Burnout: Signs and Strategies


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a phenomenon that is commonly observed in the workplace, and it is closely associated with the psychological stress that comes with modern employment. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stress from personal, professional, and health-related factors have led to burnout reaching an all-time high across various professions, as noted by the American Psychological Association (APA).

While burnout is frequently observed among caretaking professionals such as healthcare workers and teachers, it has become a common symptom of overwork during challenging times. The outcome is feeling overwhelmed for an extended period of time, and if you are reading this article, it is probable that you have experienced it at some point.

Burnout goes beyond being a fleeting stressor – it is a cumulative effect of pressure, exertion, and hopelessness that can be difficult to recognize. How do you know if you’re on the road to burnout or have already reached it? We spoke with health experts to gain insight into how burnout creeps into our lives and how to deal with it.

What is Burnout?

what is burnout

It is a consequence of persistent stress, primarily arising from workplace-related stress, although it is not limited to it. Clinical psychologist and American Institute of Stress fellow Dr. Josh Briley explains that burnout is likely to occur when an employee feels overwhelmed, underappreciated, and powerless to bring about meaningful changes in their job responsibilities, demands, or workplace environment.

It is crucial to recognize that burnout has far-reaching effects beyond job performance. Although work may be affected, burnout can affect every aspect of one’s life and dramatically increase the likelihood of a range of severe medical conditions. According to Briley, individuals experiencing chronic burnout are at a greater risk of developing anxiety, insomnia, or depression. Furthermore, prolonged stress increases the possibility of physical illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

5 Common Signs of Burnout

If you’re worried that you may be experiencing burnout, there are several signs and symptoms that you can look out for. Here are some common indicators of this condition:

  1. Exhaustion: When feeling overwhelmed, you may experience physical exhaustion and fatigue, which can make it more difficult to address the root causes of your burnout. Basic tasks such as showering or cooking may feel burdensome, and you may find it hard to get through a long day of work.
  2. Lack of motivation and feelings of dread: Burnout is often associated with feelings of anxiety or dread related to your job, which can be particularly noticeable after a couple of days off. Even after a weekend or vacation, you may find that your motivation and enthusiasm levels are lower than usual. Procrastination can also be a key sign of burnout, as you may be more unwilling to address tasks at work.
  3. Difficulty sleeping: Poor sleep hygiene can contribute to burnout, while it itself can make falling or staying asleep more difficult, resulting in a cycle of restlessness and insomnia. Burnout can also lead to other physical symptoms, such as headaches, bodily tension, and stomach problems.
  4. Inconsistent appetite: Losing your appetite or binging on snacks may be signs of burnout, and your relationship with food can be a clear indicator that something isn’t right. During periods of burnout, your appetite may be affected, and you may crave comfort foods, find your appetite is significantly increased, or lose your appetite, especially in the morning before going to work.
  5. Cynicism and irritability: Burnout can cause your mood to plummet, leading to increased cynicism, decreased productivity, and focus. If you’re someone who’s typically in a good mood but finding yourself being more frustrated or irritated, it can be a sign that you’re approaching burnout. As a result, personal and professional relationships can suffer.

5 Ways to Address Burnout

address burnout

To address this issue, there are several ways you can change your lifestyle and habits. Here are five strategies that can help:

Reduce Screen Time

We live in a digital world, and it’s easy to spend hours scrolling through social media or answering work emails. However, this constant screen time can contribute to burnout. Becca Caddy, science reporter and author of Screen Time: How to make peace with your devices and find your techquilibrium, recommends limiting screen time by setting a schedule for checking emails or setting limits on social media apps. By doing this, you can avoid the pressure of always being connected and minimize the impact of screen time on your sleep.

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is essential for preventing and addressing burnout. Exercise, meditation, and a healthy diet are just a few examples of self-care activities you can engage in. Additionally, disconnecting from work during your time off and engaging in activities you enjoy can help reduce frustration and prevent burnout.

Take Breaks

When you’re experiencing burnout, it’s essential to take time off. Overloading yourself with tasks and responsibilities can contribute to this condition. Taking a break and seeking doctor-approved leave can provide the time and headspace you need to work through what’s happening. Spending time in nature or engaging in other relaxing activities can also reduce acute and chronic stress.

Seek Help from Mental Health Professionals

Addressing burnout can be challenging, and it’s essential to seek help when needed. Talk therapies provided through state-provided services or private therapists and clinics can be beneficial, especially if you’re on a lengthy waiting list to access the therapy you need. Behavioral health coaching or therapy can provide guidance on the road to the recovery.

Be Open to Change

An openness to change is crucial when addressing burnout. It can be challenging to envision a different life or relationship with work when you’re feeling burnt out. However, making structural changes, such as changing jobs, reducing hours, or negotiating a different set of responsibilities with your employer, can be beneficial. If the option is available, consider seeking employment elsewhere. Working in a place that constantly makes you feel burnt out can negatively affect your mental health in the long term.

Wrap Up

Burnout is a common issue in today’s fast-paced and demanding world. It’s essential to take care of yourself and seek help when needed to address the issue. By reducing screen time, practicing self-care, taking breaks, seeking help from mental health professionals, and being open to change, you can prevent and address burnout effectively.

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