How can we prevent or manage burnout?

Let’s look at what you can do professionally to maintain your resilience and wellbeing to prevent burnout.

In our line of work, we do a lot of exhaling: exhaling support, exhaling hope, exhaling solutions, exhaling love and patience and compassion to our clients. So, let’s look at what it means!

Inhale before you exhale

In one of her podcasts, Brene Brown tells a story of meeting a Buddhist nun, Joan Halifax, at a conference where they were both speaking. They went to the rehearsal and then were meant to go to a meet and greet. Brene asked Joan if she was going. Joan said no, she needed to rest before the big event that night. Joan explained, ‘tonight we will exhale and teach, we will give of ourselves and share our energy. First, we must inhale, first it’s time to rest.’


There is the in breath and there is the out breath. It is easy to believe that we should exhale all the time without inhaling. We must remember to inhale.


Here are some ways to maintain resilience and well-being to prevent burnout.

Defining your boundaries

A boundary is a guideline, a limit or space that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them, whether it is a client or colleague. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you.

 Boundaries keep you and your client safe. They are the legal, organisational and ethical frameworks that guide your practise. They are like the riverbanks are to the river, they allow work to take place in a defined space.

In understanding and managing professional boundaries, first understand the difference between a professional and a personal relationship to ensure that your behaviour always remains on the right side of the line.

Professional relationships are:

  • time bound
  • have a distinct role and purpose
  • are paid
  • one person (the support worker) holds the power and is specifically trained and supported for the role
  • there is a power imbalance in favour of the professional
  • the professional has a responsibility for the welfare of the non-professional
  • there are rules and boundaries that guide the relationship


Communicating your boundaries and Organisational Responsibilities

What is important is that you define your boundary and communicate it to others. You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction. You are only responsible for holding the boundary and communicating your boundary in a respectful manner.

The organisation that you work for also has a responsibility to your wellbeing as a worker. It is important that we recognise that vicarious trauma is an occupational hazard for the helping professions and must be treated as an organisational concern.

Studies show that one of the most effective protective factors or management strategies from an organisational approach is good supervision. Managerial and clinical supervision should always be an essential focus.

Supervision can facilitate education, with education identified as a mitigating factor for vicarious trauma. Learning more about your craft, feeling more confident and knowledgeable will build your resilience and capacity to do your job without burnout.

Opportunities to look at group supervision and the sharing of stories – not only client stories, but the stories of our intervention with them. Sharing stories helps us to see the impact of this work we do and reframe our narratives. Reflecting on the resilience of our clients builds our vicarious resilience.

Vicarious resilience is the positive impact and personal growth we as helping professionals gain as a result from exposure to their clients’ resilience and courage. This is called client inspired hope.


Other protective layers – Purposeful work and Accomplishments

Many disability workers speak of their love for the work, which contributes to a feeling of self-worth for them, their admiration for clients and their progress.

Noting the curious, novel and funny elements to our jobs creates an attachment to a sense of doing good by helping clients to identify their own strength. It builds our sense of self, our sense of being worthy, a good citizen and living a worthwhile life.

Finally, the feeling of accomplishment in one’s work – that is, making a difference in a client life can upend how we conceptualise burnout and vicarious trauma.

But the important thing to keep in mind is that you are still the same person you were when you started this work. Your drive, your enthusiasm, your passion, and your energy may have become buried under the weight of the stress you’ve been carrying around. You just need to find ways to reach inside and find the sparks that first ignited your engine and re-enter the race. Try to remember why you came into this work in the first place.

Focus on self-compassion. If you are working to help people and end up being witness to stories of abuse, remember that an emotional response is also a human one. While it is important to maintain professional composure with your clients, emotional responses are natural and even appropriate.

Remember that the inhale is essential if you want to continue to exhale.

Let’s inhale together.


Author: Sue Campbell Ross

Photo: Unsplash/Max Van Den Oetelaar