Burnout has become an increasingly common phenomenon in modern society. Defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged exposure to stress, burnout can have serious consequences for our health, well-being, and productivity. The good news is that burnout is preventable, and one key strategy for preventing burnout is cultivating self-awareness.

The problem can be that most people are unwilling to do the simple things that can increase self-awareness, like a built-in rejection of anything that can actually help me. Just watching people’s reactions in training sessions and webinars when they hear these simple proven ways to prevent burnout indicates that many are already frazzled and fatigued and it shows in their attitudes of skepticism, criticism, and rolling their eyes.

We complain about stress and pressure, we profess our empathy for mental health difficulties, and we promote wellbeing, yet many of us are still not walking the walk of being self-aware and really facing up to how we actually are. In fact, this can be doubly difficult when we are in fight or flight mode due to excessive pressure and stress. In this frame of mind, we are desperately trying to get away from the present moment.

Self-awareness is an essential component of emotional intelligence too, which is the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions and those of others. In the context of burnout, self-awareness involves being in tune with our own needs, values, and goals, and recognising when we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted. We will look at values in a future post.

Research shows that self-awareness is a key factor in preventing burnout. For example, a study by Schaufeli and colleagues (2009) found that nurses who had higher levels of self-awareness were less likely to experience burnout. The researchers suggest that this may be because self-aware nurses are better able to manage their emotions and cope with stress, which reduces their risk of burnout.

Another study by Tugade and Fredrickson (2004) found that people who have a high level of emotional awareness, or the ability to recognise and understand their own emotions, are more resilient in the face of stress. This may be because emotionally aware individuals are better able to regulate their emotions and maintain a positive outlook, which helps them to cope with stress and avoid burnout.

Fortunately, self-awareness is a skill that can be developed over time. Here are some practical strategies for enhancing self-awareness:

  1. Practice mindfulness
    Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, we can become more aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, which can help us to recognize when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. One study by Hülsheger and colleagues (2013) found that mindfulness training can reduce burnout among healthcare professionals.

To practice mindfulness, try setting aside a few minutes each day to focus on your breath or a specific sensation in your body. You can also try a mindfulness meditation or attend a mindfulness class.

2. Keep a journal
Journaling can be a helpful way to reflect on your own thoughts and emotions. By writing down your thoughts and feelings, you can gain insight into your own patterns of thinking and behavior. This can help you to recognize when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and take steps to address these feelings before they lead to burnout.

Try setting aside a few minutes each day to write in a journal. You can write about anything that comes to mind, or you can use prompts to guide your writing. I like to use an emotions chart and put specific words onto the emotions I have been feeling. For example, anger is not just one word, it can include over 20 other different words.

  1. Seek feedback
    Asking for feedback from others can be a helpful way to gain insight into your own behavior and how it affects others. By seeking feedback, you can become more aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, which can help you to improve your performance and avoid burnout.

Try asking a trusted colleague, friend, or family member for feedback on a specific aspect of your behavior. Be open to their feedback and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

  1. Take breaks
    Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help you to recharge and avoid burnout. By taking breaks, you can become more aware of your own physical and emotional needs, which can help you to recognize when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Try taking short breaks throughout the day to stretch, take a walk, or simply rest your eyes. You can also try using the Pomodoro technique, which involves working for a set period of time, such as 25 minutes, and then taking a short break. Even asking yourself how you can bring kindness into the present moment or asking what it is you need right now can help develop some self-compassion.

  1. Take in the good
    By noticing the good things in life and relishing the moment, not only do we create stronger memories and a sense of time but also we teach the mind to look at the positive and create neural networks in our mind that can help to balance our negative mindset.

You can use prompts to guide your self-reflection, such as “What am I grateful for today?” or “What 3 things went well today”, take time to savor food, to listen to others, and even be kind to yourself when you do think negative.

In conclusion, burnout is a common problem in modern society, but it is preventable. By cultivating self-awareness, we can recognise when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and take steps to address these feelings before they lead to burnout. Self-awareness is a key component of emotional intelligence, and research has shown that it can reduce the risk of burnout. By practicing mindfulness, keeping a journal, seeking feedback, taking breaks, and taking in the good, we can enhance our self-awareness and reduce our risk of burnout.

Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J. E. M., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. B. (2013). Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 310–325

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893–917

Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320–333