Five ways to avoid burnout

Read Time: 5 minutes

Bobby Rae

Bobby Rae

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

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We’ve all been there. We take on too much, feel flustered and mentally exhausted from barely being able to keep our heads above water. It’s not uncommon in the workplace to feel like everything is getting a little too much. In fact, according to a poll of 7,500 workers undertaken by Gallop, two-thirds of respondents experience burnout in their careers. 

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It’s okay not to be okay. Finding ways to cope with stress is a personal thing - whether that’s chatting with people close to you or taking time to unwind and read your favorite book. It’s essential to find time to relax.

In this post, we’ll give you tips for mitigating stressful situations and hopefully, help you stay far away from potential burnout. 

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What is Burnout?

Burnout is described as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It occurs most often through long-term stress or a role that’s emotionally draining. 

According to Mental Health UK, burnout doesn’t go away on its own and ignoring the symptoms can lead to longer-term mental and physical health problems. These can include an increase in feeling helpless, loneliness, headaches, loss of motivation and much more. 

Before we talk about steps to avoid burnout, it’s essential to know the signs. This way we can spot it in our friends, family and colleagues and reach out to help. 

According to Forbes, there are three things to watch out for:

Decreased productivity. The person in question may have lost the motivation to do their assigned tasks and is making more mistakes than they normally would.

Increased cynicism. This can come in a variety of forms but is likely an expressed dislike of the company, unhappiness at decisions made and an unwillingness to accept feedback. 

Team detachment. Burnout doesn’t happen overnight and an early sign can be someone pulling back from participating in team meetings or activities. They may become more clinical in how they interact with colleagues and less willing to spend time engaging in projects. 

If you spot any of these signs, it’s important to reach out to your colleague with empathy. They could be going through a very difficult time. Listen to them and give them a chance to think out loud and talk about their feelings. 

With that in mind, let’s look at five ways you can try and reduce your risk of burnout. 

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Prioritize self-care 

This may sound simple but it’s really important - ensure you have a good work/life balance. This lets you unwind and focus on things you enjoy, like spending time with family. According to research conducted by Aviva, 41 percent of workers were attracted to their current role because of the work/life balance compared to 36 percent who were there for the salary. 

The Harvard Business Review recommends you have good sleeping habits, eat well, exercise and do things you enjoy. 

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Cultivate self-reflection 

Self-care is arguably one of the biggest steps to avoiding burnout. However, it’s not going to take away from the fact that you could still be working in a way that’s causing undue stress. 

You not only need to look at the tasks you’re doing but also the way you’re doing them. 

When it comes to your assignments, try to take a neutral approach. Identify what’s important, what’s not and what jobs could be done better if delegated elsewhere. 

When it comes to how you approach your workload, that can be a little tricker. Tools such as Headspace can help you to adjust your thinking but the important thing is not to sweat the small stuff. Everyone works in different ways, so find a process that works for you, cultivate it and continually reassess it to make sure it’s still the best it can be. Work smarter not harder.

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Remove unnecessary stress

We touched on this with self-reflection, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

If we think about this as three pillars. One is everything we need in our lives and can control, the second is the things we can’t control but need and the third is things we stress about but really don’t need to.

The first one includes things like making sure we get the kids to school on time. It can be stressful at the moment but with sufficient planning, we can make it happen, form a routine and reduce the stress. We have control, so form a plan and own it.

The second pillar includes things like energy prices or world affairs. These things can be a worry for sure but where, individually, we have little control. Here, it’s important to adjust your mindset and be realistic. Talk to friends and family and train yourself not to think of things as bigger than they are. In some situations, it can also be helpful to plan ahead and have contingencies. Knowing you have a backup plan in some ways lets you take back some control.

The last pillar is the one that’s key and where we can remove the most stress. This includes reliving decisions or thinking of the worst possible outcome and expecting it to come true. Unlike pillars one and two, we don’t need this in our lives, so adjust your thinking, meditate, talk to people who understand and show these thoughts the door. 

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Don’t bottle up your feelings 

Friends, family, your hairdresser, a diary…getting your feelings out helps. Psychologist James Pennebaker completed a study in the late 1990s. He found that burdening yourself with emotions and not seeking release is stressful and speaking or writing down our feelings leads to better mental health. 

It doesn’t really matter who or what it is, find something to confide in and release those negative emotions. 

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Realistically align goals and expectations

Goalsetting is a great way to reduce stress, but be realistic about what you can achieve. By taking stressful elements of your life and breaking them down into smaller more manageable chunks, you can get a clear vision of what you can actually get done. 

It doesn’t just have to be in your work life, setting goals in your personal life can help you stay motivated and make bigger tasks (like starting a workout routine or painting the kitchen) feel less overwhelming.

There are dozens of planning apps now that can help with setting goals. The main thing, however, is don’t try to overreach. If you’ve never set personal goals before, start small and gradually work up to a point where you feel comfortable. 

Don’t let burnout take over. Make sure to look after the most important person in your life - you.

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