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It can be challenging to define burnout. Not considered to be a medical condition, the definition of burnout, as stated by the APA Dictionary of Psychology, is “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”

What is burnout?

Typically, burnout is brought on by drawn out or chronic stress, resulting in mental, physical or emotional fatigue. You know that it is happening when you experience emotional exhaustion, feel overwhelmed and are not able to handle ongoing responsibilities. Consider all of those responsibilities that you have in your personal and professional life. Although issues at work are the primary cause, it can also affect other facets of life including parenting, caring for others, and intimate relationships.

Burnout is a type of fatigue brought on by a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. It can occur when you are emotionally depleted, overburdened, and unable to keep up with life’s daily demands. Burnout has a detrimental impact on all aspects of life, affecting your home, job, and social life. It can drain your energy, leaving you feeling like you have nothing left to give.

–>  List three ways burnout is impacting you and those around you.

burnoutIs it burnout or stress?

Stress is a normal reaction to regular or unusual stresses. It can occasionally last for a prolonged period and develop into a chronic condition. Burnout could result from this, although not necessarily. Being under constant stress doesn’t necessarily indicate that a person is being burned out.

People who lead stressful lives may experience enormous strain to the point of feeling drained, burned out, and not able to cope. Mental, physical and emotional difficulties might also be caused by stress at work. Possible contributing factors include feeling constantly overworked, continually dealing with deadlines, or having disputes with coworkers. A strong commitment to the job to the point of disregarding their own needs can also be to blame.

–>  What is the blame for your burnout?

Many people use the words “stress” and “burnout” interchangeably. Although they can be similar, there are some significant differences. For example, stress related to a specific incident is something we all experience occasionally in life.

In contrast, burnout is a reaction to prolonged, extreme stress and results in a person feeling emotionally and physically exhausted, disillusioned, disengaged, and less effective. Burnout can lead to mental health problems including severe depression if it is not treated.

Burnout is the result of unmanaged and accumulated stress over time. Consider burnout to be the bigger, meaner big brother of stress. Generally, burnout needs stress to be present, but stress can exist without being burned out.

–>  How is your definition of stress different than burnout?

How is burnout different from depression?

Depression has some of the same symptoms of burnout, including fatigue, being despondent, and poor performance. Depression frequently manifests as a low sense of self-worth, feeling hopeless, and having suicidal thoughts. These are not considered to be the normal signs of burnout. Depression does not always accompany burnout. However, burnout may make someone more susceptible to developing depression.

Are you at risk for burnout?

Let’s take a reality check. Some predictors of burnout are if you:

  • Feel as though you never have a good day
  • Share an opinion that what you are doing is not worth the effort
  • Suffer consistently by being too tired to do anything
  • Consider the tasks you have to complete at work are mind-numbingly boring or overwhelming
  • Think that nothing you do is worthwhile
  • Sense that no one appreciates all the work that you do
  • Are experiencing a loss of motivation

Burnout symptoms

It’s no secret that getting out of bed in the morning is not the easiest task of the day. Most of us experience days when we struggle to get out of bed. Although your pillow may be filled with down and your comforter is warm and cuddly, the effort could be due to being overwhelmed or unappreciated, whether at home or at work.


Burnout develops gradually. Like obesity, vision problems or back aches, it can take time to develop as it slowly sneaks up on you. At first, the symptoms and signs are minimal, but they get worse over time.

Consider the early signs as warnings indicating something is wrong and has to be remedied. You can avoid a serious breakdown if you pay attention and properly manage your stress. Ignoring the signs can lead to burn out.

Emotional symptoms

  • Feeling of failure and insecurity
  • Feeling defeated, stuck, and helpless
  • Feeling alone and detached from everything
  • No motivation
  • A more pessimistic and cynical view
  • Diminished sense of accomplishment and life satisfaction

Your emotional wellbeing can be impacted contributing to an increased likelihood for depression, anger, irritability and anxiety.

Physical symptoms

  • Most of the time feeling worn out and exhausted
  • Sick often, weakened immunity
  • Pain in muscles, recurring headaches
  • Change in eating habit
  • Change in sleeping habits that bring about fatigue


Physical wellness is impacted by burnout due to the excessive stress in your body. Your physical wellbeing can be impacted contributing to an increased likelihood for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, respiratory issues, and likelihood for death before age 45.

Cognitive symptoms

  • Difficulty paying attention when someone speaks
  • Difficulty concentrating on a task
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Impaired judgement

Your cognitive wellbeing can be impacted contributing to an increased likelihood for making mistakes at work and poor motor coordination.

Behavioral symptoms

  • Withdrawing from personal and professional obligations
  • Excluding significant others from your life
  • Putting things off or taking longer to do them
  • Using coping mechanisms like alcohol, drugs, or food
  • Taking frustration and anger out on others
  • Not going to work or working shorter hours

Your behavioral or social wellbeing can be impacted contributing to an increased likelihood for alcohol or substance abuse, isolation from friends and family, irresponsibility with finances, anger towards family members and inability to fulfill responsibilities. Professionally, you may experience a loss of job satisfaction, an inability to do your job well, or withdraw from colleagues.

Individual burnout prevention strategies and wellbeing

Reach out to other people

Even though you may not have much energy and problems seem too big to overcome, there are things you can do to take control of the stress and reduce the risk of burnout. Reaching out and talking to other people is a good place to start. Choose someone who won’t try to fix things but is willing to listen. Having a good listener helps alleviate stress and calm your nerves.

Try to not associate with people who are negative. Being around others who complain all the time and have a negative outlook will only drag you down more.

Join a support group to talk with others facing similar concerns. Sharing with others can become a meaningful experience.

Review your priorities

Here are simple ideas worth considering:

  • Review those things that are most important to you and how they make you happy.
  • Explain times where you can slow down to rest your body and mind.
  • Describe different ways to say “no” to stop overextending yourself, which gives you the opportunity to say “yes” to the things you choose to do.
  • Evaluate times during the day or evening when you can unplug from technology, such as a computer, phone, social media and email.
  • Plan a new creative project or restart an old hobby that you once enjoyed.
  • Choose techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, tai-chi, or meditation to relax your mind and body and turn off the stress response
  • Evaluate ways for a better sleep as feeling tired can cause an irrational response in stressful situations.


Usually, when you’re tired and stressed out, exercising can be one of the last things you want to do. However, it is a good coping tool for burnout or stress, and one of the best mood enhancers there is. Set a goal for doing some exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. If that is too much for you to do, then break that up into separate 10-minute sessions. Actually, walking is a terrific overall exercise, anything that gets your whole body moving will help improve focus, energy level, and a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.
walking for exercise

Healthy diet

The foods you eat have a big impact on how your feel – your mood and energy level. Processed or fast foods that are high in sugar and/or carbs will not sustain you throughout the day. A dependency in caffeine has the same effect, of eventually leads to a crash. Nicotine is a stimulant that can lead to even more anxiety, instead of alleviating it. Add foods to your diet that you know are healthy as they will help lower your stress levels, as well.

Take breaks

Schedule small breaks every hour or two throughout the day to walk away from what you are working on. This helps the mind to rest and the body to move, if you’ve been sitting.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is considered to being present mentally and emotionally. Deep breathing can help with this because you have to focus on your breath. It also has a very calming effect. Use a few minutes of each break to practice breathing. Weather permitting, spend a few minutes doing this in the outdoors.

Organizational burnout prevention strategies and wellbeing

For Individuals:

Make a point to interact more with your coworkers. Making friends with people at work can help protect you from burnout. Instead of getting on your phone during a break, talk to someone at work and be more sociable. It is a fact of life that peers may be going through similar stressors. Yet, they have found effective strategies to cope.

Peer to peer support is a great way to manage burnout. They can offer suggestions that you might find helpful. Moreover, consider scheduling activities outside of the workplace that you can do together.

peer ton peer supportFor Leaders:

Ten ways organizational leaders can improve the wellness culture in the workplace and mitigate the impact of burnout:

  1. Lead by example by talking about mental health and wellness and a good work-life balance.
  2. Share those things that you are grateful for and ask employees to do the same.
  3. Assess whether you are micromanaging your employees and not giving them enough control or autonomy over their workflow.
  4. Enforce the written job description by not asking an employee to do more than they are paid to do.
  5. Evaluate ways for employees to have more flexibility.
  6. Discuss ways to flourish and achieve personal growth by guiding employees and motivating them to make healthy decisions about their mental health.
  7. Provide training in mindfulness and resilience to help eliminate anxiety and stress.
  8. Establish a peer-to-peer support program.
  9. Focus on workplace spirituality where employees can make meaning, align their values to the organization, and feel appreciated which connects them to the outcome of their job.
  10. Demonstrate ways for employees to be self-compassionate when they make mistakes at work and connect with them by sharing that you, also make mistakes.

All things considered, to effect genuine change in terms of employee burnout, leaders must acknowledge the pressing need for wellness as a preventative measure for burnout. It’s no secret that many workplaces are being transformed since the pandemic into a “safe haven” from the chaotic, hostile, and angry outside world.

The key point is that stress in the workplace cannot be eliminated. However, compassionate leaders control how they respond to it and know how to deal with the effects on employees before they have an impact on key performance indicators like revenue and profit.

Book Barbara as a Live or Virtual Speaker on Burnout

Barbara is available as an in-person or virtual speaker for corporations and companies. Her expertise is training on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of work burnout in employees, how to prevent it, and how to mitigate the damage. She covers the employer’s responsibilities and gives tools for organizations that are struggling with high turnover to improve employee mental health and well-being.