Wavy trees in the fog beside the road. Burnout can feel like things are spinning out of control.

Burnout risk may be around the next corner. What is the risk that at any given moment you will experience burnout? The answer depends on a number of factors you face in the day to day. Some of those things are beyond your control and others that are within your power to change. The issue to to find the factors that you can change.

Environmental Risk

The type of environment in which you live and work can push you toward burnout or protect you from burnout’s grasp. Your job is more than just a list of tasks and may extend beyond the workday. Your work environment is comprised of:

  • Interpersonal Relationships at work
  • The number of hours you work
  • And the setting in which you do your work
    • Shift work
    • Working from home.

The demands of the job also have an impact. As more people are forging into the digital arena job stress is often on location at home as well. Setting poor boundaries around work can mean always being at work and never really being home.

Interpersonal Relationships

The people with whom you work can make the job seem easy or like drudgery. Looking at the ways in which you interact with co-workers can tell you a lot about this area. Having a group of people who respect one another and work together makes the job much easier and likely more efficient as well. The only aspect of this area you can control is your own part in those relationships. Do you tend to be uplifting or a drag at work? Are you a complainer or an optimistic problem solver? Looking at your part can improve the whole if you are not happy with your work relationships.

Work Hours

The number of hours you work has a big effect on whether you will experience burnout. One study showed that there was a 12%-15% increase in the odds of burnout for every 5 hours per week worked OVER 40 hours (McMurray et al. 2000). So keeping yourself to 40 hours (or less) can go a long way to helping prevent your chances of burnout. Again this is more challenging in a digital work environment where work may occur at the dining room table. Setting clear boundaries around the work and sticking to those boundaries will help limit your risk.

Work Setting

Location, Location, Location

Work setting is becoming more and more difficult to define. When I was growing up my father went to a job in a certain location and returned home at the end of the day. Forty some years later my brother works from home from his laptop and rarely goes to an office setting. It’s very important for my brother to set limits with his work and define what a workday means for him. If he sets poor limits he can find himself working more than is healthy for him.

Time, Time, Time

There are many jobs in which shift work is a part of the setting. Those who work in factories, healthcare workers, and as well as retail workers are working shifts. This can mean working two or three shifts over the course of a month making home life much more difficult to manage. Another aspect of time, is rotating schedules in which each week there are different days you may have off from work. Trucking can be like this. All of these can work for you if you pay close attention to your personal needs. For me when I was working shifts it was most important for me to know which days I would work and which I would have off and when ever possible that those work days all occurred on the same shift rather than in rotation.

Recharging, Rebooting, Recovering

Take the time to notice what stresses you out. Look at what gives you a boost and helps you to recover from work. Look at what is meaningful for you in your day to day life —interacting with your children, spouse, friends; honing some kind of talent that has nothing to do with work; learning a new skill; taking up a new hobby or developing one. These are all methods toward warding off burnout in the day to day. If we are workers only we are set up for burnout in ways that often sneak up on us. Having a broad range of interests that you make time and space for in your life goes a long way to decrease your burnout risk. Partly because there are other things you find meaningful, but you will also be more likely have others who can clue you into what’s going on with you if you begin to show signs of burnout.

So what’s the take-home?

You have to be willing to make change where it is possible (within yourself) even if it is scary to do so. Having confidence that you can manage whatever the results of your efforts will be helpful. Take a long look at what may be burning you out in your work and make some tough decisions.

Often just asking a few questions will create a space in which you can look at things more objectively and make some meaningful change for yourself.

  • Can I change any part of the work environment which will in turn decrease my stress?
  • What can I do?
  • What is beyond my control to change?
  • If I don’t stay at this job, what then?

Another burnout risk is your thinking style. Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? What kind of thoughts do you find yourself having most in relation to work? People who are less flexible in their thinking are more likely to develop burnout than people who are more flexible in the way they think about things. For a great Youtube presentation on thinking style and stress check out Doc Mike Evans here. For more on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they relate to stress check out the June post here.

Thanks for dropping by the stress nest.

Have you experienced burnout? What strategies worked for you to manage/eliminate it?

Leave a comment

Information from this week’s blog post was adapted from Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working: Chapter 12 Prevention and Communication: A Most Effective Tailored Treatment Strategies for Burnout.

Burnout Prevention~One, Two, Three, Cha Cha Cha.

Chaotic fireworks burst-a kind of "burnout."

Burnout prevention is a topic that seems to go unnoticed. If we want to be healthy then preventing burnout is key. The question is how best to go about burnout prevention.

Well, like most things related to health, the answer is–it’s different for everyone. The study of stress shows that we all respond to stress differently. Knowing more about how you respond to stress will carry you closer to knowing your own best strategy or strategies.First let’s look at the different levels of prevention: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary Burnout Prevention

Primary prevention occurs prior to the onset of any burnout symptoms. This kind of prevention comes in the form of counseling about coping with stress and considering what stresses uplift you versus those that are more difficult for you. Think public service announcements.

Secondary Burnout Prevention

Secondary prevention comes when an individual arrives at some awareness of symptoms by happenstance. This is what happened when I visited my healthcare providers for usual check ups and found that I had several stress related issues. I was completely unaware of these symptoms until being seen by my healthcare providers. They were able to pick up on these symptoms and inform me. Think a kind of stress surprise.

Tertiary Burnout Prevention

Tertiary prevention is a process of keeping known illness from causing lasting damage through rehabilitation and prevention of relapse. I was engaging in this type of prevention when I made decisions concerning my work/life balance that subsequently addressed the symptoms that came to light in secondary prevention. Think total behavior change at this stage.

Role of Emotions

Looking at your emotion management can help you look at your burnout potential. One of the most beneficial emotions when addressing stress is confidence. Feeling confident that you can effect change in your environment cognitively, physically, and socially can go along way toward inoculating you against stress.

How can this be? Because, when stress arrives (as it always will), feeling confident within yourself that you can make meaningful change will serve to decrease the stress you feel. On the flip side if you are certain that nothing you do will effect change or help you will be left in despair.

Challenging your thinking helps you build new skills. Building new skills helps you address all kinds of stress more effectively. This process is not one we enjoy, but at some point we need to do something different. One of my mentors used to repeat the adage, “If you want something different to happen, you have to do something different.” You can review challenging your thinking here.

Questioning Around Stress

How do you find that different? Sometimes asking yourself a few questions can be helpful. Questioning the situation and your part in it will help you to shift your stress. Here are a few questions to get you started.

  1. Which of my needs have been neglected?
  2. Which of my abilities remain underdeveloped?
  3. Which of my objectives are unrealistic?
  4. Which of my thinking patterns are dysfunctional?
  5. What in my environment is a burden?
  6. Are there things I don’t know about the things I find stressful?
    • What parts are missing?
    • What am I not seeing?
    • Are there areas that I am avoiding?
  7. What one thing can I change which will result in the best outcome?
  8. Is there a way to reclaim a portion of my freedom/autonomy?
  9. What must I resolve to move forward?

Often simply answering the questions above will cause some movement in areas that may have had you stuck.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Have a great week. Thanks for dropping by The Stress Nest.

Information from this week’s blog post was adapted from Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working: Chapter 12 Prevention and Communication: A Most Effective Tailored Treatment Strategies for Burnout.

Burnout~A consequence of unregulated stress.

Angry Shark street art. Talk about stress!

I have been making my way through a book on burnout–Burnout for Experts: Prevention in the Context of Living and Working–a compilation edited by S. Bahrer-Kohler. A hefty tome which is taking me some time to move through. Here at the first of the year–a new year, and (depending on who you ask) a new decade I thought it would be fitting to do a few posts on the phenomenon of burnout. What it is, how it manifests, and what we can do about it. I myself have been visited by the burnout bug. It’s one of the reasons I decided to make some changes in my work/life balance, but more about that later. Burnout is a classic consequence of unregulated stress.

In my work I talk regularly with individuals who are experiencing burnout. Many people are caught off guard by symptoms of burnout. I know I was, after all I am supposed to have all my stuff together right? Burnout can affect anyone and it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for it. Framing burnout as a consequence of unregulated stress helps people to better understand what they are dealing with.

What is Burnout?

According to Mirriam-Webster, one definition of burnout is “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” You can find the full definition here. I also consider burnout a consequence of unregulated stress.

In chapter 4 of Burnout for Experts–Burnout Symptoms and Cycles of Burnout– the author reviews burnout. Burnout in terms of work involves three basic components–

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Cynicism
  3. Lack of Professional Competence

Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion can sap the life out of anyone. It’s that sense that no matter how hard you work you’ll never get ahead. Recognition for work is a piece of it, but also the match between you and your co-workers. If you are a generation X worker surrounded by baby boomers (or vice versa) there may be a mismatch in the way you and your coworkers approach work that can increase your chances of burnout.


Cynicism can also wreak havoc on your life in general including your work life. Again according to our friends at Merriam-Webster Cynicism is: “1. The doctrine of the Cynics and 2. Cynical attitude or quality.” Anyone in the dark? That leads us to look up Cynic which–drum roll please– is “a faultfinding captious critic.” Captious is “marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections.” Well enough said, this kind of attitude is likely not to make you any friends on the job, but when you start to notice cynicism in yourself or others, it may be a sign of BURNOUT.

Lack of Professional Competence

Lack of professional competence is a difficult one. Because the author did not tease out her intended meaning. I see this as both a potential symptom of being a new on the job and of burnout. These of course can overlap and the author does suggest that young people are more prone to burnout because of not having a lot of experience and expertise on the job. We older workers have likely seen a number cycles of the job and tend to be less influenced by the ebb and flow of these cycles. Competence to my mind is another matter and can increase or decrease based on your stress levels. You’ve probably had an experience at least once in your life when you had prepared for some event or challenge and then came up blank. That can happen more often when we experience unchecked stress.

What causes Burnout?

Any overly stressful situation or conglomeration of situations can cause burnout, but the author also notes that burnout is influenced by the following:

  1. Workload
  2. Lack of control over decisions
  3. Insufficient reward
  4. Undermining of Teamwork
  5. Lack of fairness
  6. Conflict between core personal values and job.


Workload is not just about the amount of work, but also about the amount of time allotted to do that work. Business continues to press workers to “do more with less” and grind out the product. Whether that product is a thing or a service being pressed to do more in the same amount of time is a recipe for burnout.

Long hours can cause issues as well. I also believe that the advent of smart phones and internet have increased burnout because many workers are in essence “always available.” These devices have blurred the lines of what it means to be at work. I have counseled many people on being available after hours and working to set limits on work where possible. Setting limits with managers who want to regularly contact you after work hours can be difficult because we want to show that we are ready and able to take on the work. But being over zealous in this can lead to a cycle of never having down time which of course can then lead to burnout.

Lack of Control over Decisions

This is a big one. It’s one of the biggest factors I think that leads to burnout. The sense of being stuck in the middle with no power. Few of us want to be in this position. Often it is not the stress of the work that leads to burnout, but the situation of having little to no autonomy as to when various parts of the job get carried out and how. We can’t all be the decision makers at work, but if we can find some part of our work that we control this can be protective against burnout. Also having the confidence that you can change jobs if you wanted to. Feeling stuck is never a good feeling and can push us to burnout if not addressed.

Undermining Teamwork

Working for an institution that does not value teamwork can be stressful. I’ve had managers that seemed to actively work at squashing teams. Teams that work well together can really crank out work which can leave others looking bad by comparison. Feeling undermined can push workers toward burnout which then tends to show up as missed work days. Sometimes because of illness and sometimes because of just plain feeling fed up. All of this can be avoided if managers value teams and encourage them to flourish.

Lack of Fairness

Lack of fairness affects workers at every level of business. From factory workers to physicians each sees when he/she is not being treated fairly. While we often can’t control this as workers, we may be able to control where we work. On an organizational level businesses can ferret out where fairness is an issue by looking at where turnover is high. Departments that have difficulties retaining workers are often areas where a lack of fairness is high.

Conflict Between Personal Values and Job

The conflict that can arise between one’s personal values and how you must perform on the job can push workers toward burnout. Finding a job that better represents your values can go a long way to avoiding this.

Other Issues

Other issues that can influence burnout are the state of your personal relationships, how you are sleeping, and how well you are caring for yourself away from work. Look at previous posts on sleep, eating, and relationships. We will continue to look at various aspects of these in coming weeks.

Let me know what you think about your experience here at the Stress Nest. Leave a comment or drop an email. Whatever works for you. Your feedback will help me to tailor the content such that you are finding what you need here.

Thanks for dropping by and Have a Wonderful day~ Lynda