Burnout is a b*tch. Effective stress management is the answer, but what does that entail?
To answer this question, let’s take a step back.
As a professional, you’re expected to deliver high-quality output while meeting deadlines, managing competing priorities, and maintaining a positive reputation.
This can all lead to stress and burnout, which negatively impacts your physical health, mental health, and job satisfaction.
I’ve endured chronic stress, negative thoughts, and burnout before and can attest to how corrosive it is.
It poisons everything from your health and relationships to your mood and productivity.
It’s easy to forget that life isn’t all about work, especially when your identity and self-worth are attached to your work.
In this article, we’ll explore the causes and effects of acute stress and burnout among professionals.
I’ll then share practical strategies for managing and preventing burnout in the long term.
What’s the difference between stress and burnout?
Stress and burnout are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings.
Stress is a physiological and psychological response to external stimuli, while burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress.
As a professional, you may experience stress in different forms, such as tight deadlines, challenging clients, financial pressures, and work overload.
If left unmanaged, stress can escalate into burnout, which can seriously affect your well-being and job performance.
Your customers and bottom line will feel the effects as your capacity to deliver or expand your client roster diminishes.
6 causes of stress and burnout
To effectively manage stress and prevent burnout, it’s important to understand the root causes of these issues.
Common sources of stress and burnout among professionals include:
- Excessive workloads and long working hours: Whether due to poor project management, your chosen industry, or the inability to close your laptop after 5 pm, an excessive workload can spike your stress levels.
- Client demands and expectations: A demanding client can put pressure on your time and resources, leading to stress.
- Financial pressures and uncertainty: Stressing about your next paycheck may lead to taking on more work, which further exacerbates the issue.
- Job insecurity and competition: When your ability to make a living is threatened by new tech (such as AI) or competitors, you may understandably stress about it.
- High levels of responsibility and accountability: Some jobs simply demand greater responsibility and time commitments, like medicine and investment banking. However, these demands take a toll on your health.
- Lack of work-life balance and self-care: Many service professionals can’t effectively separate their work from their home life, leading to the phenomenon of “taking your work home with you.” Others never make time for self-care, so their stress levels rise unabated.
I’ve struggled with many of these root causes myself. My stress levels only improved once I recognized the issues and decided to address them.
Identifying your personal stressors and triggers can help you develop an effective stress response and prevent burnout.
4 damaging effects of stress and burnout
Stress and burnout can have a wide range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms that affect your overall well-being and job performance.
Some of the common symptoms of stress and burnout among professionals include:
- Physical symptoms: headaches, fatigue, insomnia, skin breakouts, digestive issues, muscle tension, heart attack, and a weakened immune system
- Emotional symptoms: irritability, anxiety, mood swings, depression, and seasonal affective disorder
- Cognitive symptoms: memory and concentration problems, decreased creativity and innovation, mental illness, and decreased problem-solving abilities
- Behavioral symptoms: decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and decreased job satisfaction
It’s essential to recognize these symptoms and take steps to manage acute stress and prevent burnout.
What might look like a random health problem could be caused by a stressor like anxiety or a stressful situation at work.
Poor sleep, moodiness, snapping at loved ones, and weakened focus are all signs you probably need to work less and rest more.
5 stress reduction tips: How to manage stress and burnout
There are several ways to manage stress and prevent burnout as a professional.
These run the gamut from better time management and guided meditation to sleep and progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
Here are some practical stress management techniques to consider:
- Prioritize self-care and personal wellness
- Practice effective time management
- Set boundaries and manage your workload
- Build a social support system
- Practice meditation and mindfulness techniques
1. Prioritize self-care and personal wellness
Self-care is not a luxury — it’s crucial for managing stress and preventing burnout.
Make time for activities you enjoy, such as gaming, art, and spending time with loved ones.
Also, prioritize your physical health by eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, and getting enough sleep.
I’ve found that lack of exercise and sleep accounts for 80% of how I feel on any given day.
After a good night’s sleep and an hour at the gym, I always feel ready to take on the day.
Poor sleep habits and physical inactivity are linked to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
These can exacerbate the negative effects of high stress and burnout.
2. Practice effective time management
Time management is a crucial skill for anyone who juggles multiple tasks and deadlines.
Prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance, delegate tasks when possible, and use time-saving tools and software to streamline your workflow.
Also, take regular breaks to recharge and avoid burnout. I try to take 20-minute walks or PlayStation breaks between work sprints to exercise or unwind.
3. Set boundaries and manage your workload
Communicate your boundaries by setting realistic expectations with clients and colleagues.
Don’t be afraid to say no to projects or requests outside your scope or capacity.
Also, break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
If you struggle with starting or continuing tasks, see my guide to overcoming task anxiety.
4. Build a social support system
Cultivate a network of supportive colleagues and mentors who can provide guidance, feedback, and emotional support when needed.
Join professional associations and attend industry events to expand your network and learn from others’ experiences.
Also, consider seeking out a therapist or counselor who specializes in stress management and burnout prevention.
Most importantly, try to get out of the house and make friends (or hang out with your existing ones) — it’s good for you.
5. Practice meditation and mindfulness techniques
Mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce stress, increase focus and concentration, and improve your overall well-being.
You can practice mindfulness and meditation techniques like deep breathing, visualization, and mental body scans.
Incorporating these practices into your daily routine can help you manage stress more effectively.
You don’t need to do all of these at once. Pick one small goal — for example, saying no to weekend work — and stick with it consistently.
As you get comfortable setting boundaries, you can add other solutions over time.
How to prevent burnout: 4 long-term stress management tips
While managing daily stress is essential, preventing burnout in the long term requires a more proactive approach.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Develop a growth mindset
- Foster a positive workplace culture
- Continue your education and professional development
- Identify and address job dissatisfaction and burnout triggers
1. Develop a growth mindset
Embracing a growth mindset can help you view challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than sources of stress.
You can go from dreading Mondays, meetings, or monthly reports to actively anticipating them.
2. Foster a positive workplace culture
Work stress is almost always linked to other people.
This can include a colleague not pulling their weight, a demanding boss or client, or a non-cooperative supplier.
A great way to reduce stress in this context is to set expectations early, communicate often, deliver on your promises, and seek to lighten other people’s loads.
If everyone did this, workplace stress would disappear overnight.
Human resources departments have a big role to play in stress relief, providing wellness resources, and improving workplace resilience.
3. Continue your education and professional development
Investing in your professional development can help you expand your skill set and stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your field.
Also, attending conferences and workshops can help you network with other professionals and gain new insights into your industry.
4. Identify and address job dissatisfaction and burnout triggers
Self-awareness is key to stress management. Reflect on what aspects of your job satisfy you and which areas cause you stress.
Identify areas that need improvement and work with your supervisor, colleagues, or clients to find mutually beneficial solutions.
Avoid burnout: Final words on stress management
As a professional, managing stress, anxiety, and burnout is essential to maintaining your well-being and achieving your professional goals.
You can avoid burnout and achieve long-term success by:
- Understanding the root causes of your chronic stress and burnout
- Managing them using stress reduction techniques, and
- Developing a proactive approach to burnout prevention.
Remember to prioritize self-care, seek out social support, and invest in your personal and professional growth.
Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on content and marketing for creators and brands. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.