7 Top Tips for reducing stress and avoiding burnout

These tips are based on an article I wrote for Duty to Care, an organisation whose mission is to “provide wellbeing support via online consultation to improve and sustain the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals.”

To avoid overwhelm, I encourage you to choose one of these tips, and integrate it into your life, before moving on to the next. 

1. Expressive Writing

When your mind is spinning or emotions in turmoil, expressing yourself on paper can be a wonderful tool to help you recognise, process and release troubling thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s helpful to set aside 15-20 minutes for this practice, but even 5 minutes is better than nothing. Write continuously without worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Afterwards you may wish to scrunch the paper into a ball and throw it away.

2. Conscious breathing to calm the stress response

Breathing exercises are a simple and effective tool for calming anxiety and enhancing mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. This exercise activates the relaxation response by slowing your breathing and extending the exhalation. You can practice it almost anytime, anywhere – while walking from one ward to the next, waiting for a patient, or watching TV. All you need to do is inhale through your nose rather than your mouth, and then, breath out through pursed lips, as if you are blowing out a candle. If you are experiencing high levels of anxiety, it’s helpful to do this – breathing in through your nose and out through pursed lips, for at least 10 minutes twice a day. However, even 5 minutes can help shift the body from a chronic stress response to a more relaxed state when practised consistently. 

3. Find ways to ‘disconnect’ from work before going home

Transition rituals are a fantastic way to help prevent the stresses of work from leaching into your personal life so that you can ‘ switch off’ from work and make the most of your leisure time. 

What would you find most helpful? Would it be: 

  • Going for a walk, run, or spending time in nature?
  • Listening to a playlist of your choice while driving home? 
  • Having a shower or soaking in the bath? 
  • Doing a mindfulness or relaxation practice? 
  • Remembering five things you are grateful for?

4. Set clear boundaries and say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests

When asked to do something, even if it’s a social engagement that you would normally enjoy, pay close attention to your body’s response. If, for example, you notice a tightness in the chest, sinking in your stomach or your jaw clenching, it could indicate that on some level it might be helpful to say ‘no’ if at all possible. Giving yourself permission to say ‘no’ can also help you carve out more time for rest and relaxation. 

5. Create time for replenishment 

Aim to create a regular time in your schedule to replenish body, mind and spirit doing something you enjoy, whether it’s a walk in the country, a session at the gym, listening to music, doing something creative or having fun with family and friends. When you have overextended yourself in caring for others, it’s so important to allow time to nurture yourself with pleasurable activities.

6. Remember the magical moments in your life

Set aside time in your day to immerse yourself in happy memories, especially ones related to a sense of gratitude or appreciation, and pay particular attention to the feelings in your body. This is a simple way to generate positive, heartfelt emotions, which has been shown to reduce the stress response and improve physical, mental and emotional well-being.

7. Reach out for help when you need it 

Asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness. Whether you are suffering from exhaustion, burnout, traumatic stress, compassion fatigue or depression, it’s important to reach out for support, whether it’s from your colleagues, practice manager, occupational health or a psychotherapeutic professional. Rather than putting a brave face on things, be honest with your friends and family about how you are really feeling. When your role is to help others, it can be even more difficult to show your vulnerability and acknowledge you need help. Yet, it is so much easier to navigate the challenges in life when you have the support from family, friends, colleagues and professionals. 

For further details of the support offered by Duty to Care, please check out their website…



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