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Burnout Breakthrough: 5 Steps To Shift Your Stress Response + React To Stress Differently

Burnout is a HOT topic these days, and rightfully so. When it hits you, it hits hard. An article in Forbes recently described burnout as "a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that is brought upon by long periods of constant unrelenting stress. It renders you feeling depleted and dejected."

Sound familiar?

If so, you're not alone. Burnout is on the rise. According to a study by Indeed, over half of employees (52%) experienced burnout in 2021, up from the 43% from pre-Covid-19.

Furthermore, in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reached a milestone, officially classifying it as a medical diagnosis. It describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Not fun...

Burnout effects everyone differently. It can impact multiple areas of your life and it can present itself in the mind, the body, or both. Signs can be physical, like muscle tension, fatigue, and stomach issues. Emotional signs of burnout can show up as anxiety and depression.

Burnout specific to the workplace can result in an inability to focus on tasks, lack of productivity, irritability towards your co-workers, or low ambition. Workplace burnout inevitably seeps into our personal lives, and vice versa.

The good news is that there are tools to help you manage burnout. What is important to understand is that burnout and stress are different. Stress is often demonized, but stress is not inherently bad. Stress does not necessarily cause burnout. Rather, chronic unmanaged stress causes burnout.

Unmanaged stress is depleting. It robs us of energy and inspiration needed to thrive. On the flip side, stress is an important and necessary part of being alive. Healthy stress helps us to take action. It boosts energy, challenges us, and cultivates a growth mindset.

The trick is to become BETTER at managing stress.

That's where yoga and mindfulness can help. You can't always control the stressors in your life, but you CAN control how you respond to them. By learning to manage your daily stress better, the likelihood of burnout fizzles.

If you're currently in a place of burnout, it will certainly take more than a few yoga classes or meditation sessions to dig your way out. It requires a more nuanced and multi layered approach. By intentionally chipping away at your current unmanaged stress, you will, over time, build the skills needed to respond to stress better.

So, want to start dealing with your own burnout while simultaneously fostering a healthier stress response?

Here are five steps, rooted in mindfulness, to get you started, AND a totally free resource to support you on your journey to banish burnout.

  1. Examine External Stress Triggers External stress triggers are usually things that are out of our control, like work deadlines, the pandemic, traffic, and other people's expectations of us. Contemplate a few of your own external triggers and jot them down or keep them present in your mind's eye for a few moments. How does it make you feel in your body? What are your thoughts? Can you picture how you would usually respond? Is your response helpful? Could you respond in a more constructive way? Can you set a boundary or better communicate your needs?

  2. Explore Internal Stress Triggers Internal stress triggers are usually things that happen from the inside, like fixed mindsets, insecurities, perfectionism, impostor syndrome, and anxiety. Contemplate your internal triggers. Consider if your internal stressors could use the support of professional such as a talk therapist or a mindset coach. You are not defined by your thoughts, but it can take a little support to authentically feel that way.

  3. Push Pause Make a commitment to yourself to take an intentional pause the next time you notice an internal or external stressor arise. Imagine your life is a movie and you're literally pressing the pause button. Pausing is the first step becoming more mindful of HOW you respond to stress. A few seconds can make a world of difference.

  4. Observe Without Judgement After you press that pause button, give yourself permission to observe your physical, mental, and emotional response to stress. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment without judgement. This is a very simple concept that is quite difficult to execute. Just be present with your response, nothing more. This is not a time for action. Be kind and gentle to yourself in this moment.

  5. Respond Constructively Remember, you can't control what happens to you, but you CAN control how you respond to it. If your habitual responses to stress are not supporting your wellbeing, it's time to change them. For example, maybe you're inclined to a full blown anxiety attack when your manager gives you constructive feedback (external trigger). Or perhaps you find yourself so buried in self-doubt (internal trigger) that you're unable to focus on any one task to move the needle. In any case, it's time to craft a new approach. One tried and true way to respond in any stressful event is to simply breathe. Inhale, exhale, repeat. Some folks find counting to ten helpful. Getting up and taking a quick walk can do wonders. Keep it simple - and check out our free weekly 10-Minute Tune-Up classes.

So, now that you've got a plan of action, let's take a moment and examine how this process works. The image below shows a very basic overview of how unmanaged stress becomes chronic. See that bright pink star below? That space is where the magic happens. That is the place where you empower yourself to pause, observe, and respond. That pink star is your ticket to create a new habit and shift your response to stress.

Once you're more in tune with your own stress cycle, you'll get a handle on how to respond to stress more constructively and minimize burnout. The next step is to weave in some mindfulness practices to support your stress reduction efforts such as yoga, meditation, or breathwork.

Mindfulness practices help you to break the chronic unmanaged stress cycle that leads to burnout because they help you to develop a sensitivity to physical sensations in body and cultivate awareness of thought patterns and ruminations. They aid in self-regulation, build self compassion, improve empathy.

Ready to put all this into practice? Start small. Go slow. It likely took several years to feel burned out, so give yourself the time and grace to address the root causes of your chronic stress patterns. Beating burnout requires consistent attention, so it's best to take small bite-sized steps towards healing.

Small changes create big shifts. We're here to help you!

  1. Please subscribe to receive our FREE Minute Tune-Up classes, weekly in your inbox. These classes are quick office-friendly chair yoga and meditation breaks to get you moving, breathing, and de-stressed - no change of clothing or equipment needed.

  2. Check out Unfold Digital PLUS, an online membership designed to support the physical + mental wellbeing of desk workers through live and on-demand classes, all office friendly. Start your free trial today. Bye-bye burnout!

In Gratitude,

Katie Rowe Mitchell

Co-Founder + CMO Unfold and Unfold Digital


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