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How to Prevent Burnout

In most cases, mental health problems creep up on people. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, sleep disorders or burnout – they all have early warning signs. If we recognise and pay attention to these signs and counteract them early on, we can maintain our mental health in the long term.

But what are the early warning signs of burnout? What concrete steps can you take to prevent burnout? We’ve summarized the answers to these questions in this article. 

How do I recognise burnout?

To notice the beginnings of burnout early on, it’s helpful to know the different symptoms. You can ask yourself the following questions which relate to the three main symptoms of burnout.

1. Are you exhausted and lacking in energy, both physically and mentally?

2. Do you have an increasingly negative attitude towards tasks at work? For example, you sneer at them or feel that they are no longer relevant to you?

3. Do you have the feeling or have you been told by others that you are achieving less?

The three components of burnout are exhaustion, detachment and reduced performance.

Recovery instead of burnout

If you recognise yourself in the questions above, you might be experiencing the beginnings of burnout. But you’re not helplessly at the mercy of this process. There are lots of good and easily implemented techniques you can use to prevent burnout. 

With some practice you can make sure that instead of burning out, you regain your emotional and physical strength by yourself. This process is called recovery. Research in this area has found that there are four building blocks for rejuvenation.

1Preventing burnout through switching off

You probably know the feeling: the work day is finally over, but thoughts about work are still swirling around your head. Any attempts to distract yourself fail and the more you try to get rid of the thoughts, the more they take centre stage. 

An effective psychological method for creating distance from your thoughts is so-called cognitive defusion. It involves distancing yourself from your thoughts by observing them and in doing so, not taking them so seriously anymore. The simplest technique for this is adding the phrase “I am having the thought that…” in front of your thoughts. “I am having the thought that tomorrow I have to prepare for the meeting.” This makes it clear: you don’t have to do that now. It’s only a thought. You can find another effective exercise for dealing with stressful thoughts in our article I Feel Stress and I Don’t Know Why.

2Preventing burnout with mastery experiences

Think back to an activity or task that went well for you. What did it feel like? Were you full of vigour and energy afterwards? Perhaps you completed the first lesson of a language course and even learnt some vocabulary. Or you mastered new choreography in a dance class. Cooking, baking, sewing or writing are other examples of empowering activities. 

These experiences give you the feeling that you’ve mastered something. In other words, you feel competent and successful and you realise that you can make something happen. So be brave, try something new and rise to meet the challenge.

3Preventing burnout through relaxation

You’re probably familiar with this building block for recovery: relaxation to combat stress. Logically, this is another way to prevent burnout. But how can you make yourself relax? One simple and effective exercise is breath relaxation. To do this, try at various points throughout the day to take several breaths where your breath out is longer than your breath in. This is easiest if you silently count the seconds of each breath in and out. So for example, you can choose the rhythm 2-4-2-4. Breathe in for two seconds and out for four seconds. The longer breath out activates your parasympathetic nervous system, your body’s way of triggering a relaxed state. 

4Preventing burnout through self-determination

If you have the feeling that you’re just working for others and your own identity is falling by the wayside, exhaustion can creep in. To win back your sense of self-determination, try to connect with your original motivation. This means finding the “why” of what you are doing (again) and recognising the meaning of your work and life. 

Values to combat burnout

How do you recognise your values? It may be that you don’t have your dream job at the moment, but ask yourself this: why do you still go to work in the morning even so? Why is it important to you? Is it your connection with colleagues? Do you need the money to look after yourself, known as self-care? Do you feel that you don’t want to sit around doing nothing because you want to be a responsible member of society? Connection, self-care and responsibility are all examples of values.

What values are behind your motivation to work? Try to determine three personal values of yours. 

Common values include self-care, love, connection, spirituality, responsibility, creativity and commitment.

Preventing burnout in daily life

By consciously using the building blocks of recovery in your daily life, you can boost your energy levels and develop a more positive attitude to your work. For example, you could start every day with breath relaxation in combination with focussing on your values. To do this, repeat your three key values in your head and make yourself aware that these values are the basis for your actions. At the end of the working day you can start to distance yourself from your thoughts. Try not to pursue them or keep turning them over in your head. In addition, you can plan a mastery experience at least once a week, for example a sports class, learning something new or completing a tricky riddle or sudoku. 

Burnout prevention with HelloBetter

Do you need to examine in more detail what’s sapping your energy and stressing you out? Our HelloBetter stress course offers a structured approach for reducing stress in your life and regaining energy. It’s undergone more scientific evaluation than any other online course for preventing and reducing stress.

Over eight weeks, you will learn techniques for problem-solving and acceptance and find your “strength-givers”, which will support you in practising self-care. Moreover, the course offers variety thanks to interactive exercises, videos, and virtual training partners. All you need for the course is a computer or laptop, an internet connection and about one hour per week. Are you curious? Then register here for our online stress course and take the first step towards a more balanced life.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.