Feel Good

Avoiding burnout – how to say no

We've all been in a position where we've reached our limit. As we approach arguably the busiest month of the year, we look at burnout - what is it and more importantly, how to prevent it...

Written by High Life North
Published 29.11.2019

By Helen Bowman

What is burnout?

We’ve all been in the position where we’ve reached a limit. If you are always exhausted, irritable, in a low mood, lacking focus, you could be feeling as if you’re on a perpetual treadmill of drudgery. Whether it’s at work or home, these kinds of feelings are a great big red flag for burnout. Burnout is a state of being that occurs when we feel overwhelmed, exhausted and disillusioned by an ongoing situation. That could be in the workplace, at home, in a relationship – or all three combined.

True, anyone can become exhausted, but burnout generally happens to people who are highly committed to their work or their extra-curricular activities. To burnout, one has to have been alight in the first place. That’s the difference between exhaustion and burnout.

There are physical symptoms, which may include having trouble sleeping, lacking in energy, headaches, illness, backache, general exhaustion. But the main symptoms manifest themselves emotionally. Someone heading towards burnout may find themselves feeling negative, emotionally drained, lonely, irritated with colleagues or family members, undervalued and generally unappreciated. Burnout can be caused by:


  • Not knowing how or when to say no
  • Being in a toxic environment or around toxic people
  • Prioritising others over yourself
  • People pleasing
  • Superhero syndrome – feeling you can do it all yourself
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Having little control over what you’re doing
  • Not being (or feeling) appreciated for what you do

How to avoid it

Short term measures like having a day off or taking some annual leave are common tactics for preventing burnout. But to get to the heart of the problem, solutions need to be long term. Identifying the root problem can often determine the best course of action. Are you part of a dysfunctional team at work? Do you feel undervalued by your boss or family members? Do you lack a sense of purpose? Would you like some recognition and acknowledgement for everything you do? Once you know the cause of your burnout, it’s easier to address those problems head-on.


  • Work with a purpose – try to rediscover what it was about your job or life situation that you love. Focus on that rather than just doing it for the paycheque, the clean house, the organised life.
  • Take stock – work out what is causing you the most aggravation and address it. If your boss is giving you too much work, talk to them. If you have too much to do in the run-up to Christmas, delegate tasks to family members. If you’re generally unhappy about a situation, find a way of removing yourself.
  • Small acts of kindness – take the time to do a small act of kindness every day. You’ll feel better in yourself for giving back.
  • Take back control – relinquishing control to colleagues, family members or friends is useful sometimes, but giving away too much can leave us feeling stressed and helpless. 
  • Get out and exercise – regular exercise not only makes you healthier but can help you sleep better too. Shoehorn some activity into your day, and you’ll find your mood lifting.
  • Manage your stress – step away, breathe deeply, meditate – whatever it takes to lower your stress levels and avoid the dreaded burnout.
  • Share your thoughts – talk to someone that you know and trust. Don’t bottle up your feelings.
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