Six actionable ways to prevent burnout.
According to a survey by Cigna (as cited in SCMP, 2018), Hong Kong workers are the 5th most stressed population globally, just slotting in behind South Korea, Nigeria, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. The survey found a massive number; 95% of 18-34 year olds feel stressed. In this group of Millennials, 26% find the pressure unmanageable.
Working excessively long hours, at relatively low salaries with the added strain of unaffordable housing; all plays a part in stress experienced by Hongkongers. It’s not all doom and gloom though. In fact it’s common knowledge that exposure to limited periods of stress isn’t harmful; it can even be motivating. But, prolonged time exposure of extreme pressure, can take its toll on your health. Thankfully, there’re strategies to prevent running yourself into the ground.
Burnout isn’t entirely caused by stressful work or having too much responsibility. Factors such as lifestyle and personality traits (perfectionism, overachiever, Type A behaviour and controlling tendencies), also play an important part.
“ The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree, which means that the earlier you recognize the signs, the better able you will be to avoid burnout.” PsyD Sherrie Bourg Carter
Below follows six burn out warning signs. If you experience some of these, the majority of the time, you might want to consider seeking support.
What to look out for?
Lack of enthusiasm
You consistently feel demotivated at work. Things you used to enjoy now seem meaningless and you have become disillusioned. There might be disconnection between what you actually do at work and what you want to do.
Perhaps you feel powerless, as if you are out of control. You find yourself paralyzed with no hope or ability to change the situation.
Maybe you come across as grumpy with a pessimistic and negative worldview. You feel quite unlike your old enthusiastic self. It’s possible you get frustrated over minor issues and take it out on innocent bystanders. Perhaps you’re feeling cynical and resentful of the situation. You might also be more emotional and close to tears.
Loss of sharpness
You don’t feel as “on the ball” like you used to do. It’s common that the memory becomes muddled up and you become increasingly forgetful. It takes more effort to pay attention and concentrate. It’s also likely you find it difficult to cope with deadlines and time pressure.
You feel completely drained of energy that result in decreased work output and make more mistakes. You are likely to isolate yourself and possibly try to escape social situations. Perhaps you avoid the canteen and eat at your desk more frequently. You might have a loss of appetite and a change in eating habits. It’s also possible you’re struggling with insomnia.
Some people experience stomach issues, such as digestion difficulties. It’s common to have frequent aches and muscle pain (the Brain Fund, 2017). Dizziness and issues in handling loud noise can take its toll. As your immune system is lowered, it’s relatively common to contract various illnesses. Burnout can cause long-term physical changes to your body, e.g. vulnerability to serious illnesses, cognitive impairment, etc.
Prevent stress from escalating into full-blown exhaustion
Utilise the three R acronyms (helpguide.org, 2018):
· Recognise (look out for warning signs)
· Reverse (undo damage by seeking support and manage stress)
· Resilience (build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical, and emotional health).
Stress Management Techniques
1. Gain control at work.
Try to actively manage your time through speaking to your boss and/or co-workers. Delegate, prioritise and if it’s possible, eliminate work. If you find it hard to let go of certain tasks, try viewing it as an opportunity to teach others new skills, e.g. give your PA more responsibility to chase up on unpaid invoices, organise client events, etc.
2. Self care.
This is so much more than just getting some exercise, eating well and having a massage (although that’s great as well!). We frequently neglect to look after ourselves, so treat yourself kinder and listen to what your body and mind is urging you to do. Seek out support, take time for social events and get out in nature. For self care suggestions read: https://www.levacounselling.com/blog/how-to-adopt-a-sustainable-self-care-routine.
3. Don’t be a people pleaser.
Learn how to say no and don’t overcommit.
4. Change the way you think.
Challenge your old way of thinking and introduce some more flexibility in your thinking patterns; e.g. is your deliverable good enough or does it have to be perfect? Is the way I do things, the only correct way?
5. Don’t push yourself to the limit.
Put reasonable demands on yourself, no one is going to thank you if you drive yourself into the wall.
Commonly, this is the best medicine. Try your hardest to keep weekends work free, to give your body and mind time to recover.
The aim of this article was to inform about the signs and prevention of burnout. However it’s not conclusive. If you’re worried you might be at risk, please seek professional assistance to rule out any other possible underlying cause; e.g. nutritional deficiency, undetected illness, etc.
Try to identify and keep an eye on your personal stress warning indicators, as only you know yourself and your triggers best. Attempt to undo any damage done through seeking support and managing the stress. To prevent future outbreaks, build up your stress resilience through some of the suggestions above.
If you are feeling completely overwhelmed and the stress is having a seriously negative effect on your quality of life, you might have to contemplate taking some sick leave or a career break to get your energy levels up and your life back on track again. Keep in mind that there is often a solution to be found where you least expect it.
Bourg Carter, S., “The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout… Do You Have Them?”,Psychology Today, (2013), Nov., 26th. Retrieved from:
Cigna Survey, cited in SCMP, “All Work and No Play Makes Hongkongers the World’s Fifth Most Stressed Population”,South China Morning Post, (2018), July, 10th. Retrieved from:
Smith, M.; Segal J., Robinson L., Sebal R., “Burnout Prevention And Treatment - Techniques For Dealing With Overwhelming Stress”,Helpguide , (2018). Retrieved from :
The Brain Fund, (Hjärnfonden), “Utbränd eller gått in i väggen? Vi reder ut begreppen.”,Hjärnfonden, (2017), Dec, 12th
2017, Retrieved from :