Burnout – what it is and how to avoid it


Feeling low on energy, a bit irritable or a bit flat? You could be suffering from workplace burnout without even realising it. And if you’re self-employed or have your own business, it’s even more important that you’re aware of the signs…

Burnout is one of those terms we might have heard of but don’t really understand. You might feel ‘it’s not going to happen to me’, or ‘I don’t feel stressed’, and even ‘I’m good at coping with stress’. If that sounds like you, read on as burnout specialist Anna Pinkerton has some shocking news for you!

Anna has been a psychotherapist for over 26 years and works with some big names in business. Many of her clients have been suffering from burnout without even realising it – it’s Anna’s job to help them understand what burnout is and how to recognise the signs so they can prevent it from happening again in the future.

What is burnout?

It’s a serious medical condition which tends to have physical and mental health implications.

In Anna’s words, it’s ‘where your system has gone beyond its bandwidth'. Just like with the devices on your home wifi, there is only a certain bandwidth you can access – add another device and it might just stop the whole system working. It’s the same with burnout – everyone has a limit but add one more stress indicator to the mix and you might just go too far.

How does it present itself?

There are two ways burnout presents itself. One is a slow, gradual build up of stresses where perhaps the person can’t get out of bed or they may pass out or faint at work.

The other has no early warning symptoms. This means the person hasn’t been able to interpret signs they are doing too much or that the pressure has become too much for too long. This can lead to sudden illnesses such as heart attack, stroke or crashing depression and anxiety.

What causes it?

Anyone who is working beyond their limit is susceptible. This especially includes people who are self-employed and own their own business because there are so many areas to be involved with.

Not only is there the absolute reality of having to get food on the table, but there is the tendency to compare and despair – looking at others and thinking they are doing better than you are.

StressAnna says that this external referencing, comparing where you are with everyone else, is the crux of unhappiness. It takes up so much energy, weakening the mind, which is how fear can creep in, which can lead to anxiety and depression and ultimately, crippling feelings of failure.

The other factor if you work for yourself is that you don’t have anyone telling you to slow down and take your foot off the pedal. This may be driven by a need to succeed or because you simply enjoy the work. But, if you’re wired up to go beyond your limit far too often, you have a high risk of burning out.

How can we avoid burnout?

The first thing to do is to be aware of burnout because then you can take precautions. The brain will always take you back to what it knows so understanding how to rewire the thought patterns that caused burnout in the first place is essential.


As a business owner or self-employed worker, you may have quite an isolated workplace so it’s also important to have a good network of friends and colleagues around you.

Reach out to these people as their neurology will reflect back to you. If you’re left on your own, you’re working with your own neurological operating system and that can be dangerous – if it says you’re not capable, it will play that back to you as fear.

To help you avoid spiraling into burnout, you need to acknowledge when you feel fear and decide whether that’s a belief or a truth. Fear is the body and mind’s way of saying you feel unsafe. It may be that you feel fear because you are setting up your business from scratch and you feel that being in the corporate world was more safe. Or it may be that you are three years in to being a business owner and you think you’re failing as you haven’t made x amount of money yet. But neither of these is the absolute truth. The good news is that beliefs are much easier to reframe than truths as they are often unreal narratives.

What strategies can we employ?

Anna believes that a concept called ‘Inner brutality of thought’ is responsible for a lot of the fear, anxiety and depression we see in the UK today. It’s a sort of psychological auto-immune disorder where the person sets themselves against themselves. In fact, 92% of the high-flying business people who work with Anna are guilty of ‘Inner brutality of thought’. It actually takes a lot of energy to be mean to yourself, to be brutal to yourself, and with less energy, you become weaker and more vulnerable.

The good news is that by changing that concept to ‘Companionability of self’, the people Anna works with have gained approximately 30% of their energy back.

‘Companionability of self’ essentially means being kind to yourself. It’s about being in an active relationship with yourself and building a relationship where you can’t fall out with yourself again. So next time you feel the fear, try putting a figurative arm around your shoulders, acknowledge that’s how you feel and tell yourself it’s ok, that you’ll move forward together. Be compassionate by feeding yourself properly, getting enough rest and not working such long days and soon you’ll feel the energy return.

Take practical steps to slow down. You may think the system will collapse if you take time out but try it and see what happens – take that two-hour meeting out of the diary and give it back to yourself – go for a walk, have a bath, read a book. Schedule ‘nothing much time’ in your diary and rewire that thinking that says you need to be working at 100mph all the time.

Why is it important?

The fear of slowing down is something that’s ingrained in our society but it will break us, says Anna. If you keep your foot on the pedal 24/7, your mind or body will take you down at some point. That’s because your subconscious is in control and while you may feel that you can go at 100mph, it doesn’t mean you should all the time. If you do, you’re at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, anxiety and depression. Yes, go all out for periods of time, but intersperse that with periods of downtime. Remember, it is perfectly ok to coast along and be doing all right – don’t be afraid of patting yourself on the back every now and again and enjoying the quieter moments too. Humans simply weren’t designed to be broken by work!


For more on Anna’s work with Kindness Incorporated and how she might be able to help you or your business, visit her website at annapinkerton.com

For more details on Burnout what it is and how to avoid it listen to the full Podcast at: http://www.simply-marketing.net/2019/10/25/how-to-avoid-burnout-anna-pinkerton-episode-40/




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