Burnout

What Causes Burnout & How to Stop It from Happening to You

Burnout. By now, you’ve probably heard of it.


It’s that feeling when you wake up in the morning and it’s like you never slept. The world feels heavy. You’re exhausted, drained – emotionally and physically. You lack motivation to do… anything… And the weight of responsibilities in work and day to day life overwhelm you to the point of irritability, cynicism, and anger. You may even feel like you’re in a never ending loop of chasing yourself to catch up – a hamster in a wheel.


Burnout is your body’s way of telling you enough is enough. That you’re running on fumes. That the prolonged levels of stress you’ve been feeling are getting too much to handle.


It’s telling you that life is out of balance and the time has come to do something about it.


Yet, while burnout is not a new concept – it was first coined in the early 1970s by American Psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger – it’s certainly gained notoriety over the past few years.

Experts believe it’s become more of a feature recently due to the stress of the pandemic, which brought with it a wave of uncertainty that impacted all facets of life, and the devastating effect of the cost of living crisis.


In fact, according to the 2024 Burnout Report by Mental Health UK , “1 in 4 adults feel unable to manage stress and pressure levels in their lives,” while “91% of UK adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure or stress in the past year.”


While commonly associated with work, burnout “can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.”

‘Burnout’ is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. While it is not a medical condition, it has been classified as a syndrome, meaning a collection of symptoms or signs associated with a specific health-related cause. Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress, for example, working a stressful job.

Mental Health UK

If not handled, burnout can have devastating consequences on your mental and physical health along with having a negative impact on important relationships – whether romantic, platonic, working and, indeed, yourself.


That’s why recognising and addressing burnout is crucial for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.


In this article, we’ll explore in-depth the signs, contributing factors, coping strategies, and prevention methods for burnout, and give you some quick tips you can implement today to help stave off burnout before it becomes a monster.

Are You Actually Burned Out?

Stress is part of life – everyone deals with it from time to time – but not all stress equals burnout.


You see, people who experience stress commonly characterise it as being “too full of tension, pressure, or anxiety,” says Dr Matthew Whalley of Psychology Tools . Whereas “burnout feels like you’re extremely ‘empty’ of energy, motivation, or hope.”


Burnout out can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but some of the most common sings include exhaustion – both physical and mental – a sense of dread about work, anger, irritability, apathy, and an overwhelming lack of motivation to complete everyday tasks.


Detachment is another sign.


You might start feeling disconnected from your work, family, and personal life. This feeling of detachment can lead to a lack of enthusiasm, motivation, and satisfaction. Your usual interests and activities may no longer bring you joy, and you may find it challenging to engage meaningfully with others.


Finally, a reduction in performance is another telltale sign. While you may have once been highly productive and efficient, burnout can lead to a significant decline in your work output. You may struggle to concentrate, make decisions, or complete tasks to the best of your ability. This can further contribute to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction.


The thing is, it’s not uncommon for people to class themselves as “burned out” but are actually just overworked, overwhelmed, or overtired. So how do you know if it’s true burnout you’re experiencing, or just stress?


To work this out, Dr Matthew Whalley recommends you ask yourself the following questions:

Does your work leave you feeling exhausted?

Have you lost the energy and enthusiasm you had for your job?

Do you ever appear uncaring, disinterested, or insensitive at work?

Do you think that nothing you do at work makes a difference?

Are you neglecting yourself (e.g., not taking time to rest, eat, or exercise)?

If you find you’re answering yes to these questions, it could likely mean you have burnout.

Burnout or Stress?

Burnout

    • Dulled emotions
    • Withdrawn
    • Mentally & physically exhausted
    • Feelings of dread and lowness
    • Work seems meaningless

Stress

    • Emotions can be heightened
    • Can become more active
    • Agitation or increased anxiety
    • Full of pressure
    • Work is meaningful

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How to Prevent Burnout

Resilience is key.


Developing coping skills, maintaining a positive outlook, and cultivating a support system are crucial for building resilience against stressors that can end up leading to burnout.


By cultivating resilience, you may find you can bounce back from challenges, recover quickly from setbacks, and maintain a sense of balance in your life.


And herein lies the secret – balance.


Everyone babbles on about a positive work-life balance, but how many of us are still working way beyond our contracted hours in the week, eating into valuable personal time for you to do the things that help you unwind and give you a send of self outside of the stressors of work?

Preventing Burnout

One could argue that just because you work long doesn’t necessarily mean you work productively – but that’s a whole other article, I think…


It’s vital you regularly check in with yourself to help identify potential burnout triggers and evaluating your work-life balance.


Reflecting on your job satisfaction, personal fulfilment, and overall well-being is crucial to identifying areas that may contribute to burnout. These evaluations enable you to make necessary adjustments and prioritise your health and happiness.


Also, establishing healthy habits is essential for preventing burnout. Eating a healthy balanced diet, setting realistic goals, managing your time effectively, and taking regular breaks improve productivity and reduce stress levels. Incorporating relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or engaging in hobbies and activities you enjoy, is also important for rejuvenating your mind and body.


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Of course, if you find yourself consistently struggling with burnout, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Healthcare providers and therapists can offer guidance, support, and more specialised interventions to help you navigate burnout and its effects on your overall well-being.

I’m already in burnout – how do I cope with it?

If you find yourself actively in burnout, you may feel like all is lost – but I promise you, it isn’t.


I have personally struggled with burnout, and at times I really didn’t know how or where to start to try and handle it, but it can and will get better, even if you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel just now.


It’s not going to be easy, but coping with burnout requires a comprehensive approach that addresses multiple aspects of your life, things like:

  • Self-care

  • Prioritising sleep

  • Engaging in regular exercise

  • Maintaining a nutritious diet

  • Make time for activities that bring you joy – they might not feel very “joyful” at the beginning, but eventually you’ll find the good again 😊

  • Stress management techniques like mindfulness

  • Build a support network

  • Seek support from professionals

  • Talk to your employer
Self Care

And finally, setting boundaries is also crucial for preventing and addressing burnout.


Learning to say no, delegating tasks, and creating a healthy work-life balance are important steps towards reducing stress and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. Establishing clear boundaries allows you to effectively manage your time and energy, ultimately helping sustain your well-being.


Work to live a life full of all the things you love, don’t live to work.


And if you’re a parent or caretaker struggling with burnout in the home environment – ask for help. Easier said than done, I will concede to that, but you deserve time for you away from kids or dependents.

Burnout isn’t something which goes away on its own. Rather, it can worsen unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore the signs of burnout, it could cause further harm to your physical and mental health in the future. You could also lose the ability and energy to effectively meet the demands of your job which could have knock-on effects to other areas of your life.

Mental Health UK

Final thoughts...

By understanding the signs, contributing factors, and coping strategies for burnout, you can take the necessary steps to prioritise your well-being.


Whether it's practicing self-care, utilising stress management techniques, seeking support, or setting boundaries, each approach plays a vital role in preventing and addressing burnout.


And remember, acknowledging and prioritising your mental, emotional, and physical health is not a luxury but an essential foundation for a fulfilling and balanced life.

Ashleigh Tosh

The Author - Ashleigh Tosh

Writer by day, reader by night, self-professed foodie at all times... Ashleigh is former broadcast journalist, she's been writing for the health & wellness industry for over 10 years and is passionate about all things food & fitness. When she's not clickety-clacking on the keyboard, you can find her in the gym, in the kitchen or up a Munro.

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