Solutions to Combat Cybersecurity Burnout

To observe Mental Health Awareness Month, CyberSN partnered with Devo and for a panel discussion about the mental health challenges facing cybersecurity professionals and solutions for overcoming stress, anxiety, and burnout. This insightful discussion featured CyberSN’s Founder and CEO Deidre Diamond, Devo’s CISO Kayla Williams, and’s Founder Peter Coroneos. We will highlight the key insights from the discussion, starting with the significant impact of burnout on cybersecurity professionals.

The Impact of Burnout on Cybersecurity Professionals

A recent survey, highlighted that “83% of cybersecurity professionals have experienced burnout, leading to errors that resulted in security breaches.” Peter's research further revealed that cybersecurity professionals are experiencing higher levels of burnout compared to frontline healthcare workers. "Our brains are wired to detect physical threats, but in cybersecurity, we're dealing with virtual threats 24/7. This constant state of alertness can significantly strain our mental health," Peter explained. 

Deidre added, "The high levels of burnout in our industry not only affect individual well-being but also compromise overall security effectiveness. It's crucial to address these issues to maintain a strong cybersecurity workforce." This emphasizes the importance of a strong talent retention strategy to retain skilled cybersecurity professionals amidst the ever-evolving threat landscape. 

Indicators of Quitting (IOQ) can be seen as early warning signs that a cybersecurity professional might be considering leaving their position.  Recognizing IOQs can help manage and retain talent, a critical factor in maintaining a resilient cyber security workforce. Cybersecurity professionals have shared in a ISACA 2023 Report, that they leave their jobs for various reasons, including burnout from constant high-pressure situations (43%).

The loss of professional efficacy is a significant predictor of resignation, underscoring the urgency to address these mental health challenges.

Factors Impacting Cybersecurity Burnout

Burnout in cybersecurity is intensified by various factors, including:

  • Unseen Successes: Unlike healthcare workers who can see tangible results, cybersecurity professionals often work without visible victories, making their efforts feel unrecognized.
  • High Visibility of Failure: Even a single failure in cybersecurity is highly visible and can have severe consequences, such as data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage. These failures often lead to increased scrutiny, stress, and pressure on the individuals involved.
  • Constant Threat Environment: The 24/7 nature of cyber threats means professionals are always on alert, leading to chronic stress and burnout which is challenging to turn off outside of work.

Immediate Solutions for Cybersecurity Burnout Relief

The leaders on the panel discussion emphasized the need for both immediate and long-term solutions to combat burnout. An immediate solution is to provide trauma support. During and after significant breaches, offering trauma support can prevent attrition and mitigate the impact of stress. Implementing debriefing sessions and counseling can help cybersecurity professionals process their experiences and reduce long-term psychological effects.

Long-Term Cultural Changes

Long-term cultural changes involve incorporating mental health support and resilience-building practices into the daily workflow. This includes:

  • Regular Check-Ins and Clearly Defined Cyber Roles: Ensuring that professionals have regular opportunities to discuss their roles, responsibilities, and any challenges they face helps in early identification and resolution of issues. Clear role definitions also prevent the overlap of duties and reduce stress.
  • Building a Culture of Empathy and Support: Encouraging open communication and understanding among team members fosters a supportive environment where individuals feel valued and understood. Leaders should model empathy and be approachable.
  • Implementing Structured Self-Care and Time Management Practices: Encouraging professionals to take regular breaks, manage their time effectively, and engage in self-care activities can significantly reduce burnout. Organizations can provide resources and training on effective time management and self-care techniques.

Introducing the iRest Protocol for Cyber Health

Peter shared the iRest protocol during the discussion, a scientifically backed method designed to reduce stress and enhance resilience. Originally developed for military personnel with PTSD, iRest helps slow brain wave activity, reduce cortisol levels, and increase serotonin, leading to improved sleep, better focus, and overall well-being. Deidre Diamond noted, "Incorporating practices like iRest can make a significant difference in how our teams cope with the relentless pressure of cybersecurity work. It's about finding ways to help our brains switch off from constant alertness."

Kayla Williams shared her personal experience with iRest, stating, "After implementing the iRest techniques, I noticed a remarkable improvement in my ability to handle stress and maintain focus. It's a practical tool that leaders can introduce to their teams to foster a healthier work environment."

The Role of Leaders in Supporting Cybersecurity Mental Health

Leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for mental health and well-being in their cybersecurity teams. By practicing empathy, showing vulnerability, and leading by example, leaders can create a supportive environment that encourages self-care and open communication about mental health challenges. Kayla Williams emphasized, "As leaders, we need to prioritize our own mental health to effectively support our teams. By openly discussing my struggles with stress and the steps I take to manage it, I aim to create a safe space for my team to do the same."

Moving Forward: Building Cybersecurity Resilience

The cybersecurity industry faces unique mental health challenges, but with the right strategies and support systems in place, cybersecurity leaders can build resilience and reduce burnout in their teams. As highlighted in the webinar, the focus is shifting from merely acknowledging the problem to actively seeking and implementing solutions.

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