Burnout occurs when one starts feeling exhausted leading to inefficiency in their daily lives. Although it is mostly a person's job that causes burnout, their overall lifestyle can also add to it. A stressful lifestyle can put people under extreme pressure, to the point that they feel empty, burned out, and unable to cope. The symptoms include lack of interest in work, constant exhaustion, and physical symptoms like muscle aches, stomach pains, and frequent illnesses. Reduced performance at work with emotional signs of stress like self-doubt, and fear are all signs that the person needs to seek professional help immediately. Check out this article for more information on burnout and how to treat it.

What is Burnout?

Coined by the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, the term burnout refers to the loss of incentive or motivation especially with respect to a particular relationship or cause. Such a cause or relationship could refer to one's work or employment.


Burnout occurs when one starts feeling exhausted leading to inefficiency in their daily lives. Although it is mostly a person's job that causes burnout, their overall lifestyle can also add to it. Individuals who are perfectionists or pessimists can particularly feel burnout.

Who Experiences Burnout

Burnout can be experienced by anyone who has faced high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time. Professionals whose job requires them to help people, like doctors, nurses and first responders, are most likely to experience work burnout. Parents or other individuals who have to care for children can also fall prey to burnout. Those with a Type A personality, who require everything to be under control and perfect also face a larger risk of burnout.

Burnout Symptoms

There are several signs of burnout that can communicate its onset to an individual. Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Lack of Interest in Work:

Professionals may start to distance themselves from their work and grow cynical about their colleagues and work environment. They may take a step back from their professional responsibilities and isolate themselves. Procrastination is also a big indicator of burnout.

  • Exhaustion:

Feelings of being drained and tired along with an inability to cope are common among those experiencing burnout. It is natural to experience a lack of energy and be unmotivated to finish work. Such exhaustion is both mental and physical.

  • Physical Symptoms:

Burnout is the result of chronic stress. It can cause physical symptoms such as stomach aches, muscle pain, headaches and intestinal issues. Burnout can also decrease immunity and cause frequent illnesses. There could also be a shift in appetite as well as sleeping habits. You can become more susceptible to flu, colds and insomnia along with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

  • Reduced Performance:

Those with burnout can find it difficult to carry out daily tasks at the workplace. They could feel as though their creativity is sapped and they are lacking in concentration. Procrastination, skipping work and tardiness are common signs of poor performance.

  • Escape Fantasies:

When people are stuck in demanding jobs that are causing burnout, they may harbour fantasies such as going on vacations or running away. In some cases, individuals may also look for an escape in alcohol, drugs and food.

  • Emotional Signs:

Some commonly seen emotional symptoms of burnout include having a sense of self-doubt, failure, loss of motivation, helplessness, feeling of being trapped and defeated and increasing cynicism. They could also feel detached, lonely, dissatisfied and unaccomplished.

Stages of Burnout

Twelve stages of burnout have been identified by psychologists Gail North and Herbert Freudenberger:

  1. Extreme ambition and drive when beginning a new job or task.

  2. Next, there is an ambition or excessive drive to work harder when one gets the job.

  3. People begin to neglect their personal needs like sleep, eating well and exercising.

  4. You may not acknowledge that you are pushing yourself, and blame the job, colleagues or your boss for your troubles.

  5. You may start becoming aloof and stay away from friends and family. Your social life also takes a hit.

  6. You start to get into denial and instead of taking responsibility, blame others and view them as lazy and incompetent.

  7. You experience withdrawal.

  8. Increasing aggression and instances of losing patience with friends and family occurs.

  9. You detach from your life and lose control over it.

  10. Feeling of anxiety and emptiness may crop up at this point. To cope with this, you may turn to substance abuse or overeating.

  11. The feeling of depression descends over you, along with hopelessness and meaninglessness.

  12. You may reach the stage where you lose your ability to cope and experience mental or physical collapse.

Causes of Work Burnout and Risk Factors

Not all jobs that involve high levels of stress lead to burnout. Here are some of the causes or risk factors of job burnout:

  • Time Pressures:

Professionals who do not have more time to finish their tasks are at a higher risk of burnout than those who have enough time to complete their tasks.

  • Lack of Support and Communication:

Employees who are supported by their managers are less likely to experience burnout. Employees who are treated unfairly by their supervisors are more likely to experience burnout.

  • Excessive workload:

When the workload becomes unmanageable, employees can feel hopeless and burnt out.

  • Lack of Control:

Employees who do not have any control over their jobs such as their schedule, resources, workload and assignments can experience job burnout.

  • Unclear Role:

The type and extent of your authority over subordinates, as well as what supervisors expect from you should be clearly determined, otherwise, it can lead to burnout.

  • Work-Life Imbalance:

Burnout can occur when you spend too much time working and have little time left for your social life.

Tips for Dealing With Burnout

Whether you are concerned about reaching the point of burnout or have already experienced it, these tips can help you deal with it:

  • Talk to Someone:

Turning to friends and confidants can be a good way to deal with burnout. Speaking to your partner, friends or family can give you an ear when you need to talk about your situation, or just distract yourself and spend time with loved ones. You can also make efforts to be more sociable with your coworkers, restrict contact with negative people and make new friends.

  • Reconsider Your Work Outlook:

Focusing on finding value in your work and stressing on the enjoyable parts of your job can help cope with job burnout. Consider finding balance in your life, making friends at work and taking time off when you need it.

  • Reevaluate Your Priorities:

Ensure that you do not exhaust yourself at work by learning to say no. Setting aside time for yourself like taking a break from technology, nourishing your creativity and getting ample sleep.

  • Healthy Diet and Exercise:

Do not compromise on your exercise because it helps alleviate stress and boosts your mood. Minimising your intake of refined carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine, unhealthy fats and chemical preservatives is a good idea. Consume more omega-3 fatty acids, avoid nicotine and drink alcohol in moderation.

Prevention and treatment

Some ways in which you can prevent occupational burnout include making changes to the work environment by contacting human resources and talking to a supervisor about your issues. Talking to them about creating a healthy workplace can bring about a positive change. Sometimes, switching jobs can help deal with work burnout.

Just like with managing stress, you can ensure that you eat a healthy diet, get enough exercise and sleep in order to avoid burnout. Taking required breaks and going on vacation can provide temporary relief from job burnout. Engaging the services of a mental health professional will also help you navigate your problems and address the burnout problem.

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout



Emotions are not as extreme but blunted.

Emotions become overactive

Motivation and ideals are lost.

Energy is lost.

Causes damage that is mostly emotional.

Causes damage to the body.

Feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.

Feeling of hyperactivity and urgency.

Can lead to depression and detachment.

Can lead to anxiety disorders.

Disengagement occurs.

Over-engagement takes place.


There are several signs and stages leading up to burnout. Continually dealing with anxiety, stress and depression can in turn lead to isolation from one's friends and family. Self-care as well as health insurance plays an important role in preventing burnout and dealing with its financial consequences, respectively. It can be controlled through a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and having a healthy social life.

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