Burnout can sneak up on a person and reduce productivity and sap energy; it can threaten jobs, relationships and health.  Fortunately, there are ways to combat it.  Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. 

 The first step in preventing burnout is to identify burnout pressure points. Vulnerability to burnout is highest when the stresses experienced negatively impact the things most fulfilling in the job.   There is nothing to counter-balance the feelings that stress brings about.  These are a few circumstances or feelings people experience when headed towards burnout:  

  • Setting unrealistic goals or having them imposed .
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people.
  • Working under rules that seem unreasonable.
  • Doing work that frequently causes a person to violate personal values.
  • Feeling boredom from doing work that never changes or doesn’t challenge.
  • Feeling trapped for economic reasons by a job that fits any of the scenarios above.

 Any one of these can set a person on a path to burning out if left unchecked.

Burnout can Sneak up on You – photo by Yoav DothanCredit: photo by Yoav Dothan

Early Signs That Could Indicate Burnout

Though the same signs that indicate stress also indicate early signs of possible burnout; stress and burnout are different.  In burnout the person is disengaged rather than over engaged, and emotions tend to be blunted.  Though the burned out person may be physically tired, the major impact is more emotional than physical.  Early signs can include: 

  • Chronic fatigue – exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  • Anger at those making demands and at self for putting up with demands
  • Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
  • A sense of being overwhelmed
  • Low tolerance: exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  • Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Problems with sleep
  • Depression
  • Suspiciousness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Increased degree of risk taking behaviors 

Preventing Burnout

Many people try various methods to reduce stress and prevent burning out.   Basically any methods effective in reducing stress may also help prevent or treat burnout.  Some methods are understandably more effective than others.  It goes without saying that probably the most important aspect in preventing burnout is to take care of your physical health; exercise regularly, eat nutritionally and get plenty of rest. Other alternatives include:

Do Nothing –This is one of the worst ways to deal with burnout.   By accepting the status quo people set themselves up for increased bitterness and anger.  They may let opportunities pass by further increasing their negative feelings.

Change Careers—If the values people hold brought them to the jobs and those values are no longer being realized, then it may be time to change careers.


Change jobs—A job change within the same gives a person a fresh start.  Changing jobs is appropriate when people are more disillusioned with the organization than their career.  However, there is the risk of ending up in the same situation as before.

Trigger for Personal Growth—Becoming burned-out can be a wakeup call for reevaluation of how to live life and make changes accordingly.

Clarify the Job—Look at the most current job description for the position.  Know what is expected for the particular position.  Knowing the job description will help a person stay focused; knowing and following the policies and procedures will decrease any discipline actions and thus reduce stress and potentially burnout.

Know own limits—People need to be realistic about their commitments and how much of themselves they can give. Learn to say “no;” manage time wisely; work smarter—not harder.

Develop and nurture positive relationships—It is important to socialize with others.  Isolation and poor relationships can add to stress and burnout.  Build a positive support network.

Gain control where possible—Speak to the supervisor and express needs and ask for specifics.  Even when people don’t get exactly what they want, often accommodations can be made when an employee is willing to go to the supervisor and simply ask.  Control thoughts of indispensability.  Control the negativity in the environment, if working with a negative person; try to minimize the time spent around him or her.

 Don’t exist just for the job—Make sure to have a recreational life outside of work.  This is where a strong support network will help.  Relax and have some fun outside of work.  The more often people are positive outside of work; the easier it is for that attitude to leak into the work environment.

Burnout is sneaky; much more so than stress.   People who are able to keep a balance between work and play are much better at fending off burnout.  Those people use many of these suggestions without consciously thinking about them.  At risk people will do better when they follow those examples.


 The copyright of the article How to Keep From Burning Out is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.