'No one wants burnout in the New Year.' An expert explains exactly how to set boundaries at work.

At the end of every year, many of us breathe a collective sigh of relief, thanking our lucky stars that the holiday break is almost upon us. It's often seen as a time of rest, relaxation and recharge.

But for lots of us, it can actually end up being the complete opposite. There's so much organising to do for those who celebrate the Christmas season, family get-togethers to attend, social obligations and more. Not to mention if you have kids, the challenges of keeping them occupied and entertained in school holidays. 

And of course, the mental load of all of these aspects often falls on women.

So by the end of the holidays, and when it's time to venture back to work, we can be left feeling not as recharged as we had hoped. And if anything, still burnout.

As Headspace App's expert psychologist Carly Dober said to Mamamia: "People assume that with burnout at the end of the year, you'll come right again in the New Year. That's why lots of people in January and February are still suffering with the burnout from the year before and also feel a bit powerless about entering a fresh year into the same circumstances that led them to feel exhausted."

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Video via Mamamia.

It's for this reason why it's recommended that we learn how to set boundaries at work. Boundaries that will make our work lives easier, our work/life balance more achievable and set us up for a good year ahead. 

But how the hell do we actually go about doing this?

Carly has been in the mental health space for 12 years and a psychologist for four years. She said to Mamamia that the way to merge back into everyday work life is to do so with pace. 

"For so many of us, work can start back quickly, and going full steam ahead can be quite frenetic. It's all about pacing – giving yourself downtime, still weaving in those social catch-ups with friends when you can, and not giving 100 per cent of yourself immediately. You don't want to burn the candle at both ends."

And that's where burnout can set in – a high level of mental fatigue that can leave you feeling completely unmotivated. 

"We're all at work generally for the majority of our lives. Our friends and family, they don't necessarily get the same amount of our time as our workplaces do. So maintaining some level of balance can help with burnout – and the way to do this is by setting boundaries," Carly explained. 

Some boundaries to set at work.

  • Arriving and going home on time. Aim to stick to your agreed-upon hours, rather than constantly doing unpaid overtime and not leaving the office/workplace until very late.
  • Take your breaks – you are entitled to them. 
  • Don't be afraid to use annual leave, sick days or mental health days. They are there for a reason, and looking after your overall well-being is important.
  • Turn off work notifications at night – that is a time for you, downtime, and perhaps family time if it applies. 
  • Know that you don't always have to say 'yes', especially if 'no' looks like the only sound option.

How to actually keep the boundaries in place.

"The key is to not sit and forget them. I would recommend maybe a fortnightly or monthly check-in with yourself or with a teammate," Carly said to Mamamia

"Whether it's writing down your boundaries in the notes app of your phone, or in your diary, and then reflecting on your progress, it's a great evaluation process. 'How am I going with this particular boundary? Was it easy to implement? Was it hard? What can I do to make it easier next time?'"


Ultimately, it can be challenging to try and establish a different habit to what you're used to. But in the end, it could make your life just that little bit easier.

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Need some quick and easy mindfulness tips you can do in the workplace? We have you covered!

Mindfulness is at the top of many people's priority lists. 

For Carly, she said it's been reassuring to see so many of her clients build successful habits for themselves – habits that are practising self-kindness and taking mental health seriously. 

"It can also set the tone for other people around you, including fellow colleagues. Sadly, not all workplaces are supportive in these areas, but many do value employee well-being. So starting a strong precedent sends a really good message."

Here are some habit tweaks you can deploy at work:

  • A brief walk around the block or a nearby green space. While on this walk, look around and consciously notice your surroundings – the smells, the sights, the sounds. It can take you out of work-mode for a minute and allow your mind to reset.
  • Embrace the readily available resources online. One such example is the Headspace App, which offers relaxing music, meditations, podcasts, sleep resources, mindfulness tips and more.
  • On your lunchtime break, watch something funny online, bring a book from home and have a read or anything that brings you joy. You could even organise a phone call or FaceTime with a friend during each other's breaks, allowing you to catch up and re-centre yourself.
  • If time isn't on your side, even going to the bathroom and taking 10 slow, deep breaths can be really helpful. 
  • Book and plan fun things for the weeks/months ahead. This gives you something to look forward to.

"I would encourage people not to ignore it when they're not feeling well mentally, because burnout can have a greater impact than we expect. So if we do the work on ourselves now, it will mean far less stress in the future."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.

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