Burnout Syndrome - What you need to know

Burnout is the feeling of exhaustion - mentally, physically and emotionally, usually caused by prolonged chronic stress.

Published: Thursday 16 May 2019



Burnout is the feeling of exhaustion - mentally, physically and emotionally, usually caused by prolonged chronic stress. We often associate stress with things we see and feel, such as a quick heartbeat, sweaty palms, or stomach aches. Burnout makes you feel emotionally drained, detached from life and your motivation and productivity reduces significantly, making you feel incapable of meeting your daily demands.

You begin to feel helpless and hopeless and constantly negative, which then spills over into your life affecting your job, relationships and your health. Eventually you will feel as if you having nothing more to give and everything starts to look bleak.

Signs and symptoms of burnout

Physical Emotional Behavioural
  • Headaches and/or muscle pains
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Weakened immunity
  • Feeling constantly exhausted
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling helpless and defeated
  • Detached from the world
  • Lack of accomplishment and sense of ineffectiveness
  • Isolating yourself
  • Procrastinating and not getting any work done
  • Withdrawal from responsibilities
  • Using food, alcohol or drugs to help cope

What causes burnout?

Burnout isn’t necessarily caused by work stress; this is one of the misconceptions about burnout. Although, it often stems from work it can also occur from a combination of work, lifestyle and personality traits.


Work Related Lifestyle Personality
  • Lack of, or no recognition in your work
  • Demanding job
  • Working in a highly stressful environment
  • Monotonous and unchallenging work
  • Lack of sleep
  • Detachment and isolating yourself from others
  • Loss of enjoyment in all areas of life
  • Increased irritability
  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Feeling apathetic and hopeless

One study has found that those who suffer from chronic stress, resulting from burnout can damage you personally and socially and impair your cognitive skills. Your memory and attention will start to worsen over time with the feeling of burnout. The front cortex of the brain, which is an essential part of cognitive function will begin to thin. Although this happens as you age, studies showed that thinning was more prominent in those experiencing burnout.

Time to act - how to recover from burnout syndrome

If you have recognised the signs and symptoms of burnout early on, you can take measures to prevent it. However, if you feel you have hit your breaking point and are a victim of burnout, here are a few key steps and lifestyle changes you can do to get you back on track and start to feeling positive again.

  • Reduce any stressors
    Try and identify any stressors in your life and make changes to help you cope. Some work stressors which could lead to burnout may include: scheduling conflicts, unrealistic deadlines, highly pressurised work environment or interpersonal conflicts. Learn ways to manage your stress by creating a stress diary documenting what causes you stress.
  • Disconnect yourself
    Disconnecting yourself from social media and giving yourself a digital detox from your phones will make you more present in the moment, combat the fear of missing out and reduce the feeling of loneliness, envy or jealousy and allows more time for self-reflection.
  • Re-evaluate your priorities
    Burnout is a sign that you are struggling to cope with the stress that you are facing. The exhaustion, cynicism and pessimistic feeling can take a huge toll on your body. By re-evaluating your priorities and thinking about your goals and things that are important to you will give you the opportunity to discover what you want. Different ways you can do this is by:
    • Unleashing your creativity side – learn a new skill or hobby that you enjoy.
    • Schedule down time – work related stress is one of the causes of burnout so it’s important to have a good work-life balance.
  • Exercise
    Exercising has been proven to boost your mood by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain. When you exercise regularly you will also experience an increase in energy and productivity and helps to alleviate stress. Try exercising for 30 minutes, 3 times a week for example walking or practicing yoga.
  • Get plenty of sleep
    One of the feelings of burnout is tiredness and exhaustion, which can lead you to make irrational decisions and impacts your mood negatively. Try sleeping and waking up at the same time, avoid using technology at least an hour before bed and cut back on caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before you intend to sleep.
  • Be your own measure of success
    The feeling of being defeated and a lack of accomplishment is a big frustration with burnout, because it constantly feels like you are not good enough. Compare yourself with yourself and don’t measure your success against others.

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