Avoiding Burn Out

“Eureka!” Shouted Archimedes as he stepped into the bath. Allegedly, this was how he worked out that he could measure the volume of irregular objects- through the displacement of an equivalent volume of water. I personally think, it was as much to do with the fact that he was about to relax in the tub…

We have all got to a point where we ‘need a break.’ As a medic, we are notorious type A personalities and often we have so much to do, or prove we can do, that we don’t feel like we’re able to have a break.

This was the point I’ve been reaching the last couple of weeks- I’ve got lots to do with ‘no time’ to do it but actually I’m too tired to do it so I then waste my evenings being unproductive. It becomes a vicious cycle then- I am unproductive so I feel unproductive and then I’m stressed and then my sleep is disrupted and so it goes on. Sound familiar, anyone?

The joy of Instagram is that on it there’s a fabulously supportive community in science and medicine. I thought I’d share with you my top tips for avoiding burn out, while also highlighting some tips from fellow scicommers.


Literally, do NOTHING work-related for a number of days. If you have to leave the country to do this, go. If you need to turn your phone off, warn your family and then do it. Don’t even do one LITTLE BIT of work. None. Nada. Nichts. Nothing.

I’ve spent the last few days in a spa-hotel. By doing no work, I had my own Eureka moment, ironically while swimming this morning. As a result, I further formulated my PhD question. This has been playing on my mind for weeks and stressing me out slowly. But relaxing in the pool today, some of the particulars just came to me. And no, I’ve done no further work on it but that yet. Because I’m not allowed to until tomorrow! 😂

@biology.bex aims to incorporate at least one non-work day a week. I also love that she has a science book club at work- this is such a great social idea while making sure you keep up with non-papers reading!

“I try to make sure I have one complete day off a week (no PhD writing, reading, modelling, nothing!). I do yoga regularly too to clear my head and reduce my base level of anxiety.”


2. Delegate

I’ve seen this issue both in medics and scientists- when you’re patient or work is so important that you don’t want to leave the task unfinished yourself. This can be very bad news for your sanity. The amazing and diligent @soph.talks.science had this issue recently- she’s in her final stretches of her PhD and didn’t want anything to go wrong with her cells this late in the game. But she was also tired. She worked out what she could delegate so that she was no longer working 24/7 and felt much happier as a result!

I love her anti-burnout advice and I’m DEFINITELY stealing it:

“I usually plan my lab work in chunks around my holidays. So I know when my hols are planned and then I know I have regular breaks coming so I can set myself work goals from that.”

@soph.talks.science, sophtalksscience.wordpress.com

This girl knows what she’s doing!

3.  Choose a healthy ‘poison’!

I know I can be my own worst enemy. Like everyone else, I endulge in some unhealthy behaviours sometimes in the form of alcohol. Last week, I had a bad week- I’d had an awkward few days at work, I was tired and didn’t feel on top of my game, and I’m still learning SO much all the time in my job that I’m working SO hard just to keep up. At the weekend, I chose to drown my sorrows a little (socially, I should add!!) but to be honest, I just felt worse. This is the thing with unhealthy behaviours- it adds to your down ward spiral. I’m getting to old for it and it bores me quickly now too.

Honestly, I wish I’d found exercise when I was younger. Or maybe I should say, I wish I’d realised I’d found it, because I was always dancing/playing sports but in the working world I’m in now, that’s fallen by the wayside. Now I have to make time for it. And I feel SO much better for it whenever I do. 

@lisa_inascienceworld is always way ahead on this one and is a big fan of self-care (see her recent blog post).

“I make daily and weekly work plans and make sure the week involves evenings off to see friends and go to the gym. I eat healthily and sleep well- makes a HUGE difference.”


I’m treating myself to a week of gently overdoing my exercise routine (listen to your body too by the way!)

4. You can just be “good enough, Farah.”

In sourcing these quotes, the ladies and I got chatting about expectations. Of ourselves, of each other, of our colleagues and theirs of us. We all agreed that not meeting expectations (most often implicit ones) can rapidly lead to burn out. This was where I was at before my break- I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and I was feeling like I wasn’t achieving. Furthermore, I was worried my seniors might think the same. Thankfully, I have some very supportive seniors but explicitly stating goals and expectations can be SO important to keeping a work-life balance.

A while ago, when I wasn’t sure what to do with my career and I felt very down, I was also doing an Open University Course in Spanish. I felt like I had so much on that SOMETHING had to give. I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t do my best in it all. My tutor called me and said that she’d had a similar sinking feeling when she was a new mum doing a masters and she wanted to pass on to me what her tutor had said to her:

“You don’t have to do your outright best all the time, you know. You can just be good enough. That’s exactly what that means. It means, you have been good enough. If you are good enough, you will pass.”

She said that that statement to her was a Eureka moment. I have to say that it has really helped me too when I’ve been putting pressure on myself before. In the words of the incredible Louise:

“It’s important to be able to say no. To know how much you can do yourself and know that whatever that is, that it is good enough because otherwise you wouldn’t still be there!”


Make sure you check out these awesome ladies on Instagram/Twitter/Blog!


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