Prevent Burnout and Achieve Goals: Stress Management Tips for High Achievers

business career clubhouse community How To networking Social Media

avoiding burnout

Are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed? A lot of people do at the end of the week, month, quarter, and year. We set goals and now the clock is ticking – plus if it’s the end of the year, there’s the added pressure of the holidays and family expectations.

Don’t worry – I got you. I’m going to teach you how to prevent burnout at the end of the year – and really, ANY time you’re stressed and overwhelmed – so you can hit goals while feeling GOOD about yourself.  

The trick? Destress, then Decide.

First Things First: What is Burnout?

Before you can learn to prevent burnout, it helps to know what it is. And to understand it, we must understand stress.

All biological creatures (including us humans!) NEED stress. When we sense a potential threat to life, we automatically secrete stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to help us prepare to either fight, flee, or freeze. As animals, we’re designed to use up the cortisol and adrenaline to escape, then shake it off or cry it out once the threat is over.

Burnout occurs when we’re chronically stressed over things that aren’t death threats, AND when we fail to eliminate the cortisol and adrenaline that accumulates as a result. When those stress hormones accumulate, they cause real damage to our physical, mental, and emotional health and lead to burnout. 

The Cause of Our Chronic Stress?

Stress is not a problem – unless we are chronically stressed over things that are not death threats. 

And for those of us who are high achievers, our biggest triggers are UNDONE TASKS – which to our nervous system feel as threatening as a tiger about to kill us.

man and woman chased by undone stuff

However, the undone tasks are NOT going to ever kill us! We won’t die if there’s laundry on the bed, undone to-dos, unread emails and DMs, or a full calendar.

The thing that WILL kill us? Letting ourselves stay triggered and stressed out. 

To avoid burnout and eliminate chronic stress, you want to notice, interrupt, and diffuse the triggers that AREN’T death threats. 

Then, make empowered decisions to either do, defer, delegate, downgrade, or delete the things you’re stressing over. 

Susie’s Five-Step Process To Achieving Your Goals (WITHOUT Burning Out):

Step 1: NOTICE when you’re triggered. In order to interrupt and diffuse chronic stress, we have to first KNOW or RECOGNIZE that we’re stressed. Easy signs to look for include ruminating, snapping at people, panic, feeling impatient, scrolling or avoiding, and tense shoulders, jaw, gut, or chest. 

Step 2: NAME what’s happening. “I’m noticing I’m stressed out.” “My brain is ruminating on things.” “I’m avoiding work – must mean I’m stressed.” Anything that occurs to you, go ahead and say it (either aloud, in your head, or in writing). This helps reduce the stress immediately and prepares you for step 3.

Step 3: SHAKE OUT the stress hormones. Yes, literally shake like a dog for about 5 seconds! This is what mammals are designed to do: release the accumulated cortisol and adrenaline once the body recognizes there’s no tiger about to kill us. (Taylor Swift has the right idea.)

dog shaking it off

Step 4: GET PRESENT in your space and body. Take 30 seconds to notice where you’re at physically. If you’re sitting, feel your butt in the chair, your feet on the floor, and your hands on your lap or desk. Then slowly look around your space. Notice what’s around you and name it either aloud or to yourself: “There’s a photo of my family. There’s a plant. There’s a window. There’s a tree outside the window. There’s a gray chair.” And so on. 

This, combined with the first three steps, gets your nervous system back into neutral – where you can now use your big beautiful prefrontal cortex to take step 5. 

Step 5: DECIDE what you will and won’t do. We get stressed and overwhelmed because we take on too many things out of habit - without making a conscious decision to DO them (or to NOT do them). 

In this step, you take ONE thing you haven’t yet done and RE-decide either Yes or No. (You’ll then do this process for all the other things you’re stressing about.)

With your nervous system back to neutral after doing steps 1-4, pick ONE thing you are Re-deciding and ask yourself:

  1. “Do I REALLY want to do this thing? Why do I, AND why DON’T I?” Ask both why and why not to get clear on what you REALLY feel – it helps you then choose to either do the thing or not.
  2. “If I DO want this thing done, does it HAVE to be done NOW? Can it be deferred, delegated, or done at B- quality?” Your brain will give you all the answers you need. Then, take the appropriate action based on what you decide.
  3. “If I DON’T want to do this thing, who do I need to tell?” Your brain will tell you who needs to be communicated to. Then use your “why NOT” to bolster your resolve to say “NO” to that thing. 


This process is simple, but it WILL take practice because guess what? We’ve been unconsciously NOT paying attention to our triggers and trying to suppress them and the stress! 

Our bodies are, in this regard, like a dog that needs a treat to be retrained. The brain’s favorite treat is DOPAMINE – which you can easily create yourself by doing one thing: celebrating the tiny wins! 

So make sure to celebrate ANY win, no matter how small. If you only notice but don’t name or shake it out, celebrate for noticing! If you do more, celebrate each part of it! 

In this way, you’ll rewire your brain and nervous system to not automatically react to undone things as if they’re tigers – and instead, rewire yourself to diffuse the trigger and make a CONSCIOUS DECISION. 

Imagine actively DECIDING what you WILL (and WON’T) do, with confidence and clarity. THAT is what allows you to create a fulfilling life where you feel productive and accomplished every single day

That’s what’s possible when you practice the above steps. 

P.S. Want to see more how it’s done? Watch this 8-minute video:


Susie Castellanos Hansley

Susie Castellanos Hansley, Ph.D. is a speaker, workshop leader, and Master Certified Life Coach who helps high achievers reduce stress and achieve more success. She does this through one-on-one coaching as well as through speaking and workshop engagements for businesses, organizations, universities, and other groups.

Her journey as a first-gen professional who achieved an Ivy League Ph.D. and tenure-track job before burning out and quitting academia led her on a quest: to help herself and other high achievers NEVER be undermined by stress again. 

Her simple and effective process rewires the brain and nervous system. Her clients go from anxious and stressed to confident, certain, and calm – which allows them to stop wasting emotional energy and become more productive, accomplished, and fulfilled in their work, relationships, and lives. 

Quick links:


Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published