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We understand that the last thing you want is more things for you to DO. Having too much to DO is what got you to the point of burnout in the first place…

It’s extremely difficult to prevent burnout when working in South Africa’s over-burdened healthcare system. Telling you how to deal with burnout may be frustrating because it’s the healthcare system that should be changing.

The thing is, being able to change the healthcare system is OUT of your control, so it’s important to shift focus to what is IN your control – which is how to identify burnout and ways to cope with it.

What is burnout?


Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by experiencing stress over a long time. Your ability to maintain interest and motivation in what you’re doing reduces, while your feelings of stress continue to build.

Your energy levels drop and your productivity goes down. You feel like you cannot cope. This leads to your feeling helpless, hopeless and resentful. Burnout can impact all areas of your life, leaving you feeling as though you have nothing more to give. This can then impact the body, increasing your vulnerability to illnesses like colds and flu.

It’s for these reasons that it’s important to notice if you or someone you know is experiencing burnout.

Tips for dealing with burnout

Tip #1 – Notice your thoughts, feelings and behaviours

Sleep – how many hours of sleep are you getting? How many hours of sleep do you need? Create a sleep schedule to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

For example:

• “I can’t cope with everything. It’s too much.”
• “I’m not good enough.”
• “What I’m doing isn’t enough.”
• “No one appreciates how hard I’m working.”
• “I don’t want to wake up and go to work.”

How are these thoughts and feelings affecting your
behaviour at work, home and in other areas of your
life? For example, are you:
• Struggling to get out of bed in the morning?
• Finding it difficult to fall and stay asleep?
• Experiencing changes in appetite – over-eating or
losing appetite?
• Not able to take care of your basic needs – e.g.,
not going to the bathroom, not drinking enough
water, not eating lunch?
• Being irritable with your loved ones?
• Having no energy to do things outside of work, or
no longer enjoying activities you used to enjoy?
• Not having any time to yourself?

• Emptiness
• Sad and tearful
• Anxious
• Irritable
• Frustrated
• Hopeless
• Helpless
• Defeated
• Demotivated

Tip #2 – Don’t judge yourself

t’s okay not to be okay. You don’t have to LIKE not being okay, but don’t blame yourself. Judging yourself adds even more difficult thoughts and feelings into the mix – which isn’t helpful.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others and judging yourself for not coping when they seem to be, isn’t helpful. You often don’t know what’s going on with someone else’s mental health.

Tip # 3 – Try focusing on what is in your control

The challenges you face in the health care system daily can take up most of your attention (e.g., patient demands, lack of resources at work, your manager ’s bad attitude). It is easy to focus on these. But when we only focus on things that are OUT of our control it increases the distress, frustration and helplessness we feel.

It’s important to shift your attention to things that you can control (e.g., dealing with one patient at a time or trying not to take your manager ’s behaviour personally)

Tip # 4 – Let your feelings out

If you don’t let your feelings out, they WILL take control. Numbing or ignoring your feelings doesn’t take them away. They will continue to impact your functioning.

Tip # 5 – Shift your focus

It is easy to focus on all the things you are NOT doing, but it is more helpful to be caring to yourself and shift your focus to what you ARE doing.

Have compassion for yourself.

a positive young handsome dark-skinned doctor with curly hair wearing violet uniform with stethoscope holding hands on heart shape on a pink background

Affirm yourself

Acknowledge the things that you are doing well / right…

Be grateful

So, what does being flexible and realistic with yourself mean

It means.

Tip # 7 – Ask for support

You don’t have to struggle on your own – reach out for support! There are ways to manage and treat the impacts of burnout with therapy and medication, so seek professional assistance if you are experiencing burnout.

Tip # 8 – Are your basic needs being met?

Identify what basic needs are not being met and find ways to meet them during your day.


Sleep – how many hours of sleep are you getting? How many hours of sleep do you need? Create a sleep schedule to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.


Diet – are you managing to eat and drink water during the workday? If not, try set reminders for yourself or come up with a routine to ensure that you have something to eat and drink at some point in the day.


Toilet – are you going to the toilet during the day when you need to? Not going to the toilet when you need to can have a variety of impacts on your health. So even though it feels like there’s never an opportunity, you need to prioritise your need to use the bathroom.

Tip # 9 – Find ways to access a sense of meaning/fulfilment outside of work

When experiencing burnout, it’s common to just want to sleep and do nothing outside of work.

Getting enough sleep and rest is important but it is not enough to leave you feeling fulfilled.

Tip # 10 – Show yourself some of the care you provide others daily!

As a healthcare worker, one thing you know how to do well is care for others! So, it’s important to learn how to show that same care to yourself. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean you’re no
longer caring for others. If you don’t start caring for yourself, you won’t be able to continue caring for others at all… It’s possible (and necessary) to care for others AND yourself.

It helps to also do other things that bring a sense of fulfilment

Do something