If you want a less stressful and more balanced life, then addressing BOTH externally-imposed and self-imposed pressures are essential.  There are times when you can’t change stressful circumstances such as a demanding workload or an annoying co-worker, but you CAN minimise the negative effects of stress by counteracting attitudes that perpetuate stress and limit attention to self-care.

Key To Preventing And Counteracting Burnout

Self-care strengthens your resiliency, which can reduce susceptibility to burnout.  Self-care is not just making healthy lifestyle choices.  It also includes self-compassion, having healthy boundaries, being aware of your needs, and staying true to your values.  Self-neglect takes a toll on your health, relationships, and your effectiveness.  Therefore preventing burnout and understanding how stress plays a role is essential.

Simply recognising the importance of taking better care of yourself is not enough.  You also need to address the psychological obstacles that limit attention to self-care and foster stress.  For example, putting pressure on yourself to always perform with excellence at work while being critical of your mistakes can cause you to become overextended and overlook your needs.  This may stem from being judged harshly and having unrealistically high expectations of you.

Self-care practices like meditation or tai chi are great, but won’t stop self-criticism or perfectionism; nor will it address attitudes that foster burnout and undermine self-care such as defining yourself by the good you do for others, an exaggerated sense of responsibility, and difficulty tolerating discord.

Stress Is Unavoidable – Burnout Is


You can take courses on time management and attend seminars on stress management techniques and still suffer from burnout.  These strategies are often helpful, but will not lead to lasting changes if you do not address personality traits that foster stress.  Much of the literature on burnout focuses more on external pressures than on self- imposed stress. While external pressures such as a demanding workload, juggling personal and professional life, unclear job responsibilities do contribute to stress and burnout, so do beliefs and personality traits.  Worries about uncertainty and lack of control can drive to burnout.  Even authors who write about personality characteristics that cause stress tend to emphasize overt and extreme behaviors such as the type A personality- overly driven, highly competitive, aggressive and obsessed with work.  There are many burnout prone people, however with personalities who do not fit this profile.  The most prominent personality characteristics that contribute to burnout are exaggerated responsibility, self-judgement and self-definition.


Late at night Jacqui lies in bed restlessly, unable to sleep.  Two weeks into her new job, she is feeling nervous day and night.  She is obsessed with trying to make sure that nothing goes wrong and that no one sees her make a mistake. She has to prove to everyone, including herself, that she is worthwhile.  Jacqui believes that she is a failure if anything goes wrong.  She needs to realise how never being appreciated growing up causes her to think that self worth comes from perfection.

If you are a perfectionist you push yourself, get overscheduled, promise too many things to too many people, or take on too much work.  You judge yourself harshly when you fall short of your expectations or when you make mistakes. You probably would not treat someone you care about in the harsh manner that you treat yourself.  You learn to measure your worth by your performance and equate excelling with deserving attention or praise if your parents rewarded you primarily for excelling.

The pursuit of excellence is different from a relentless need to be the best. When you seek perfection and are unable to measure up to your ideal, your self esteem decreases. Developing realistic standards and self- compassion go a long way to counteract stress that leads to burnout.

When you make mistakes, notice how you feel about yourself.  Take notice of the ways that you talk to yourself when you fall short of your ideal.  You may not recognise that your standards for yourself are excessive.  Pay attention during the day to the ways you tell yourself how you did not do something well enough or how you could have done things better.  Has anyone else ever spoken to you in this way?  You may have internalised the ways that your parents spoke to you.  Now picture someone else talking to you the way you speak to yourself.  Chances are you would not tolerate them talking to you in this same manner.

Remember, you can’t always control the circumstances that may cause stress, but you can control how well you take care of yourself.  Taking proper care of your body, mind and soul can keep you in optimum health and wellness.

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