How to Prevent Burnout: The Essentials to Monitor

preventing burnout
Photo by Digital Buggu from Pexels

Monitor the right gauges on your dashboard to avoid a burnout

Have you ever felt burnt out? I have.

One day I woke up but I could hardly move. I felt smothered under a leaden blanket – utterly drained of energy. Trying to sit up induced waves of fatigue making me fight for breath. What was happening? It was as though someone had replaced my body. This faulty one could surely not belong to me. 

I assumed I had some infection, probably the flu. But a day in bed became a week and I was still no better. By the end of the second week, I was getting scared. I had never been ill for this long before. I wondered if I would ever recover. 

But it was not a virus that I was suffering from, it was fatigue. I had burnt out. I was suffering from complete mental and physical exhaustion. I had run my tank to empty, and my body had shut down. I did eventually recover, but it was many weeks before I was close to normal. 

The guilt of burning out

On top of feeling bad physically, I also felt terrible mentally and emotionally. I had not realised how much of my self-worth related to my physical wellbeing until it was taken away from me. I was like Samson, shorn of his locks. I also felt guilty. Guilty for letting people down at work. Guilty that my wife had to look after me. Guilty that I did not have a ‘proper illness.’ 

And why now? I had been tired before. In my military career, on exercises and operations around the world, I had been frequently tested to the limits of my endurance. But now? Now I was working for a church. My colleagues were my friends, and I was passionate about what I was doing. I lived in a comfortable flat with a loving wife. How could I be so weak as to collapse?

A slow-motion car crash

In the aftermath of my burnout, I started to examine my life and the causes of my exhaustion. Medically, I had not developed full-blown chronic fatigue syndrome (that lasts for more than six months) but my illness had shaken me. Situationally, there was no one moment or big event that tipped the balance. My collapse was the compounded effect of a lifestyle I had been living for several years. 

I had been like a car, brakes locked, sliding slowly down an icy road, drifting inevitably towards the crash barrier. I realised that if I had been wiser, then my crash could have been avoided. There had been tell-tale signs that I was in a downward spiral. It was just that I was oblivious to them. My dashboard was flashing warning lights, but my eyes were just fixed on the road ahead.

When we drive a vehicle, we know we can accelerate hard or go fast for a time, but we cannot run that way for long. We must manage the strain on the engine. It is also essential to frequently refuel, check the oil and water levels. Vehicles require servicing after a specific duration or mileage. 

The metaphor of driving helped me to understand my situation. It made me wonder, what are the dials on my dashboard? What do I need to monitor to make sure I don’t empty my tank or crash again? How should I retain balance?

Work-life balance or whole life balance

People often talk about work-life balance, but this makes us think of a scale with work on one side and the rest of life on the other. This picture does not do justice to the complexity of our lives and our vocation’s interconnectivity with other aspects of life.

One model I found much more illuminating was the Wheel of Life which takes a much more holistic view of how our lives are made up and where there might be an imbalance. This is a great tool and one I still regularly use for myself and my coaching clients.

I also re-examined my personal values. This was also very informative. By identifying my core values and comparing those to my decisions and life choices I could identify the small compromises that had compounded over time. Even straying, just by a little, from my moral compass meant that over time I got further and further from where I has set out to be.

Bringing all of this together I created my dashboard – a set of personal dials that have helped me to avoid burnout in the fifteen years since my burnout. I grouped these dials into four categories that covered heart, body, mind, and soul. For each sub-category, I have included questions that can help in monitoring your levels.

YouTube video: How to spot the signs and avoid getting mentally and physically burnt out

The burnout prevention dashboard



Emotions are natural and good but if we do not monitor them then they can become ever more erratic or extreme. Therefore, ask yourself:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel (1 being depressed and 10 being joyful)?
  • Are you losing your temper faster or slower than usual? 
  • When you get angry are you holding onto those feelings longer or shorter than usual?
  • Do I feel I am in control or do I feel trapped in my situation?


Whether we are introverts or extroverts we all need quality social interaction. We also need to realise that some relationships give us more energy (on balance) and others leave us wanting. Examine your network and ask yourself:

  • Who gives you energy and who drains it? 
  • Are you spending more time with those that sap energy or give energy?
  • Which energy-draining relationships should be stopped?



This is not just whether we are ill or not, this is whether we are keeping fit and healthy. We all need adequate exercise and a good diet. So, ask yourself:

  • How much exercise have I had today/this week? Is it enough?
  • Am I eating at appropriate times or am I snacking too much?
  • What proportion of my meals would be considered healthy?


The most important aspect of rest, and the most regularly abused, is sleep. Put simply we need sleep to live. Our physical wellbeing and ability to fight infections, our cognitive abilities and memory, our emotions and mental health are all dependent upon sleep. Scientific research has shown that adults need at least seven, but generally closer to eight or nine hours of sleep. If you think you are an exception to that rule, then you should read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. We should all ask:

  • Am I getting more than 7 hours of quality sleep at night?
  • Am I watching screens just before trying to sleep?
  • Am I snacking or drinking alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime?


As well as sleep we should also plan other rest periods. Weekends and holidays provide the chance to have a rest from the pressures of everyday life. Unfortunately, our interconnected world and smart devices can make it hard to disconnect at times. Therefore, it is important to plan vacations and protect them.

  • When is my next day off and how will I protect my recovery time? 
  • When can I switch off my phone/email/social media for at least a day/week?
  • When was your last vacation? When should you have your next holiday?



As per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our security is a basic human need. If threatened, we are already likely to be in a highly stressed state and displaying fight, flight or freeze responses to our situation. Once physically safe we also want to be psychologically safe; in a space where we can think, experiment, and learn without fear. Check:

  • Are threats in my physical environment affecting my thoughts and emotions?
  • Am I fearful about the response of people to what I think, say, or do?
  • Am I able to plan for and think through challenges, or am I just reacting to them?


We all need mental stimulation. Without it, our brains stagnate. We must plan our personal development and embrace the challenges that we face and growth opportunities. We need to remain curious, keep trying new things and not be worried about getting things wrong. We need a growth mindset. To monitor this, you can ask:

  • What are my development goals and how I am progressing?
  • What new thing did I learn today?
  • Which mistakes did I make and what can I glean from them?



Self-actualisation sits at the highest point on Maslow’s hierarchy. This is where we are reaching our full potential. To get to this place we need to understand our purpose, we need to understand why we are doing what we are doing. This requires time for reflection and remembering to keep asking the big questions of life, such as:

  • What does long-term success look like for me? Am I working towards that today?
  • What is my purpose; why am I doing what I am doing? What are my values?
  • How am I developing and reaching my potential?


Whether we call ourselves spiritual or agnostic, religious or atheist, there is plenty of evidence to show the importance of mindfulness and being thankful. Whether we are offering up prayers to a higher power or just taking time to appreciate the moment, there is room for remembering the now, as well as thinking about the future. Think:

  • What am I thankful for today?
  • How can I find more peacefulness today (for example a walk, meditation, or place of quiet)?
  • How am I feeling right now? Take some deep breaths and scan your mind for anxiety and your body for tension.

Keep watching the dials to manage your physical and mental health

I can testify to how painful it is to burn out. The good news is that it is largely avoidable, but we need to be proactive if we want to avoid crashing. It requires self-awareness, time for reflection and honest self-inquiry to monitor how we are doing and maintain a sustainable pace. 

But it does not have to take long once you have identified the gauges you need to monitor. Take some time now. Think about your dashboard. What are the dials you need to watch? Which ones are in the red just now? What do you need to change? Adjust your speed and course now; don’t run the risk of crashing out!

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