A SPANNER for Burnout

Judy is a fellow coach as well as a friend of mine. She has done a lot of work in the field of burnout and so I asked her to share some thoughts with us on the subject.

Judy, tell us about your work with burnout.

 Many of my clients struggle with anxiety, healthy boundaries and work-life balance.  I specialise in working with ‘adult children’ – people who had childhoods that were unpredictable or inconsistent in some way or for some time (pretty much all of us).  

A very particular set of characteristics is present in most adult children: we (I, too, am an adult child) tend to be very reactive rather than proactive, we have a hard time having fun, we feel responsible for everyone and everything (what I call being ‘others-centred’), we are super-responsible in some areas (like looking after others) and super-irresponsible in others (like looking after ourselves)… 

 Adult children also struggle to say no and find it very hard to ask for help.  This combination of characteristics and habits makes adult children particularly prone to burnout.  Because we feel we have to put everyone else’s needs, real or imagined, first (that ‘others-centeredness’) and because we do not ask for help, and also because we struggle with saying no (we tend to say yes when we mean no, or no when we mean yes) it is a relatively short journey to overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout.

A while back I began to notice that many of my clients were in various stages of burnout – something I have experienced myself a couple of times – and started to look into burnout and how to manage it in more detail.  I developed a set of materials and tools that help my clients to understand why they are burned out (what are the thoughts, behaviours and habits that need to be changed) and I give them tools to manage and address their burnout.  I take a holistic, systemic approach and we look at the five major life realms I work with my clients; physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational.

I work with individuals and teams and I offer in-house Burnout Recovery workshops and programmes to organisations and companies.

How do you define overwhelm and burnout?

 For me overwhelm is a feeling of having too much to do; too many people to please, too many tasks to complete, just too much.

Burnout, on the other hand, is a feeling of not having enough; of being depleted and not able to manage the simplest tasks, let alone all of them.  

What is the difference between overwhelm and burnout?

When we are overwhelmed we tend to be fueled by a kind of nervous energy that helps us to get through everything.  When we are burned out, we have no fuel or energy to do anything.  We are totally depleted and unable to function normally or happily.

What steps should a person take if they suspect they have burnout?

The most important things you can do are to rest, to ask for (and accept) help, and to identify what (and who) you can say no to.  I always say to my clients, “what can you put down in order to pick yourself up?”.  You have to make space to rest and recharge and the only way to do that is to stop trying to do everything – particularly things that you do not want to do or that make you unhappy or stressed – and to stop trying to do it all yourself.  Say no and ask for help!

What best practices should a person adopt in their lives that will help prevent burnout?

I have a seven point plan to help to ‘regain and maintain your life force after burnout’.


The seven steps are all interrelated so it isn’t like you have to do seven separate things every day – having a cup of tea in the garden every morning before you start your day will address the requirement of PEACE as well as time for yourSELF, as well as NOURISHING your need for quiet time and saying NO to chaos and rushing in the morning…..

Essentially if you do those seven steps of the SPANNER every day you will start to feel more human again very soon.

However I do also recommend working with a coach who can help you to identify the unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns that have led you to burnout, and to help you to develop string and healthy boundaries and self-care strategies so that you do not become a regular burnout sufferer.

Thanks Judy!

JudyKlipanJudy Klipin is a Master Life Coach based in Johannesburg and working internationally.  She is the author of Life Lessons for the Adult Child (Penguin 2010) and is working on her second book (on burnout).  She works with private individuals as well as corporate clients and runs regular workshops in the Johannesburg area.  You can contact her at judy@jusyklipin.com or read more on her website: judyklipin.com


About Kirsten Long

Coach. Toastmaster. Prison-worker. Wife. Mother. Friend.
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