Burnout – Can mindfulness help?


Burnout commonly occurs in professions and roles that involve care-giving and responsibility for others.  About 15 years ago I decided that if I was to continue to enjoy and do meaningful work as psychotherapist, I would have to safeguard against burnout and emotional overload.  To resource myself I enrolled on a mindfulness course specifically designed for mental health professionals.  As a direct result of this life-changing experience I embarked on extensive mindfulness teacher training and now specialise in facilitating Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction programmes

Society values doing over and above being, starting in our classrooms with the relentless pressure to achieve points rather than potential.  When validation comes more from doing rather than being, burnout is the inevitable result.

So how can mindfulness – which is defined as “present-moment and non- judgemental awareness” help against burnout?

Stress, Despair, BurdenAwareness helps to identify limitations and the triggers likely to cause burnout.

  • With greater self-awareness and self-acceptance we tend to appreciate our competencies and be more inclined to choose roles that suit us rather than try to be what we are not.
  • Central to mindfulness is body awarenessMind-body practices such as yoga have been shown to reduce the body’s stress response by strengthening the relaxation response and reducing stress hormones like cortisol.
  • Mindfulness increases awareness of others and our capacity for empathy.
  • Mindful and authentic communication include being able to say “no” when necessary.
  • Neuroscience:  Characteristics of burnout include lack of empathy, cynicism, resentment, emotional and/or physical exhaustion.  Behaviours such as isolation, withdrawal and addiction often result. Extensive research studies (Davdson et al.,2003) of participants over an 8 week mindfulness course show how mindfulness practice can actually change brain structure by activating the left side of the pre-frontal cortex (associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, resilience, concentration, decision-making and empathy), corresponding to changing patterns of experience and behaviour and increasing positive affect.

This is something of my own experience of using mindfulness to help manage the stresses that come from a care-giving role, and attempting to protect myself and those around me against the potential damage caused by burnout.


Eilis Cullen,

Accredited Psychotherapist (MIAHIP,MECP)

Certified Mindfulness Teacher and Trainer. (CFM University of Massachusetts Medical School).


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