Beat Burnout, Cultivate Resilience

‘Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?’

These insightful words by poet Mary Oliver are an invitation to us all to consider our own vitality and wellbeing.


The barriers between work and life have been all but eliminated, with many studies recognising this shift in the ‘new world of work’.  Where highly competent and committed people struggle to cope – visibly over stretched, over committed, overwhelmed, burned out, exhausted, cynical and feeling totally ineffective, wondering how did it all go so terribly wrong?


So what’s going on?

In a recent Deloitte University Press article The New Organization – Different by Design, Feb 29, 2016, Josh Bersin et al.  ‘describe a series of 4 key drivers coming together to create disruptive change’ in today’s world of work.

  • ◊ Demographic upheavals have made the work force both younger and older
  • ◊ Digital technology is now everywhere, disrupting business models and radically changing the workplace and the way work is done.
  • ◊ The Rate of Change has accelerated. The rate of technology development has significantly increased the pace of change in business as a whole, requiring organizations to be more agile.
  • ◊ A new social contract is developing between companies and workers, driving major changes in the employer-employee relationship.


Check it out for your self  …

Take a good look at how you and your organisation are responding to these drivers.

Can you identify the overstretched, over committed and overwhelmed amongst you?

People don’t readily talk about being overwhelmed, because to do so is perceived as too risky a conversation to have, even with oneself.  Yet the feelings don’t just go away simply because you bury or ignore them. The experience of overwhelm can significantly drain your energy, distort your thinking, undermine your confidence and erode your overall sense of wellbeing.

This is particularly hard to deal with if your identity is tied to high achievement and high performance, delivered consistently over many years.

In the interest of cultivating your own wellbeing, my invitation to you is to reflect on the statements below, and in the words of Mary Oliver consider if recognising your own ‘little darkness’ is just what you need right now to ‘get you going’ again


Take time to consider … …

  • ◊ are you placing excessive expectations on yourself ?
  • ◊ are you working hard but feeling you’re not getting anywhere ?
  • ◊ do you fear you have lost your edge, lacking in confidence ?
  • ◊ do you see results for the huge effort you are putting in ?
  • ◊ do you feel ‘all over the place’ when normally you are really focused ?
  • ◊ do you feel others are critical of your performance ?
  • ◊ do you feel misunderstood and unsupported ?
  • ◊ is there no end in sight to ever increasing demands ?
  • ◊ do you feel resentment, perhaps even a simmering sense of rage, inside ?
  • ◊ do you have angry or aggressive outbursts ?
  • ◊ do you feel disengaged and increasingly cynical ?
  • ◊ are you more inclined to withdraw, withhold, isolate yourself ?
  • ◊ have you lost connection with your friends ?
  • ◊ have  you lost connection with your sense of fun?
  • ◊ when did you laugh out loud last?
  • ◊ do you find yourself descending into cynicism and blame?
  • ◊ are you feeling overly negative, despairing that things can ever improve ?
  • ◊ do you wonder are you beginning to lose belief in your self ?
  • ◊ do you wonder if there is more to life?
  • ◊ are you drinking a bit too much just to relax in the evenings or weekends?
  • ◊ are you feeling exhausted all the time ?
  • ◊ do you go to bed exhausted only to wake in the early hours unable to sleep?
  • ◊ do you feel close to collapse?
  • ◊ do you experience physical signs of stress – heart racing, headaches, digestive problems, muscle tension / back pain etc


Is it now time for you to press the pause button?

The most difficult thing to do when you are under severe pressure is to take one step back and become an observer to your own internal process.

This is the first and most important step in taking back control.

It is this first critical step that matters most.


Remember you are only asked to take one step back. 

It is not about running away, it is not about giving up and it is not about conceding defeat.

It is about reconnecting with your innate capabilities and sense of self-belief and control, reminding yourself that your resilient spirit remains hopeful and strives for health and vitality.


Let us turn our attention to what you can do to redirect yourself towards health, wellbeing and a return to peak performance.


First Aid Plan

Your ABC of Self-Care.


Acknowledge where you are and seek help

Where you go for help will depend on your situation. Consider discussing your situation in a meaningful way with your doctor, EAP professional, your family, boss, HR professional, mentor or coach as appropriate. If you feel there may be underlying medical issues such as depression or chronic fatigue it is important to seek medical advice.


Back to Basics

Babies are born with innate survival instincts. They eat, sleep, breath and cry in order to stay safe and connected to their caregivers. As we go through life we take these innate instincts for granted and it is only when we encounter disturbance in sleeping, eating, breathing and connecting that we fully appreciate the magic of human existence.

When working with people who are highly stressed my approach is always to go back to basics. Working first to address sleep and diet issues and building in a regime of mindfulness, breathing and relaxation techniques and above all supporting a sense of safety and connection with family, friends and life in general.


Connect to your Core Values and Capabilities

Under pressure people often lose connection with their core capabilities of intellect, creativity, sense of purpose and connection with others. These resources have not been lost although they may seem unavailable when most needed.

People who have lost confidence can find it difficult to access their strengths, but with patience, self-reflection, courage and support to take the necessary action, it is absolutely possible to regain strength and flourish. I have witnessed this happen many times. Just as people lose confidence they can also regain it.

What is needed is a commitment to your own health and wellbeing and an absolute refusal to diminish yourself in the process. While it is essential to accept the reality of the situation you find yourself in, it can be all too easy to dwell in negativity.

A key determinant of a fulfilled life is a person’s sense of hope and optimism; we need to be ever vigilant of not feeding negativity, as it only serves to undermine us.


Resilient Organisations Cultivate Resilient Behaviours

There is much that can be done to proactively support wellbeing so that the downward spiral does not go unchallenged. Organisations can proactively support their people to develop skills of resilience and emotional intelligence.  By cultivating self-care, optimism, focus, self-expression, interpersonal relating, problem solving and stress management, employees can equip themselves with the insight to recognise early distress signals and the ability to take decisive action to quickly interrupt the downward spiral.


Burnout serves nobody. While it is seen as a feature of over commitment, it is not a badge of honor that anyone wants.


Beating Burnout by Monique Valcour HBR Review Nov 2016 outlines key strategies for dealing with burnout and is a great reminder that the sense of being overwhelmed is a signal, not a long-term sentence.


In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – VUCA – world, more than ever it is imperative that organisational leaders prioritise their own wellbeing so they can thrive and become highly effective role models of resilient, positive, focused and generous leadership.

The prize for all to share is an engaging and supportive organisational culture, capable of attracting and retaining exceptional and committed talent.


Deirdre McLoughlin is a coaching associate with Harmonics specialising in Organisational Development, Executive Coaching and Psychotherapy.  

Harmonics specialises in helping organisations plan for change, manage change and support their people through change.  To learn more visit or contact us on 01 8942616, 061 336136 or 021 7319604 or email


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