How to manage your stress to avoid burnout

From the Career Conversations Series with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
November 15, 2022
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This month, we ran a vote to take requests for topics for our Career Conversation Talks, and "how to avoid burnout" was the most highly requested. Have you experienced or are you experiencing burnout? I certainly have, especially when I was working at Facebook. As an engineer, we have a lot of responsibilities. We're constantly juggling projects and never have time to catch our breath. We need to overcome burnout and balance our lives to be more productive and healthy in the long run.

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Why do engineers experience burnout?

Because I used to work at Facebook this week, I've been talking to friends about layoffs. I have many friends who still work there. Many people are impacted by it directly, but even if you weren't directly laid off, it still affects you.

Engineers have highly demanding job expectations—we work long hours and tackle complex projects with tight deadlines. It's easy to get burned out in such a high-pressure environment.

We are surrounded by smart people and strive to learn, improve, and innovate constantly—it's a lot of pressure.

So how do we reduce stress and prevent burnout?

Recognize - signs of burnout

When experiencing too much stress at work, it's easy to ignore these signs of burnout and push through. People always say you need to "challenge yourself" and "lean into discomfort."

It is great to challenge yourself and grow, but sometimes, you just need a break.

The Internet makes it so hard for us to tune into our own intuition to know when it's time for a break.

There are some physical and emotional early warning signs of burnout.

For example, signs of emotional exhaustion can include anxiety or feeling irritable. Physical signs can be having trouble sleeping, not eating well, experiencing muscle tension, or headaches.

When I was experiencing burnout, I had trouble falling asleep—I had to take melatonin every night, and I would still wake up in the middle of the night. I had difficulty digesting food. I had an upset stomach all the time. My stress was physically manifesting in my body. When I went to see doctors for my physical complaints, they would say everything was "normal."

Everyone's different in how they show stress. If you notice any of these burnout symptoms, first recognize it's time for me to start investing in mental health.

Take breaks

Once you have the recognition, it's much easier to commit to prioritizing self-care and mental health.

Change the internal messaging to allow yourself to rest and take care of your physical health.

I have always been a high achiever. I prided myself on always working hard. It wasn't easy for me to take breaks. Unfortunately, I didn't learn to take breaks until my body started physically falling apart.

With breaks, you can start small—Small breaks throughout the day and carve out time for activities that help you relax and recharge.

Sometimes it means taking those saved-up vacation time, even for one or two days, to do a staycation.

Can you guess what this is?

This is a zoomed-in photo of coffee.

You can't see the big picture when you're too close to something. You need to zoom out.

Same with our lives—taking breaks allows us to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, gain perspective, and come back refreshed.

Take a lazy day

It's tempting to plan a big vacation - you need to make the most of that PTO! But it might end up draining you more.

Traveling can be exhausting, so I like to do staycations like getting a massage or walking around the neighborhood.

Get enough sleep, for once, catch up on your favorite show or read that book you've been putting off for positive effect.

The goal for a lazy day is not to have goals for the day. If you're feeling guilty, I hear you. I used to feel guilty about taking a break or not being productive. That was how I was brought up. But sometimes we need it. We're not machines. We can't keep going without breaks.

If you haven't done a lazy day, maybe you want to try it out.

Managing stress

Once you've taken a break, we'll start strategizing.

  • Work with purpose - internal motivation
  • Identify triggers - external environment
  • Take control

Work with purpose - internal motivation

Do you know what brings you joy and fulfillment in your work?

In my case, I love helping people. That's why I started Exaltitude, to give back to the tech community and help other software engineers learn and grow in their careers.

I liked being a Manager was that I could make a difference in someone's career and help them grow.

There is a saying that people quit people, not jobs.

Managers can make or break people's lives. You spend so much time at work.

It felt meaningful to me that my team members felt supported and appreciated.

Find that purpose in your work because it can help you push through tough times, and it will bring you fulfillment and satisfaction in the long run. You feel like you're in more control when you do something you enjoy.

We spend the bulk of our 6-weeks identifying our strengths, values, and evaluating our life and career to support people find alignment and their dream jobs or roles. Some people say that they thought they knew their priorities, but after 6-weeks, they realized they were completely off.

This is because we have many voices in our heads. Sometimes they don't align. We have voices from our parents or culture or expectations from society. List of the "shoulds." We should get promoted. We should work for a FAANG. But maybe those are your upbringing, but they are not your passions.

Most people coming out of EXA say that after getting a better understanding of themselves, it's easier for them to go for what they care about - for some, it's getting a promotion at their current job or transiting to a new company that was more aligned with their goals.

They can do that because we take time to evaluate our lives and career. The first step to making changes is to understand. It is worth it in the long run for your well-being and happiness.

Identify your triggers - external environment

Once you know your internal motivations, we can work on the external ones.

Before you can implement changes, understand what the things that trigger your stress and lower your energy levels are.

Here is a list of ideas:

  • Saying No
  • Working with colleagues
  • Working long hours
  • Taking on too many responsibilities
  • Lack of support or resources
  • Feeling undervalued or unappreciated
  • Fear of failure

If you're not sure what your triggers are, you might need a break.

When you rest and step away to zoom out, it might be easier to identify these triggers and come up with solutions.

A good way is journaling. We'll talk more about it later when I share tools.

Change the situation

Once you have identified the triggers—we can strategize changes:

  • Can you speak to your manager about getting support?
  • Can you delegate certain tasks or ask for help with a project?
  • Can you set boundaries and say no to extra responsibilities?

I'll write more specifically about these skills in the following blog posts.

New job?

Do you need to find a new job?

If you are in a truly unhealthy work environment, it might be time to start job searching.

How do you know?

This is a great book: Surrounded by Psychopaths.

"Some people are exceptionally manipulative. They can convince anyone about anything and lure them with their charm. They enjoy controlling others and will do anything to get what they want.
Sound familiar?"

Then you'd have to check out this book.

If you feel you are manipulated or taken advantage of, it might be time to look for a new job.

Change your perspective

If we can't control our circumstances, we can control how we react to stressful situations or perceive them. How can we change our views to feel positive about our situation?

  • Can you find a lesson to learn or something you feel grateful for?
  • Can you try to understand the other person's perspective?
  • Can you look at the bigger picture and prioritize what is important?

Build your support network

Whichever route you choose; it helps to have supportive relationships around you.

Find a mentor or coach, join a group, or lean on your family members and friends.

Having trusted people who have your best interest at heart is crucial for managing stress and finding a healthy balance in our lives.

That's why, at Exaltitude, we run mastermind groups where engineers come together to discuss challenges at the workplace. Sometimes we have general topic groups that talk about whatever comes up in life or specific topics like a job search. We've been running one every quarter; some have participated multiple times.

Before the Mastermind, they felt that their situation & experiences were not relatable to others. Meeting with the group helped them realize that many have a lot in common, even though they are from different backgrounds. It was validating and also great to problem-solve together.

Even if you're not part of Exaltitude, you can find communities or build support systems that can positively beat burnout in the long run.

Take control

You are in charge of your own well-being. No one can MAKE you FEEL stressed.

you don't have to let work consume you and control your feelings.

I talk to my therapist about this a lot. BTW, I believe everyone should have a therapist. Even if you feel like you're fine and managing well.

Therapy is not just for when you are in a crisis; it can be burnout prevention. Work through obstacles before they become overwhelming. I highly recommend it.

Stress relief tools

Let's talk about some practical tools and stress management techniques.

I'll introduce a few. Everyone is different in how they prefer to destress.

Try them out and find what works for you.


Especially if you're not sure what your workplace burnout triggers are, journaling can help you reflect and identify patterns or solutions.

Writing your thoughts and feelings can help you process them and let them go. I like to look for physical journals that help me get my creative juices flowing, but you can also use a digital journal if that's your style.

You could try freewriting, writing whatever comes to mind without censoring yourself. Or focus on a particular topic or personal challenge. You can find books or free articles that give you writing prompts if you feel you're in the mood for more guidance.

When I was feeling burned out, I bought a gratitude journal. 

You write a small memo - a line or two about something you feel grateful for. Then you fold the page. In the end, you get a rainbow. Check out the Amazon link if you're interested. There are many ways to journal, so find what works for you.

Deep breathing exercises

Taking deep breaths is a simple way to calm your body and mind. You don't need to have any special equipment. Just find a quiet place to focus on your breathing.

Apple watch has a breathing app—being mindful for even one minute to take a deep breath can make a difference in your stress level.

There are also lots of apps and online resources with guided breathing exercises. I like the Calm app if you like guided meditations.

Also lots of free resources on

Physical exercise

Getting your heart rate up through regular exercise can help to clear your head and release endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects.

You don't need to block out a big chunk of time for a workout; again, starting small is okay. Even a short walk to get coffee can make a difference.

I like yoga and stretching—that's what helped me combat burnout.

Take baths

I feel like this is how I feel when I take a bath—

Taking a hot bath can relax your muscle and remedy physical exhaustion. It's a great way to de-stress and also practice self-care. Add in some bath salts or essential oils for extra relaxation.

Spending time in nature

Nature has a healing effect on our mental health, so take some time to appreciate it. Even if it's just a few minutes in your backyard or a nearby park.

It's hard for me because I live in downtown SF. But I can always drive to the ocean or the mountain. When I was really feeling burned out, I didn't even feel like hiking. So we would just take a couple of foldable chairs to the woods and read or nap.

Develop good sleep habits

A good night's sleep is so important for overall well-being and beating burnout. Developing a bedtime routine and good sleep habits can help your body get into its natural rhythm. Try turning off your devices for at least one hour before going to bed. Taking baths can also help.

Find what works for you, like meditation or reading - whatever helps you wind down after a long day at work.

Healthy diet

I tend to stress eat when I feel burnout—eating a whole bag of Sour Patch is of my warning signs.

Eating well can help you feel more energized and less stressed out. Avoid processed foods and focus on natural, whole foods that are high in nutrients. That doesn't have to mean dieting or cutting out certain foods you love, but just paying attention to what you're putting into your body, especially when you feel burnout.


As you can see, there are a variety of stress-relieving techniques that can help prevent burnout. If you feel overwhelmed, try these techniques and see what works for you. Remember, you don't have to do everything perfectly. Just take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself.

If you’re interested in more lessons on Managing Stress, follow Exaltitude on LinkedIn for upcoming Career Conversation workshops.

Exaltitude newsletter is packed with advice for navigating your engineering career journey successfully. Sign up to stay tuned!

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