Sounding off on how to prevent burnout

Photo by:Alan Cleaver / CC BY

Do you always feel tired regardless of how much sleep you get? Are you snapping at others often or withdrawing from them? Do you experience frequent aches including back, shoulder or joint pain and headaches?

If you answer yes to some or all of the above, you could be heading for burnout.

Burnout can happen to anyone, but it can be prevented. In a blog post, Catarina Andrade, a transformational leadership and wellness coach, shared her experience and offered advice on how to detect and address conditions that could lead to burnout.

“If you ignore the warning signs, they will keep showing up more prominently until you’re forced to listen,” Andrade said. “I wish someone had told me this when I ended up in the hospital the first time — maybe I would have thought twice before reaching for the laptop so that I could work on Swaziland’s public health budget from my hospital bed.”

Andrade’s blog post resonated with Devex readers, some of whom revealed also suffering with symptoms of burnout.

In the case of reader who calls herself Optimistic Defender, burnout manifested itself in the form of anxiety and led her to change jobs.

“Thinking I was having a heart attack, couldn't breathe when I drove to work, fear of going to the gym because the risk of car jacking was high. Not a normal life, and a subconscious that was always switched on. I was exhausted and [needed] some ‘normal’ living time. I was lucky that my organization let me take my leave, and then an additional two months leave without pay,” she wrote.

While on a break, she realized that “the world did not stop” and found joy in simple pleasures such as “enjoying some delicious bread, walking free in the streets of my home country and generally looking in amazement at the choice of items in the supermarket.” She said she’s now able to achieve a better balance and has “started putting some limits on what are often endless expectations.”

Another reader shared quitting a job recently due to burnout, noting that the work culture at many nongovernmental organizations is “totally out of control.”

“Organizations that let a 24/7-type work culture become the norm are doing a REAL disservice to their employees … and will likely pay the price of regularly losing high-caliber employees,” the reader named MyThoughts wrote.

Working in disaster areas, in particular, will not only make one susceptible to burnout but also post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Martina Estrely, who said she works on psychosocial and mental health issues.

Unfortunately, she noted, aid workers who neglect their own safety and well-being to help others are countless, forgetting to eat, not getting enough rest and even refusing to delegate because they think no one could do the job but them.

“Under chronic stress, they became poor decision-makers and may behave in ways that place themselves or others at risk, including their beneficiaries,” Estrely said.

Personal awareness to manage stress is not enough; aid agencies also play a big role in crafting a clear policy to prevent stress among staff and volunteers, she argued.

Do you have tips for preventing burnout? Share them by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.