Preventing Burnout

Abby at New Urban Habitat recently shared an excellent post on recovering from burnout.

Today I’ll take the conversation a step further: why are you burned out? what can we do to prevent it from happening again?

Have you taken on (or been assigned) too many responsibilities? Are you in a profession that is a poor fit for your interests and strengths? Do you have underlying health or relationship problems that are exacerbating the problem?

From Abby’s post:

For me the key is not avoiding burnout (or any other emotion), but learning from it, developing resiliency – bouncing back. That’s why I’ve been accumulating these strategies for inevitable bouts of burnout:

Resiliency is a fantastic trait but I’d argue that prevention just as important.

When I was ten my brothers and I came down with the chicken pox. It was a miserable, itchy experience that left behind a constellation of scars from the largest sores. Yes, we are probably immune for life now but I would have much preferred to be immunized against this disease as a small child instead.

A few years ago I became burned out. The process of figuring out what I needed to do to become happier was incredibly valuable. I have an arsenal of skills at my disposal if or when this happens again. More importantly, though, I know what I can do to (hopefully) prevent it:

  • Eating a healthier diet.
  • Exercising.
  • Meditating.
  • Enforcing better interpersonal boundaries – no is complete sentence.
  • Avoiding caffeine and refined sugar.
  • Transitioning to a career better suited to my personality and interests.

Then again, burnout to me is something to be taken seriously. It isn’t one bad day…it’s a month, season, year of them.


What do you do to prevent burnout? Do you agree with Abby when she says “as the years pass, I’m more accepting of life’s seasons, of natural cycles of dormancy and energy, of the inevitability of falling into ruts”?

(Photo credit – Sebastian Ritter.)


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9 Responses to Preventing Burnout

  1. I agree with Abby.  None of us can be up or on all of the time.  It’s like the weather.  Big storms can blow up at a moment’s notice and last a good stretch of time.  Inevitably, however, the storm will die down.

    To come at it from the other way, we can enjoy weeks of tranquil, sunny weather.  Eventually, a storm will blow up that knocks us around.  In time, it will dissipate and we will return to lazy summer days.

    For me, burnout comes from putting our heart and soul into something that we can’t control.  It could be a cause, family or a job.  We focus on an objective that we want to see come to fruition, but no matter how diligent we are, the goal seems ever evasive.

    At some point, even the most ardent supporter, needs to take a break.  We need to reexamine the situation from afar.  (When we’re too close up, we miss things!)  Often the dormant period leads to reinvigoration along the same lines as before.  Sometimes, it causes us to change our priorities.

    Life is filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys.  No one is immune from them…nor should they be.

    • That scares me a little, probably because my last bout of it was so bad.

      “For me, burnout comes from putting our heart and soul into something that we can’t control.”

      This is so very true. I don’t know how not to care. Any recommendations for changing that?

      • For me, it’s okay to care about the cause, person or job; but we must come to grips with that which we can control somewhat and what we cannot.

        For example, a parent cares and loves their child[ren].  They want what is best for them.  They want them to grow and mature.  But regardless of how much you care, you can’t control what happens to them…beyond a certain point.  As they grow into adults, they will follow the paths they choose, not the ones you choose.

  2. I’ve been burned out recently. I had a job up until Friday that could best be termed turbulent, I’ve gone through a divorce in the last year and a half and my faith foundation crumbled around me.  I’d never been burned out before, so prevention was not likely.  In the future I think I’ll know it’s coming.  The fact is:  life happens while you’re not watching.  My friend told me that I’m a survivor.  Guess what?  I don’t want to just survive anymore.  I’m ready to live!  Thanks for the tips on avoiding burnout and thanks to Abby for the tips on recovery.  Just what I needed right now. 🙂

  3. Twyseschoch

    this is a topic close to my heart, as I am always interested in things that increase mental and emotional health in me and others, and I also want to enjoy my life, and not just endure each week while waiting for the weekend.

    learning from the past:
    I worked at a few jobs along the way where I gave my heart and soul, and later realized that it really made no difference. I am learning to care less.  My version of caring less still equals a pretty responsible employee, so no one else really notices any difference in my work anyway.  ;)prevention:I’ve been planning more carefully this last month to never work more than 2-3 regular weeks in a row.  In my particular situation, each day is pretty packed full with both patient care and management responsibilities.  I usually enjoy what I do.  But when I start to dread it, or feel snappy with my employees, or carry around snarkiness about the way things are, I know I need a change of pace.  I’ve found that on those days when I have a training, so I’m not caring for patients, but after 2-4 hours of training, I then have the other half of the day to just do management stuff — I LOVE my work again and I have so many GOOD IDEAS and simple solutions to what was just recently a PERPLEXING PROBLEM.  

    So I am capitalizing on this newfound insight, and I am scheduling my various appointments (dentist, doctor, vision, etc.) at opportune times, so that they are staggered with the trainings required for work, to the end result that from now until 2012, I don’t think I will work a regular 5 day week in both patient care and management for more than 3 weeks in a row at any given time.  hurrah!

    it keeps me more productive and makes me a better leader that way.  In the end the company comes out ahead and so do I.

    The thing that I had to come to accept was that this management of my workload was all on me.  No one else really cares or will watch out for me.  That was a tough lesson, as I do care for those who report to me.  But I have learned over the years that I should not expect the same from others.  It’s not all that common for people to care.  Tough lesson for an optimist. 

    • Exactly. I don’t want to just endure 5/7 of my life either. 

      “It’s not all that common for people to care.  Tough lesson for an optimist.”

      This is still something I have trouble believing (even though I know it’s true.) How could someone _not_ care? It doesn’t make sense to me.

      • Twyseschoch

        most people don’t care all that much.  they aren’t wishing for bad things to happen, they are just neutral about others.  I’m starting to see this is not necessarily a bad thing … a lot of suffering comes from caring too much.  a lot of christians have been socialized to care too much.  and being a PK, you probably got a lot more of that socialization than most people do.

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