Stress vs. burnout: 4 questions to ask yourself

Stress and burnout and are intrinsically connected. Use these strategies to manage stress and protect yourself before you burn out
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Editor’s note: In this series, we are sharing tips to help IT professionals manage their stress - and guide their teams through challenging times. Here, Kassie Rangel, senior director of IT at HealthMarkets, shares how she keeps a positive attitude even while under pressure. 

This year has been like no other. It's hard to balance the uncertainty and pressure of not only being in this situation but also ensuring you are still performing and delivering to your best ability.  

For me, managing stress has been a series of trials and errors and, honestly, the willingness to keep trying new things – especially when one tactic that used to work starts to fail due to new factors (like a pandemic).

[ Are your video calls productive? Read: Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

4 ways to manage stress daily

My go-to tips are:

  1. Stay organized and prioritized. I meticulously plan my days. It helps me to protect my personal time and mental wellbeing. If I know what I am trying to tackle for the day it keeps me on track and focused, thus I'm less likely to get lost in the noise of unimportant or distracting tasks. This can be tough if at work you are constantly presented with fire drills. When one arises for me, I do a quick assessment of my day and reset the plan ensuring I always pull something off the list. 
  2. I keep a positive attitude. I have confidence in my abilities to perform my job and be a good person to my friends and family. So when I fail, I remind myself I am not actually failing. I am just human. I have positive intent of getting it all done, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Acceptance is a powerful tool: accept that if something doesn’t get done, it's not a failure. 
  3. I exercise regularly and try to eat well. When I feel good, I perform better and achieve more.
  4. I reward myself by making myself smile. My best friend challenged me at the beginning of the pandemic to create a list of things that make me happy/smile – not the things I am grateful for, but, specifically, the things that bring me joy. When I start to feel stressed or overwhelmed I have started referring to this list. Sometimes just reading it calms me down. That moment I take to put myself first and make myself smile allows the endorphins to fire and reduces my stress level.

[ Want to help people be intentional about time and energy? Read also: COVID-19 leadership lessons: 5 ways to help your team recharge. ]

Approaching burnout? Ask for help

If you are feeling burned out, take a step back and ask yourself the following: 

1. What is the problem you are really trying to solve?

2. Are you creating more stress for yourself with unrealistic expectations?

3. Are there any factors adding to your problem that can be eliminated?

4. Is there anyone you can turn to for escalation or assistance?


How to engage your leaders and teams is situational. I am of the mindset that transparency and honesty are necessary to get to the root of how individuals can best balance stress and how leaders can help their teams.  

Find people you trust who you can open up to. Hopefully that is a leader, but if it isn’t then perhaps turn to someone who knows how to best communicate with your leader.

Bottom line, stress is unhealthy and can’t be ignored. You have to put yourself first even if it means making some tough decisions or making more drastic change.

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Kassie Rangel is the senior director of IT for HealthMarkets, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the United States.