Six steps you can take to manage stress and prevent burnout
Setting boundaries, having social support and prioritising self-care can help you to prevent burnout
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
There are many things that contribute to the onset of burnout. However, there are simple steps that you can take to reduce your chances of experiencing it.
How to manage stress and prevent burnout
Some of the factors that contribute to burnout are in your control.
Learn to recognise the signs you’re nearing burnout
Burnout develops gradually over time. You might not know you’re heading towards it until it becomes severe. However, when you are on the path to burnout, it is likely that your body will send you warning signals. By learning to recognise these signs, you can take action early and prevent burnout from becoming chronic. Signs you may be approaching burnout include:
- Avoidance behaviour, such as avoiding conversations or not completing tasks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disconnecting from other people
- Feeling easily irritated
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of enthusiasm
You don’t have to wait until you reach chronic burnout to seek support. If you are experiencing any of the signs above, or if you are worried that you might be at risk of burnout, it is a good idea to speak with a professional. A GP can rule out any health issues that might be causing you to experience these challenges. You could also consider speaking with a counsellor or contacting our free text support service TextAboutIt to talk about how you are feeling. You are always deserving of support, no matter where you are in life. The earlier you ask for it, the more effective it can be.
Prioritise basic self-care
Giving your body what it needs is one of the best things you can do to prevent burnout. Some of the most basic, but effective, forms of self-care are sleep, rest and good nutrition.
Sleep helps us to regulate our mood, reduce stress and support our immune system. It gives our body and brain the opportunity to repair, restore and re-energise. It is recommended that you get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but you could need more depending on your specific needs. If you are having trouble sleeping, our tips for getting a good night’s sleep might be helpful. You can also consider speaking to your doctor about sleep.
Rest allows your body and mind to completely relax while you are still conscious and aware of your surroundings. There are seven types of rest we all need: physical rest, mental rest, sensory rest, creative rest, emotional rest, social rest and spiritual rest.
Eating a nutritious diet will also help you to support your mental and physical health. Your brain and body are constantly using energy. It is important to fuel them with a variety of food and get adequate hydration. Eating well doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. You can find meal ideas in our recipe section.
Question how you view success
It is always important to remember that it is not your fault if you are stressed or burnt out, and experiencing these things does not make you weaker or less capable than anyone else. There are many societal factors that influence who experiences stress and why. While we may not be able to get rid of societal structures, we can question and change the beliefs that we have as a result of living within them.
Many of us are taught that success is defined by status and wealth, and that to be successful we need to work as hard as possible. This drive to be constantly productive can lead us to take on more than we can handle, often at a cost to our physical and mental health.
It is important to know that your success is not defined by your productivity, your title or how much money you have. Your success is defined by you. If you feel under pressure to meet certain milestones and be constantly productive, it might be a good idea to question how you define and measure your own success. You might discover that your beliefs about success were heavily influenced by the people and world around you, but aren’t necessarily your own. Know that you can unlearn these beliefs and set goals that are more aligned with your values, wellbeing and what makes you happy.
Learn to complete the stress cycle to prevent burnout
When we experience pressure or a challenge, our bodies produce a stress response. Stress hormones are released and this leads to physical changes such as an increased heart rate, faster breathing and tense muscles. This stress response works as a cycle or a loop. When the thing that caused us to stress is gone, our bodies may still be in a state of stress. It is important to complete the stress response cycle to bring your body back to a state of calm.
There are many things you can do to complete the stress cycle:
- Movement of any kind. This can be as simple as tensing the muscles in your body for ten seconds and releasing them
- Deep and slow breathing exercises
- Positive social interaction
- Offering and receiving affection such as a hug
- Doing something creative
Boundaries define how we allow ourselves to be treated and what we choose to participate in. If you are not used to setting boundaries, it can be challenging in the beginning. However, by being clear about what your boundaries are and why they’re important to you, it can become easier to communicate them to others.
Boundaries look different for everyone and only you can decide what they look like for you. Some examples of boundaries include:
- Starting and finishing work at set times
- Creating a separate study/ work space if you are working at home
- Taking set and non-negotiable breaks throughout the day, week and year that truly allow you to relax
- Deleting work, college or school related apps from your phone so you don’t receive notifications after hours
- Turning off your camera during work calls or classes
- Telling a friend or family member if you are not comfortable discussing certain subjects with them
- Learning to say no to things. If you are not used to saying no outright, it can be helpful to give yourself some space and time before committing to something. Ask “Can I get back to you on that?”
- Limiting media and social media intake
- Responding to messages and calls at a time that suits you
- Learning to recognise and distance yourself from toxic relationships
Get to know your core values
Some causes of stress in your life may be more obvious than others but all of them can play a role in the onset of burnout. Research shows that a mismatch between a person’s unconscious needs and the demands and opportunities they have at work can increase their risk of burnout. For example, a person who has a need for positive social interaction at work may struggle in an environment where nobody talks to one another.
These mismatches are known as hidden stressors as we are not always aware of them. By getting to know your values and trying to find opportunities that align with them inside and outside the workplace, you can reduce the chance of this mismatch occurring and prevent burnout.
Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?
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