Preventing Burnout and Overcoming Burnout



Joann’s father had been placed in a nursing home last month.  Her father often refused to eat and as a result Joann was constantly called by the home to go and visit.  She suddenly felt herself becoming angry at all that she had to do.  She felt that between visiting her father, caring for her children, and working at the school, she was always catering to the needs of everybody but herself. 


Bill was barely ever home.  He felt that since starting his new job, a majority of his life was spent traveling for work.  He was so exhausted that even when he had the chance to be at home, he could barely muster up the energy to play with his one-year-old son.


Jessica is a great student.  She’s involved in plenty of school activities, clubs, and is even taking advanced courses.  Lately she has had difficulty sleeping, relaxing, and even focusing on her studies.  She is beginning to think that nothing she does is ever good enough, so much that she doesn’t even want to apply to college.




Burnout is a stressful state that is characterized by emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion; lethargy; and chronic fatigue.


Symptoms of burnout may include feeling cynical toward life; having a strong desire to “escape”; experiencing a false sense of failure; experiencing negative feelings toward others; displaying emotional distancing, apathy, or numbing; becoming hypocritical; showing inappropriate anger or sadness; enduring a resulting physical illness; succumbing to depression; or abusing drugs or alcohol.


Burnout is most often experienced by people in the helping professions including doctors, teachers, social workers, police officers, or others who work extensively with people.  It is believed to stem from the intense demands placed by others on their time, energy, and resources.


It can also be common among overburdened parents or caregivers of the chronically ill.  These individuals may feel trapped by the excessive demands placed on them, isolated, or unable to find sufficient time for them selves.


Unfortunately, with increasing emphasis on the “pursuit of excellence” in our society, burnout has reached epidemic proportions. 




In the case of burnout, it is foremost important that any physical issues or concerns are medically addressed.  The individual experiencing burnout should also gain some immediate, short-term relief from their responsibilities.  Asking friends and family to help in sharing more of the load is very helpful.  Oddly enough, individuals who are overburdened need help the most but are often the least able to ask other for it.  One should note that when helping someone who is burned out, there are both short-term and long-term components that involve beginning to live a life in a way that burnout will not reoccur.  Short-term components include helping the burned out individual with the essentials for relief- adequate sleep, exercise, and relaxation.  Long-term components include helping the individual look at some of the lifestyle issues that essentially caused their burnout and how to prevent burnout from reoccurring.


Key action steps for an individual experiencing burnout to follow are:


  1. Take control.  Do not allow other’s to control your own schedule.  Establish plans to alleviate yourself of some of your responsibilities by asking friends or family for help.  Find your own balance between what you feel is important and what is not.  Schedule your days more relationally, sanely, and humanely.
  2. Say no.  While some things cannot be dropped others can.  There may be ways to incorporate less stress and more rest into your day by simply saying this powerful word.
  3. Slow down.  Make a conscious decision to slow the pace of your life and take the time that you need in order to replenish yourself and your resources.
  4. Set priorities.  You may get less done, but you will be doing the important things.  When you look at what really matters, you will see all of your extra burdens for what they really are. 


  1. Meg says

    The stories are interesting but what about when you’re familiy can’t pitch in? I’ve been living in a soap opera family for years (seriuously I should move to LA and write soaps).

    In the last year:
    1.) A good friend died.
    2.) The mother of a good friend died.
    3.) My uncle was murdered because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    4.) My sister had a baby who went straight to the NICU.
    5.) My sister’s back was broken during the delivery.
    6.) My sister had back surgery (so we are all taking care of her child).
    7.) My fathers good lung collapsed, he is dying and won’t tell anyone.
    8.) We took in my mother-in-law who subsequently freaked out on some mental tirade over not getting enough attention from my husband.
    9.) Due to the aforementioned tirade she spent months in and out of the hospital and wound up with an a bag that hangs of her side.
    10.) Due to her issues with medications and the bag she is living in an assisted living home.
    11.) We were asked to take on the care of a 6 year old child, which we did as it’s not her fault that the parents are addicts.
    12.) The mother-in-law went more off the deepend and began stealing from stores and other residents at the home for attention (she also feels we don’t give her enough, um we can’t give her anymore).
    13.) We had a slew of meetings with the woman who refused to cooperate and then stole more than $3,000 from us.
    14.) As it stands, she is being kicked out of the center where she is living and may be moved to one more than 2 hours away.

    Ok, that is just the last year. I also goto school full time at night, keep a 4.0 and work full time. In addition to that my husband expects June Cleaver treatment. I seriously don’t know how much more I can take….

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