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How Positive Psychology Can help with Burnout

As a Positive Psychology coach one of my key areas of focus is helping people find their direction. During coaching sessions the first area that we then explore is how the client has found themselves in that position. For some clients this can often relate to emotional exhaustion and more specifically burnout. When researching burnout its clear that in parts of the world, it appears that individuals can still be told by society that it’s wrong to feel stressed in certain situations.

What is Burnout

Firstly its important to understand what burnout is. The WHO defines burnout ‘as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”

Burnout is characterised by three classic symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.

  • Increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative towards ones career (depersonalisation).

  • Reduced professional productivity, or procrastination on straightforward tasks

Burn-out is essentially what happens when a person continually experiences a stress reaction in the body caused by a stressor at work for a prolonged period of time without being able to change it.

Using Psychological Capital to protect against burnout

Multiple research studies have shown individuals with higher levels of Psychological Capital or Psycap are better able to manage the effects of work stress on mental wellbeing that lead to burn out. In addition individuals higher in Psychological Capital will perform better and they are better able to handle challenges such as those of the work and family conflict.

So what is PsyCap

PsyCap is defined as “an individual’s positive psychological state of development” (Fred Luthans, et al., 2007). It is characterized by having high levels of HERO or Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. It's levels can be developed through 1-1 coaching sessions and through group training sessions. It is also possible to build your PsyCap resources by using the following activities:


  • When was the last time you sat down and outlined your goals or intentions in not just your professional life but all aspects of your life?

  • Do you ‘own’ your goal? If you have a work goal set for you of a sales target, is that target really motivating you when you don’t own it? How could you make it motivating to you?

  • Have you identified all the obstacles and pathways to achieving your goals?


  • As humans are brains are wired to think negatively and we focus on things that have gone wrong in the past. Take some paper and write down a list of all the achievements you have had both personally and professionally in the last 2 years.

  • Consider someone that you admire either at work or in your wider circles, what is it that you like about them, what behaviours do they show and how could you learn from them.


  • Can you name your strengths? If you are not sure try a free character survey such as this

  • Consider the situation you are experiencing or recently experienced how could you use one of your top character strengths to look at the situation differently, what resources could you use?


I think I am suffering with burnout, what do I do?

Firstly I would always recommend that you speak with a healthcare professional as sometimes what you are experiencing can overlap with other symptoms.

Let’s start with Self-compassion, as the inability to acknowledge the way you are feeling is one of the causes of burnout. Its ok to feel the way you do and recognising the feeling, and taking action is a big part of overcoming the issue. Dr Kristin Neff’s work describes three elements of self-compassion.

  • Self-Kindness, be understanding with yourself for feeling the way that you do rather than upset or angry.

  • Common humanity. We all go through struggles in life no one is alone. Suffering and humanity is part of the human experience

  • Mindfulness- taking a balanced approach to our negative feelings so that we recognise them in our consciousness.

Next reach out for help from a person within your organisation that you trust to discuss the issue. Alternatively you could speak with a Positive Psychology coach for coaching sessions which may involve:

  1. Focusing on your strengths and how you can use them to deal with the current situation.

  2. How to find more meaning in your role and activities to increase your feelings of positive emotions.

  3. Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIS),which are activities that have been confirmed to enhance wellbeing following their completion.

If you want to learn more about PsyCap and how you can build your team PsyCap levels drop us a note at and we will be in touch!

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