Paula Kruger

Clinical Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Burnout and Self-care

What is self-care? Mental Health 101

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

The following topic is about learning to care better for yourself and how to practice self-care, which includes physical self-care and spiritual self-care.

We begin with an understanding of the warning signs of your level of stress and when you may be suffering from burnout. 

Read on to increase your level of self-awareness. I have also provided some basic strategies to manage your lifestyle. Perhaps the best outcome here is perspective and self-acceptance.

Definitions and Terminology


Stress is a process precipitated by situations or events perceived as being threatening by the individual. It is based on their 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 imperative 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. They 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 enthusiasmstagnation, and frustration, followed by apathy. This does not need to be the only scenario however, cases vary from person to person…

Symptoms And Warning Signs


When a person reaches burnout, physical health deteriorates greatly. Physical symptoms to watch out for are as follows

  • 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


The lack of Emotional self-care results in specific behaviours. Without perspective, these will compound the problem of burnout.

  • 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

Without a care routine in place, the emotional burnout symptoms are as follows

  • Depression
  • Rigid thinking and lack of problem-solving
  • Resentfulness
  • Negative mindset and irritability
  • Crying or getting angry easily and inappropriately
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety


As people in the midset of a burnout will generally withdraw, the support group that once elevated will instead become a pain point. Without spirit and a sense of belonging, life can become meaningless.

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

A Person Who Might Be Susceptible To Burnout

It helps to recognise if you or others are vulnerable to burnout. When recognising the following traits as leading to complete exhaustion, it may pay to employ a mental health service for those with these personality traits and get ahead of the problem. 

Peace of mind and productivity are worth maintaining.

A person may be susceptible if they are

  • 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 solved from the ones that cannot be changed.

Evaluate your own susceptibilities and admit them – dare 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 personalable 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!