Snuffing out burnout: Five ways to build better resilience in times of stress

Snuffing out burnout: Five ways to build better resilience in times of stress

Energy diminished? Lack of motivation? Trouble concentrating? These are all signs of burnout—and, if you answered yes, you aren’t alone. Approximately 27% or 3.7 million of Canadian workers described experiencing high levels of stress.

During the months of May through June (the tail end of year-end deadlines, budgets and tax season), CPA Assist has reported an increase in program usage for assistance on issues related to anxiety, depression, and career-related issues. These factors are co-morbidities of burnout.

What exactly is burnout?

Burnout is often described as a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. The term was first coined by a German-American psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger in his 1980 book, Burn Out: The High Cost of High Achievement. He defined it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Freudenberger was also the first to identify the 12-stages burnout symptom cycle, which are:

  • Compulsion to prove (driven by an ideal or excessive ambition)
  • Intensity (working harder)
  • Subtle deprivations (neglecting personal needs)
  • Dismissal of conflict and needs (miserable, but can’t see the root problem as to why)
  • Distortion of values (values are skewed, hobbies seen as irrelevant)
  • Heightened denial (frustrated, aggressive, and cynical)
  • Disengagement (emotionally exhausted and disengaged)
  • Observable behaviour changes (closed off, feeling of worthlessness)
  • Depersonalization (detached from the world)
  • Inner Emptiness (life loses meaning, and self-medicating by overeating, abusing alcohol, abusing drugs)
  • Depression (hopelessness, apathetic)
  • Total burnout exhaustion (physical and mental collapse, increased suicidal thoughts)

While burnout is not a recognized diagnostic mental disorder, it is classified by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) as a factor influencing health and a problem related to life-management difficulty.

If ignored or unaddressed, burnout can have significant consequences long-term, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse, heart disease, stroke, and lowered immunity to illness.

Burnout is slow-creeping and its effect accumulated over time, without you even realizing it. Therefore, developing strategies to manage stress and preventing burnout before they manifest into larger health problems is key. Here are five ways to build better stress resilience

1.Take your health seriously

It is easier said than done, but taking care of your physical body is an important part of taking care of your professional attitude and work ethic, in addition to your mental health. Having a healthy lifestyle means exercising regularly, getting the recommended amount of 6-8 hours of sleep, and eating nutritious foods. Even small changes can have a positive impact. Start small and build up with simple steps such as:

  • Taking the stairs.
  • Grabbing some hand weights and exercising at your desk every hour.
  • Taking a quick walk at lunch.
  • Eating mindfully.
  • Keeping a food journal.

If you are already quite active and conscious of your dietary choices, why not try a new challenge? These could include:

  • Trying a new physical exercise: Boxing, Yoga, Run an extra 2km one day.
  • Making it a team effort, by inviting a friend from the office to go to the gym with you
  • Starting a fitness/healthy eating challenge for the office

2. Find time for hobbies and passions outside of office hours

Whether you are a gardener, runner, pet owner, painter, or stamp collector, everyone needs an outlet that is separate from their employment. This energy exerted away from the office serves as a reset and a refocus. If you are interested in trying something new, great. Not sure where to start? Check out your local community to see what classes or workshops are available to you.

3. Plan a vacation

Research has shown that even the act of planning a holiday or an adventure gives you a carrot to work for and keeps your mind engaged and active. Vacations increase your serotonin and reset your mind, even if it is a small weekend getaway. The act of travelling has shown to reduce stress and help retune your body and mind.

4. Change your point of view or perspective

Go to a new coffee shop, walk down a different street, take a new route home, talk to a colleague you do not know that well or see that often. Being involved in the same routine every day over time can cause complacency and boredom. Challenging your senses or trying something new is a way to invigorate your day.

5. Practice gratitude and appreciation
Sharing your positive thoughts about another have a ripple effect. Studies have shown that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep and lower anxiety and depression. Feelings of gratitude activate the regions in the brain responsible for the neurotransmitter dopamine, the chemical correlated with reward, pleasure, and satisfaction. Consider starting a gratitude writing exercise, or implementing deliberate daily acts of appreciation—you’ll want to keep doing it.

Alberta CPAs and candidates who are at risk of experiencing burnout or require other mental health support can call CPA Assist at 1-855-596-4222.

About the CPA Assist Program

CPA Assist provides confidential help to Alberta CPAs, CPA candidates, and their immediate families. One phone call can make the difference. For general information on the program, visit

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