Three Steps to Avoid Burnout

What is burnout

Most of us have felt that tired and stressed feeling that comes from working too much. But does that mean you’re experiencing “burnout”?

Stress, depression and burnout are all related, but burnout is a continual level of stress that affects many areas of our lives and slowly compounds until we don’t have any energy left. Burnout is defined as a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main areas: exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability. So basically, if you begin to feel exhausted, hate your job, and feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout. In recent years, it has also been recognized as an actual diagnosis among medical professionals.  Arianna Huffington brought this issue to the forefront when she came out with her story 11 years ago explaining how she collapsed from burnout and exhaustion.  This is actually what led her to launch Thrive Global, a company whose mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance, and purpose (I’m a proud contributor).

Three types of burnout

Most people don’t realize that burnout can be categorized into three different types (which one sounds like you?):

  • Overload burnout: this is the type we most commonly think of. In fact, a research study showed that around 15 percent of professionals studied were suffering from overload burnout.
  • Underchallenged burnout: people in this category feel underappreciated, bored, and frustrated because their jobs lack learning opportunities and room for professional growth. These workers generally cope by distancing themselves from their job. This leads to cynicism, avoidance of responsibility, and overall disengagement.
  • Neglect burnout: this subtype is the result of feeling helpless at work. If you’re in this category, you may think of yourself as incompetent or feel like you’re unable to keep up with the demands of your job.

Catch it early

The key to avoiding burnout is to recognize the signs early and then do something immediately to address the symptoms.

In order to deal with burnout I recommend this three step “Three R” approach:

1.)  Recognize – watch for the warning signs of burnout

2.)  Reverse – undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress

3.)  Resilience – build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

The warning signs

There are many physical and emotional signs of burnout. Here are a few to look out for:

Depleted physical energy:  you feel drained and tired most of the time or you just lack the energy you once had.

Lowered immunity to illness:  you have become more susceptible to colds, flu and other illnesses. This is also why people experiencing burnout usually are more absent from work and tend to become less effective overall.

Emotional exhaustion: you feel impatient, moody, sad or get frustrated more easily than you normally would.

Withdrawing from personal relationships: you may feel like you have less to give, less interest in having fun, or just less patience with people.

Increasingly pessimistic outlook:  you may feel like it’s harder to get excited about life and be optimistic. Since optimism is a great buffer for stress, those suffering from burnout find it harder to pull themselves out of their rut than they normally would.

Reverse the damage

Once you’ve identified the warning signs, below are some tips that will help you reverse the damage:

Seek out support:  the best and most important antidote to burnout is seeking out meaningful personal relationships and continual personal and professional development. Find friends, co-workers, coaches and mentors who can provide you with support. Volunteering to mentor and advise others is also an effective way of breaking out of the negative cycle of burnout.

Set boundaries:  in order to reduce stress, start setting boundaries and learn how to say “no” in a healthy, positive way.Begin to reset the expectations of clients, managers and co-workers for what and how much you’re willing to take on.  In other words, you shouldn’t be sending out emails at midnight every night or working every weekend.

Build resilience

The last step is to build your resilience, so you can prevent these burnout symptoms from appearing in the future.

Prioritize self-care:  in order to build resilience, you must replenish your physical and emotional energy by prioritizing good sleep habits, nutrition, and exercise.  At this point, I also recommend that you explore practices that promote well-being like meditation, yoga, journaling and being in nature. One interesting exercise is to make a list of all the areas where you spend your time and rate them on a scale of 1-10 in terms of how they make you feel (with 0=angry/drained and 10=joyful/energized).  This will help you find the areas that you may want to consider eliminating and those where you should invest more of your time. Ultimately, your job should energize you, not suck the life out of you!

Some additional tips around self-care include:

  • Plan your vacations in advance and stick to them! Don’t wait until you’re stressed or burned out to plan time away from the office.
  • Invest in self-care rituals even when you feel good. Don’t wait until you’re frazzled and at the end of your rope to schedule that massage or weekend hike. Preferably, plan them in advance on a regular basis (and don’t cancel!).

Shift your perspective:

This is where it’s critical to take a look at your mindset and what aspects of your work situation you can change.

  • Transform your mindset to focus more on the purpose and meaning of your role. Finding the value in what you do and changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.
  • Think about how you can work with your manager to reshape your job in order to make changes to the scope of your work.
  • You may want to evaluate and reset your priorities. Consider which tasks can be delegated to someone else on your team, so you can make time for more important projects and tasks that you enjoy.
  • Instead of saying yes to every leadership opportunity that comes along for fear that they might disappear if you turn them down (scarcity mentality) think about what you need to give up before adding anything new to your plate. (Here’s a previous blog on how to shift from a scarcity to an abundance mindset).

The key is to shift your mindset and perspective so that you can manage even the inflexible aspects of your position.  Ultimately, if you go through this exercise and discover that your values and ethics aren’t in alignment with your company’s, it may signal that it’s time for you to make a shift to another job, a different career or starting your own company.

Don’t let burnout get the best of you. Instead, recognize the signs early and build resilience so you can prevent it in the future.

Originally published at


  • Caroline Castrillon

    Founder/Career and Life Coach

    Corporate Escape Artist

    Caroline Castrillon is the founder of Corporate Escape Artist and a career and life coach whose mission is to help people go from soul-sucking job to career fulfillment. Caroline made the leap to entrepreneurship after a successful 25-year corporate career and has never looked back. Prior to Corporate Escape Artist, she worked in leadership positions for small tech firms and for large Fortune 500 companies including Dell and Sony. She has an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP). In addition to Thrive Global, she also contributes to Forbes and has been featured in publications including the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Success Magazine.