Avoiding the Burn: Burnout in the Workplace


As a Clinical Psychologist running my own private practice, I have learned to thrive under stress. When I reflect on it, harnessing the innate pressure that comes alongside my role has undoubtedly improved my productivity, efficiency and ultimately my performance. As I say this however I am acutely aware of the fine line between using this pressure to my advantage and being engulfed by it. While short bursts of workplace stress can help us to prepare, focus and work more effectively, chronic stress can impact the quality of our work as well as our lives.

In todays society many of us work in very stressful environments, where we are asked to do more than we can with inadequate resources. We often respond to these unrealistic demands with feelings of anger, frustration and irritation. We turn inwards and criticise ourselves for our lack of effectiveness, intelligence, skill or ability. We tell ourselves the story that we should be able to do this or that we are not good enough. We fail to take our frustrations and turn them into effective boundary setting or conversations with our leaders and colleagues to discuss the unrealistic demands that are being placed on us. We begin to believe the story that it is in fact our responsibility to complete these tasks at all costs. It is a slow ‘drip, drip, drip’ where we can perhaps find ourselves working longer hours, checking in with out emails in the evenings, or focusing on work at the dinner table rather than those people who are right in front of us. Many of us don’t even recognise, or realise, what is happening. We begin to feel physically and emotionally exhausted, the quality of our work and of our relationships decline. We become increasingly ineffective, we feel disengaged, and our stress levels rise. The result — Burnout.

A term coined in the 1970’s by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, burnout can be broken down into three components; exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency. Although it is widely agreed that burnout encompasses these three facets, experts are yet to agree on a definition of burnout and, strictly speaking, there is no diagnosis of “burnout.” Many psychologists are in fact coming to understand burnout as a coping mechanism against intolerable pressure and stress. Burnout can in fact be quite functional. It is the only tool that your mind and body have left to keep you safe. But it is not a decision that you make; it happens unconsciously.

Burnout is taking up more and more room in my clinic than I can ever remember it having done before. But burnout is only a label, a description of the symptoms that my clients are feeling and experiencing. It is not an explanation. “Burnout” encompasses a spectrum of experiences, and it does not explain the ‘why' of the symptoms. Some individuals seem more prone to burnout than others. At the extreme end there are those who shut down entirely, they cannot get to work or out of bed even and they can seek medical investigations for the physical symptoms that they are experiencing. Others however might only show mild symptoms of anxiety, low mood, struggling to motivate themselves or focus, and feel detached from day-to-day life. The label does not help us to understand why burnout has become your experience.

The job itself does not cause burn out. The way you experience the job and the story you tell yourself regarding it is the missing piece.

Current statistics indicate that one in four people now suffer from mental health difficulties. Perhaps it is time to move away from that kind of thinking. It is not ‘us and them’; it’s each of us living a life with peaks and troughs and anyone suffering from enough pressure could be at risk of developing burnout.

The Optimum Morning Routine: Building Positive Habits

“If you win the morning, you win the day”- Tim Ferriss

6:15 a.m., the alarm on my phone begins to blink and life screeches into full colour once again to the soundtrack of Six Pence None The Richer. I stretch out a weary hand, press the snooze button, throw the duvet over my head trying to find my way back to dream land for the next eight minutes before I am rudely woken one again. Finally I pick up the phone, scroll through my messages, emails, news reels and my day begins. Sound familiar? Each and every morning we are given an opportunity to start anew. My mobile phone, moonlighting as my alarm clock, quickly and effortlessly hijacks my morning. I start off at a distance from myself. I am instantly encouraged us to see what is going on in the world at large and take note of what I have missed whilst I have been asleep, rather than what is happening in the here and now. If you are anything like me and have experienced these kind of mornings you will know that not only does it not feel very good but it only adds to the stress and distraction of the day ahead.

The internet is bulging at the seems with ideas on how to create the perfect morning routine, improve productivity and feel happier. But the truth of the matter is that we each need something slightly different and therefore no one but you can devise such a routine. We all operate differently with different biological rhythms, different preferences and productivity styles. This is backed up by science which suggests that whether you are a night owl or an early bird is genetic, not a preference. Therefore whilst for one person getting up and completing a marathon before breakfast is easily achievable, for another nothing is achievable before 10am until their third espresso has been consumed. Whilst genetics undoubtedly play a role in our mornings other important factors include our external constraints. As a mother to three young children my morning routine and rhythm in a large part is dictated by the needs and schedules of my children. So does that make all of those Google search results on how to start your day well useless? Certainly not. It is just that you need to treat the different suggestions not as a fixed menu, but as a buffet from which you can build your own ideal morning routine. To quote Bruce Lee “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

Here are a few inspirations characters that have shared their morning routines. What can you learn from the routines and habits of some of the worlds most highly successful people?

1. Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and a world renowned authority on the psychology of leadership. As a master of self-discipline and Tony points out that "If you don't have ten spare minutes to work on yourself every morning, then you don't have a life.” Robbins starts each morning by doing 10 minutes of meditation. As part of this exercise Robbins asks himself the question "What three things am I grateful for today?”. By focusing on gratitude Robbins begins his day on a positive note. The research shows that the benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless! People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.

2. Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is an American podcaster, author, and entrepreneur who’s book "4-Hour Workweek” quickly became a New York Times bestseller. After interviewing thousands of successful business leaders on their own optimum morning rituals Ferris has learnt to adapt his own morning routine in accordance.The first thing that Ferris does is make his bed. Making your bed is a simple and quick way to get a dopamine hit before you even leave the bedroom. It will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and helps to focus our attitude on productivity. Ferris is also an advocate of moving in the mornings. He explains that he will prioritise some time to do some light exercise, usually push ups, followed by hydration. It might feel like exercise is a luxury that you cannot afford when you are rushing to work but it is a good way to wake up your muscles and improve oxygen flow to the brain. Ferris reflects that "Getting into my body, even for 30 seconds, has a dramatic effect on my mood and quiets mental chatter."

3. Oprah Winfrey
Like Robbins, Oprah Winfrey begins her mornings with meditation, which she says fills her with “hope and a sense of contentment and deep joy.” Mindfulness meditation, a type of meditation that had become very popular in recent years has been shown to improve focus, attention and executive function, as well as decrease rumination and negative thinking. You can use apps such as Headspace in order to start your own morning mindful mediation practice.

Take the time to learn those rituals and rhythms that calm you, teach you to be present, sharpen your brain, and most of all, propel you towards the daily goals that you have set out for yourself. The optimum morning routine should generate forward momentum and help to shape the rest of our day. The focus as we develop our routines and learn what works should be on progress and not perfection.

New Beginnings: Defying The Odds and Sticking To Your New Resolution's

New Beginnings: Defying The Odds and Sticking To Your New Resolution's

The first of January is a fresh start for many of us. Many of us find ourselves using the process of reflection, introspection and self examination to set ourselves goals and resolutions for the year ahead. It is a time where people flock to the gym, vowing to be “better”, “healthier” and “stronger” versions of themselves! But by the end of the month, the majority of us will have failed to keep to our resolution. Understanding what can help us to succeed might help us defy the odds.

Failed It!

Failed It!

As a therapist failure is something that I commonly get asked about, both directly and indirectly. Feeling like a failure at times is a normal human experience. We can all feel like we are letting ourselves, or others, down at times throughout our lives. Here are the most common questions regarding failure that I get asked both inside and out-with my clinic. 

Building a RAFT: How to cope as the expat being left behind

Building a RAFT: How to cope as the expat being left behind

The often unmentioned casualties in the revolving door of expat life are neither coming nor going.  They are staying. Those who remain also feel a great deal of pain and sadness. Perhaps less pronounced, expected or acknowledged than the pain of those who are leaving. But what can you actually do for yourself not to just survive these experiences but perhaps to thrive through them?