Preventing burnout – it starts with an audit

Burnout Nov 2022

Burnout in short

Burnout is defined as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ which occurs when we don’t manage external and internal stress factors successfully. Burnout leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted. You experience low levels of personal accomplishment. Ultimately your effectiveness at work will greatly decrease while your homelife will also be negatively impacted.

Be aware of these symptoms:

  • Feeling exhausted or an inability to recover quickly
  • Frequent headaches, sleep disturbances or racing thoughts
  • Irritability or lack of emotional control
  • Negative attitude towards tasks and your work

Finding a healthy balance

Stress, which is sometimes perceived as a negative workplace factor, is necessary for optimal performance. Stress enables us to be alert and primes the brain for optimal cognitive performance.

However, for us to stay in the high-performance zone, we need to actively manage our stress levels throughout the day. This will ensure that we do not suffer apathy and boredom (too little stress) or overwhelm and over stimulation (too much stress). 

To support you in building mental toughness (including resilience), and antifragility, which are key factors for ensuring protection from burnout, we suggest identifying what personal wellbeing strategies are positively supporting you and what behaviours are not positively supporting you.

This awareness will enable you to critically identify the specific behaviours that protect you from burnout so you can continue to implement these supportive practices and habits. Your ultimate goal is to habitualise these positive behaviours, so they become non-negotiable activities regardless of external stressors, overwhelm or distraction.

Managing burnout

To simplify your approach to ensuring burnout prevention undertake the following 3 Step activity. Make sure to write down your thoughts and findings so you can regularly revisit them.

 Step 1: Complete an audit

Ask yourself three essential questions associated with your current wellbeing strategies:

  1. What do I need to STOP doing? (unrealistic workload; feeling inadequate; taking work home) 

  2. What do I need to START doing? (delegate more effectively; set appropriate rewards)
  1. What do I need to CONTINUE doing? (what’s currently working for you?)

Step 2 Examine and keep your expectations in check

An expectation is a feeling that you will receive a possible reward. Be aware – if the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for your work don’t match the amount of effort and time you put in, then you’re likely to feel like the investment is not worth the payoff.

Positive expectations are all about sensing that an event or time of value is heading your way, where value in the brain means something that will help you survive. 

Understand though, what you expect is what you experience. For example, whether you see a berry, or expect to see one, in each case the neurological ‘map’ (what you experience) representing the berry is activated in your brain. Interestingly, Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is involved in the anticipatory action of wanting, not of having, and it is an important regulator of mood and motivation.

If we think something might happen and it doesn’t (an unmet reward), we may experience a slump in dopamine production, which creates discomfort and can result in a crash in our emotional responses and motivation. If we exceed an expectation (experience unexpected reward) our brains release more dopamine, which makes us feel euphoric.

Ultimately, managing expectations in life may be central to maintaining a general feeling of happiness and wellbeing. So…once again, mindfully identify and write down clear, realistic expectations while skilfully monitoring these and the related effects they may have on your mood.

Step 3: accountable is key

Tell everyone about your stress management / burnout prevention practices, habits, and expectations! 

This will enable colleagues, friends, and family to positively support you to manage your stress levels and workload. Provide them with opportunities to support you, by holding you accountable to maintaining your burnout prevention strategies that you identified in Step 1 and Step 2. 

Finally, having taken stock of your expectations, of yourself and others, consider what essential resources and skills you will need to consistently meet these expectations.

Burnout is a common cause of psychological injury. It is certainly a debilitating condition if not dealt with effectively. Subsequently, recovery from burnout often takes a long time to fully recover from.

Time for your ‘Burnout audit’

To prevent the cycle of burnout, it is recommended to frequently revisit the 3 activity steps outlined above. These include: completing a wellbeing strategies audit; managing your expectations; and seeking appropriate support. These steps represent a manageable, sure-fire starting point for safeguarding yourself from burnout. 

Concluding thought

Regularly undertaking these activity steps will ultimately empower you by providing mindful insights into where you may potentially be at risk of, or exhibiting symptoms of, burnout while helping you to build up the preventative strategies for ensuring your overall mental fitness.

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