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Preventing Burnout and Building Balance

preventing burnout

Words by Sophie Scott


As a former TV reporter, when I first experienced burnout, I didn't immediately recognise what was happening.


I had always thrived in a super-busy newsroom environment. One particular evening, after working frantically all day, I had flown interstate to host a health event.


Sophie Scott
Sophie Scott

As I stood up at a podium to MC the event, I felt a range of physical symptoms such as dizziness, heart pounding and very low blood pressure.


The "aha" moment came when I reviewed the list of specific burnout symptoms: physical and emotional exhaustion, disillusionment, and doubting my own abilities.


Burnout isn’t about just being a bit tired. It can include physical signs like fatigue, and cognitive symptoms such as memory lapses.


Women working in constant high-stress environments like the media are certainly not immune, despite often putting on a brave face or learning to disguise the problem. If you find yourself struggling with constant stress, feeling emotionally drained, or questioning your ability to do work you love, you're not alone.


Research from Deloitte shows the incidence of burnout is increasing and showing up in midlife and younger age groups. The Sydney Burnout study from Professor Gordon Parker found one third of people with burnout had mild cognitive dysfunction.


I realised burnout was not a personal failing, but a signal something needed to change.


Burnout often targets high achievers, particularly those who tie their identities tightly to their work or caregiving roles. You might love your job, but that devotion can sometimes push you

to give more than your body can handle.


The high expectations we set for ourselves, combined with workloads and deadlines that exceed our support structures, can make us feel like we're never doing enough.


Dr Emily Amos
Dr Emily Amos

That’s what happened to Victorian GP Dr Emily Amos. In June 2019, she was in what she describes as the ‘terminal phase of burnout’. She specialised in supporting breastfeeding mothers and was highly dedicated to her work.

“I started noticing tell-tale signs. I couldn’t switch off from my responsibilities,” she said. Even on her days off, she found herself calling patients, worried she might make a mistake.


“I realise now that was a maladaptive response to the stress. I couldn't stop thinking about work," she said.


While others saw her as dedicated, she realised she had crossed a threshold from being proactive to completely consumed by her career. It culminated in severe panic attacks.


"I stopped clinical work because I just couldn't get out the door," she said. She took six months off work and sought psychological support.


"I needed that formal support. It was a really big thing for me because I'm the one who normally helps other people,"

she said.


Taking time off and seeking professional help were crucial in her recovery. Dr Amos now coaches others to prevent burnout, focusing on helping them reframe limiting beliefs.


While anyone can suffer from burnout, research from international consulting firm McKinsey and Co found women were twice as likely as men to be burnt out.


Ever since I shared my burnout experience, many senior women in the media have told me they

felt the same, overwhelmed with work and often feeling unsupported.


Many women juggle family responsibilities as well as doing more to support employee wellbeing, leading to feelings of burnout. Australian research from UNSW Business School and Women’s Agenda came to similar conclusions.


A study of 1400 women (Women’s Agenda Ambition Report) said almost 40 per cent of respondents felt burn out would hamper career progression over the next two years.


But growing research and recognition of the impact from burnout has revealed some key steps to tackle it.


Cultivating an Identity Beyond Work


One powerful way to prevent burnout is to have a sense of identity outside of work.


When you have meaningful activities such as hobbies and passions outside of work, you can take a broader view and recognise you are more than your job title or role.


For me, crucial to my burnout recovery was training my nervous system to get out of high-stress ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Working in newsrooms for more than 20 years, I had the tendency to respond immediately to every email, phone call, or task with what I call the "urgency fallacy”.


Not everything is urgent, but in a high-stress environment, everything feels like it must be done straight away.


In my new role as a speaker on wellbeing and productivity, I teach people the three Ds: Ditch, Delegate, Delay.


  1. Ditch: Let go of tasks that don't align with your immediate goals.

  2. Delegate: Find trusted colleagues or partners to help share the load.

  3. Delay: Not everything needs to be done right now.


What I also realised was that if you are feeling burnt out, recovery doesn’t mean you have to leave your job, particularly if it’s a career you love.


I was lucky enough to get support from my managers and continued doing the job I really enjoyed, while recovering from burnout.


Focus on what you can control and embed practices in your daily life to protect against the physiological signs of stress.


As much as you can, put boundaries in place to protect your time and energy outside work hours. And adopt small daily rituals to improve your wellbeing.


Research from positive psychology expert Professor Barbara Fredrickson shows activities that spark positive emotions help ‘broaden’ your perspective and ‘build’ your resilience.


Meditation, movement and deep breathing helped me find my balance. Building in breaks during the workday (even a 10-minute walk at lunch time) really helped me. These practices help regulate the vagus nerve, which plays a significant role in calming your body's fight-or-flight response.


Daily positive actions can mitigate the negative effects of stress. Through daily habits, I was able to fully recover my sense of wellbeing and now I teach other people how they can do the same.



Sophie Scott OAM is the former medical reporter for the ABC.


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