Self-Care: Stress and Burnout

In an ever changing world, with extra pressures to perform and keep up with changes in technology, personal and family obligations, it continues to prove a challenge to find balance in our lives to care for appropriately for our own wellbeing.

The following topic is about learning to care better for you. This begins with an understanding of what the warning signs of your own level of stress and when you may be suffering from burnout. It is therefore intended that by reading this paper that your own level self-awareness will increase. I have also provided some basic strategies to manage your lifestyle. Perhaps the best outcome here is perspective and self acceptance.

Stress is a process precipitated by situations or events perceived as being threatening by the individual based on his/her past experiences and personality traits.

Stress is often a demand or pressures placed on people who can make them feel tense, unhappy or uncomfortable. This demand or pressure is often called a stressor.

Sitting for exams, meeting deadlines, moving house, changing jobs are examples of situations that many people find stressful.

Some stress is not always negative; it can help a person strive for their goals. It can help people grow and change, and avoid danger.

It is extremely important to understand your limits to stress. This can be achieved by becoming aware of your physical and emotional experience. While brief and purposeful periods of over-stimulation (stress) are often necessary. You should however aim to spend most of your time in the stress comfort zone

Burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.

Burnout is a problem born of good intentions, because it happens when people try to reach unrealistic goals and end up depleting their energy and losing touch with themselves and others.

There are generally thought to be four stages in the process of burnout. These are: enthusiasm, stagnation, and frustration, followed by apathy. This does not need to be the only scenario.


Symptoms And Warning Signs:

  • Physical
  • Chronic tiredness – sleep does not refresh
  • Decreased immunity – more susceptible to illness
  • Aches and pains in joints, muscles, stomach or back
  • Sleep affected – hard to get to sleep or wake early
  • Weight loss. Or weight gain
  • Decreased interest in sex


  • Withdrawal and isolating oneself from friends and colleagues
  • Rejecting help
  • Lack of effectiveness
  • Paranoid reaction, overly suspicious of others
  • Not turning up to work, keeping commitments/decreased responsibility and professionalism

Mental / Emotional

  • Depression
  • Rigid thinking and lack of problem solving
  • Resentfulness
  • Negative mind set and irriitability
  • Crying or getting angry easily and inappropriately
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety

Cynicism about previously valued things
Devoid of joy and unable to laugh
Sense of emptiness – nothing left to ‘Give’

A Person Who Might Be Susceptable To Burnout:

  • Perfectionist
  • Impatient
  • Competitive
  • Unable to say no without feeling guilty

Steps To Take In The Prevention Of Burnout:

Step 1: Know yourself

Step 2: Be aware of the pressures you put on yourself

Step 3: Be able to distinguish the problems that can be solve from the ones that cannot be changed.

Evaluate you own susceptibilities and admit them – have the courage to be imperfect (Elliott and Nelson, 1984: 144) but also recognise your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

(Ref. “Burnout: a reality for laws librarians – Nelson, V.C 1987)

If You Suspect You Are Burnt Out:

You may ask yourself one of the following questions:

1. When did you begin feeling so tired and unable to relax?

2. Were you always under such pressure to succeed?

3. When did this one area of your life become disproportionately important?

4. At what point did you lose your sense of humour and the personal side of your relationships with friends and co-workers?

5. Are you identifying so closely with your responsibilities that you have come to believe that if this project falls apart you have failed?

The answers to these questions will help you to re-establish your values and priorities.

Self-Care Strategies:

1.Change / Remove Stressors

  • Learn to recognise / anticipate your potential stressor
  • If feasible remove yourself from stress inducing situations
  • Build up conflict resolution/communication skills
  • Life planning. For example set priorities
  • Manage your time

2. Self Awareness / Self Exploration To Rework Attitudes, Beliefs, And Self Talk

  • Check out perceptions
  • Become more assertive – helping to increase self confidence
  • Improve social support networks
  • Set limits / boundaries
  • Balance work and leisure
  • Improve health through nutrition – decrease alcohol, drugs, caffeine and nicotine
  • Implement an exercise regime

In Summary:

In learning to ‘Self Care’ learn to work on the following:

Learn to modify and negative self-talk and self-criticism. Learn to use calming techniques and stress releasers for example:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Give priority to self-renewal activities
  • Be willing to seek professional help and other support
  • Increase the amount of fun!

Ref: K. Shields “stress Management and Prevention Burnout’ Social Change Training Manual.

Toni Kennedy: Burnout in the Workplace

Smith et al, 1988

Paula Kruger: Lecture presented 2001 Self-Care and Burnout.

Should you be feeling over stressed or burned out, consider consulting professional support, to assist you to better understand how your perceptions and belief structures may be contributing to your struggles.

For more information Contact: Paula Kruger 02 9247 7004 or 0408 663 203