How to avoid burnout


As I prepared for a recent podcast interview on the subject of burnout, I reflected on my own experience in the corporate sector 10 years ago.

Yes, much of my burnout was caused by the ridiculous demands of the job I had at the time, but I now realise I played a part with the unreasonable and unrealistic demands I placed on myself.

Burnout happens on two levels - there are the external forces that we experience (e.g. the demands of work, children, family and life etc.) and the internal pressure we put on ourselves to respond to those forces. If you struggle to say no, set boundaries and let things be imperfect or fall over, you have a recipe for burnout. 

In their book ‘Burnout - a guide to identifying burnout and pathways to recovery’ authors Gordon Parker, Gabriela Tavella and Kerrie Eyers cite that “Some studies have reported equal rates of burnout in men and women, but the majority suggest that women are at greater risk”. That’s certainly been my experience with clients and friends. Women also seem to struggle more with perfectionism, people-pleasing, and over-responsibility for other people and their feelings. We often carry more of the mental and emotional load at home as well.

You want me to work overtime again tonight? Sure! Want me to babysit your fur-baby on my one night off this week? Of course! You'll be upset if I don't come for lunch on Sunday? In that case, I'll be there. Yes of course I can bake 24 cookies for the school fete by tomorrow!

Woman resting on top of building in city

Without boundaries or the ability to say ‘no’, we will drown under the weight of unnecessary responsibility and other people’s expectations. And what makes it harder is that we're rewarded for being nice and agreeable with comments like 'she's amazing, she's so nice, she thinks of everyone else', all the while we’re seething with resentment and fighting off exhaustion.

In contrast, when we do find our ‘no’ it can trigger other people’s discomfort around their own inability to communicate their needs, so we might find ourselves being labelled as difficult or ‘not a team player’. We need to change this narrative; both with ourselves and the way we speak about others. And while it might seem like we can’t win, it’s less about winning and more about building a healthy relationship with ourselves.

Yes, you can solve the problem by changing your job, moving away from an overly demanding family member or getting a new partner, but unless you change people-pleasing behaviours, there’s a good chance you'll take them into your next role or relationship and repeat the same pattern.

Wherever you go, there you are.


It took me a long time to recover from burnout and I learned some life-changing lessons along the way. Below you’ll find my top seven. Keep in mind these are not quick fixes and I’ve had years to work on them. Be gentle with yourself and if something jumps out at you, that could be a good place to start.

  1. Learn to say no and communicate your boundaries
    Whether it means saying no to more overtime at work, declining an invitation from your family or not picking up a call from a friend, you don’t have to be available 24/7 to everyone in your life. You have limited time, attention, resources and energy. Use them wisely and engage good boundaries to protect them.

  2. Let go of the need to prove yourself
    If you constantly feel the need to prove your value, worth and position, you’re going to be in for a world of pain. When you know you’re already okay and there’s nothing to prove, you can take your foot off the gas, let go a little and enjoy the ride. Separate your identity and worth from your productivity and achievements. You are not what you do.

  3. Learn to ask for help
    Yes, you’re a strong independent woman but you’re also a human being and that’s a messy business. No-one has it all together and we ALL need help at times. Asking for help is a sign of strength, courage and leadership. It shows that you’re secure enough in yourself to admit when you don’t know something or you’re struggling. And if you’re someone who loves to help others, why deny them the privilege of helping you when you need it?

  4. Understand your responsibilities
    Women seem to carry so much on their shoulders and feel overly responsible for others. Let go of the idea that other people’s feelings or happiness are your responsibility. It doesn’t mean you stop caring, it just means that you don’t spend your precious time and energy doing the physical, mental and emotional workload for others. Don’t overperform when someone else has a pattern of underperforming. Have a conversation, ask to share the load or let others feel the consequences of their actions. Worry about and focus on your own life and wellbeing.

  5. Let go of perfection and let things fall over
    You bought cookies for the school fete instead of baking them? Excellent. You handed in a paper at work that wasn’t quite to your usual standard? Great! You don’t need to give 100% to everything and everyone in your life. Perfect is subjective. It’s also the enemy of done. Learn to regularly ask yourself ‘how important is this?’

  6. Remember the less is more principle
    I am often shocked by the number of things people try to squeeze into their lives at once (I was guilty of trying to do way too much before burnout). It’s easy to overestimate your capacity, especially when you’re excited or passionate about something. But more is not better. Learn to prioritise the things that really matter to you and let go of the rest. You can always come back to something later. Yes, you’ll need to make some hard choices, but you’ll also be free to wholeheartedly engage in the things that align with your values. Aim for quality, not quantity.

  7. Learn to sit with discomfort
    To continue growing and evolving, you will need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is where meditation and mindfulness can help. Whether it’s sitting with another person’s pain without trying to fix it, saying no to someone you love, or having a tough conversation with your boss, getting comfortable with discomfort is necessary to living a full and wholehearted life.

Claire is a Coach, Teacher, Speaker and the founder of Better Boundaries. She helps nice girls, people pleasers and high achievers to find their ‘no’, set boundaries, and prioritise themselves so they can achieve their life, career, and relationship goals without losing themselves in the process.


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