The way you frame a situation in your own mind, will influence how you perceive it. The perception of something as an opportunity creates a very different response to the perception of a threat. One can seem like a motivating challenge, the other as negative with a stress-inducing response.

  • Can you put yourself in another person’s shoes in times of conflict?
    An important way to de-escalate conflict with someone is to try and put yourself in their shoes. To do this may mean asking questions to understand their perspective. Taking an interest in them and seeking to understand them builds trust from which you can potentially build your influence with them.

Listening and suppressing the need to comment is a great skill to learn. Listening well is an act of generosity. It takes energy and focus to “be” totally in the conversation with the other person. Quite often that in itself will help placate an irate person. Being heard (and understood) is often what someone wants.

Helicopter moments can help
All the above require two key things: self awareness and the presence of mind to act this way. Are you able to metaphorically helicopter out of yourself and look at your situation? It is a great skill to acquire.

Try starting on a past event. Imagine that you are a “fly on the wall” watching the scenario play out. Try and see how it goes from each person’s perspective. Take a moment for reflection and ask yourself any of the questions above. What was missing that would have made a difference? Was there anything you could have done differently? Over time it may be the same thing that you notice. These reflections increase your self-awareness, and give you something to try differently.

Helicopter moments may help you gain a greater presence of mind so that you choose your response to events rather than reacting. It is in these moments like these that you can build your EI competencies.

Do you have tips to share for building up emotional intelligence? Please share if you do.

Wiens, Kandi & McKee, Annie. 2016. Why some people get burnt out and others don’t. Harvard Business Review. 23 November 2016.

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