What is burnout and how to fix it

What is burnout

Many people are familiar with the term burnout but, what does it actually mean? Well, the term burnout was originally used to describe the side effects of heavy drug use but, when German psychologist Herbert Freudenberger borrowed the term in his book (The High Cost of High Achievement), the definition changed.
According to Herbert Freudenberger burnout is: “The extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
To put more simply, is the body’s response to putting too much effort into something without taking in what you require to restore yourself. It is mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that leads to diminished interest in performing tasks.
Burnout has many similarities with other mental illnesses such as depression and chronic stress and they can often overlap but, there are distinctive differences that set them apart.
In many countries, burnout is now recognized as a medical condition known as burnout syndrome and can be diagnosed from three symptoms:
  • Depletion of energy and exhaustion
  • Feeling mentally distant or cynical about work
  • Problems completing tasks successfully
This is the result of chronic work stress and can be very detrimental to your long-term health and wellness if not managed quickly and correctly.

Symptoms of a burnout

There are some other common symptoms associated with burnout, that can effect you physically, emotionally and psychologically. The three diagnosable characteristics of burnout syndrome can be broken down even further, below we have given you some examples.




Lack of motivation

Lack of enjoyment

Loss of productivity

Change in appetite

Loss of job satisfaction

Poor performance

Feelings of hopelessness

Disillusionment with work

Missing deadlines

Trouble concentrating

Constant negative attitude

Habitual complaining

Increased illness

Dread of work

Missing work goals

Signs of a burnout

It’s all well and good knowing what the symptoms of burnout are but, how can you notice the signs of burnout in a real life environment?
Here are some real world examples of the signs of burnout:
  • Cynicism at work. People who are suffering from burnout often feel unmotivated to work and can easily get frustrated with the stress of the workload, this can lead to a negative attitude towards their job, Peers and environment. People may also emotionally detach themselves from the work they enjoy and begin to be unenthusiastic about their life.
  • Burnout can often be mistaken as laziness, as people struggle to cope with work demand and feel as if they are tired and drained of energy. You may notice this when the person is reluctant to do work or avoids taking on extra amounts of work.
  • Physical symptoms. Although feelings of stress, depression and burnout are mental conditions, they often produce physical symptoms for example, people who are experiencing burnout feel unwell, have sickness and episodes of severe headaches.
  • Performance depletion. Many people who experience burnout also have problems with their performance, they can find it difficult to concentrate and get creative, which has an impact on how well they perform.

Causes of a burnout

To put simply, the cause of burnout usually stems from the result of 2 things:
  • Work demands. Having to much work or work that doesn’t fulfill your needs.
  • Limited resources. Not having enough time, supplies or support in comparison to the task at hand.
These two factors lead to an awful concoction of burnout!
No matter whether you are a stay at home mum, hustling entrepreneur or a 9-5 office worker, if you feel overworked and undervalued for a long period of time, you are likely to experience burnout.
Let’s face it, we all run the risk of facing burn out. Think about it, when your friends, family or colleagues ask you what you are up to or are you coming out you’ll say “I’m busy”. Being busy has become somewhat of a social currency and oddly being busy is often idolized by many individuals.
So, what are some of the notable causes of burnout?
  • When your workload doesn’t match your capabilities and you can’t effectively get your work done. You feel overwhelmed and overloaded by your work and there are no opportunities to rest and recover.
  • Feeling out of control of the decisions that have an impact on your life can take a toll on your mental well-being, this can come from not having a consistent schedule, being called out of work hours or not having enough predictability in your resources.
  • If the reward or fulfillment does not match the amount of effort and time you put in to them, then you’re likely to feel like the investment is not worth the payoff. This is often the case when people don’t have an interest in what their job entails. You can also feel this way when you are under paid or even underappreciated.
  • Burnout is contagious! Well, not literally but, more figuratively. Who do you surround yourself with? Are they supportive and helpful? If not, this could add to the chances of you becoming burnt out.
  • Are you treated fairly? If you put the same amount of time and effort into a task as much as someone else and they get praised for it but, your effort is unnoticed, this can be very disheartening and leave you unmotivated to work.
  • More specifically in burnout from your job, it is common that your personal values don’t match with the values of the company you work for, If you value something highly that your company does not, your motivation to work hard and persevere can significantly drop. Ideals and motivations tend to be deeply ingrained in individuals and organizations.
  • There are also personality types which make you more susceptible to experiencing burnout: Perfectionist, pessimist, type A personality and controller.

    Risks of burnout

    With any mental illness and especially burnout, there are short term and long term health risks that can play a huge role in your life. We will now go over some of the risks of burnout.
    • Illness: Many people become ill and can feel unwell, this could be in the form of headaches, sickness and overall bad health. These are some of the first symptoms that you usually notice when feeling burned out.
    • Sleep: Insomnia and other sleep problems are also associated with burnout. Trouble sleeping can have a huge impact on your health and wellness and that’s why we wrote so many blog posts on the topic.
    • Stepping stone: Unfortunately, people who suffer from burnout can easily fall down a downwards spiral to other mental illnesses such as depression and alcoholism as way to escape reality, however, this only adds to their problems.
    • Suicide: Suicide affects us all in some way, shape or form but, suicide is very common amongst people with high levels of stress and jobs that lead to burnout, more specifically the jobs associated with caring for others. Amongst health care Jobs, doctors often have the highest rates of suicide and this may be due to their responsibility’s of caring for others and the lack of adequate resources.
    • Death: Burnout can even lead to premature death through heart attacks and strokes. It’s so severe in places like Japan that they have their own name for it, karoshi meaning “overwork death”.

    How to fix burnout

    How to fix burnout

    The best way to fix something is to not let it happen in the first place, something that we like to call “prevention over intervention”. So, how can you prevent burnout from happening in the first place?
    • Work on your passion: By doing something you love as a job, you are less likely to feel unmotivated to work on your goals. A great way to find your passion is to use the ikigai method which you can learn more about here.
    • Take breaks: Have a break, have a KitKat! In all seriousness, it is vital to take breaks throughout the day, not just for your mental health but, for your productivity as well. Try using something like the Pomodoro technique to get you started.
    • Know your breaking point: Here at brain boosted, we’re all for pushing your limits and breaking out of your comfort zone but, when your mental health is added into the equation, especially with something like burnout, there should be no questions asked.
    • Work to your limits: Don’t overwork yourself trying to become more successful, you need to set limits and not break them. Keep your work at a steady pace and set a time for when you will stop working.
    But, what do you do if you think you’re already suffering from burnout?
    • Find something that you enjoy: Life’s all about gaining new experiences and finding out what you have to enjoy, who knows, one of the things that you try might become your full time job in the future.
    • Self care: After experiencing something like burnout, your mind, body and soul need the time to heal and recover, this could come from Journaling your thoughts or through practicing meditation, you can learn more about these and 8 other things you can do to take care of yourself here.
    • Teamwork makes the dream work: Surrounding yourself with supportive and friendly people is so important for your mental wellbeing. You could create your own team and if that’s not possible, make sure to build healthy connections with others, in and out of work.
    • Change of scenery: Sometimes all you need is to pack your bags and venture somewhere that you’ve never been before. You can even bring your work with you, by changing your environment, you can totally change your mindset and thought patterns.

    The content in this article is not meant as a substitute for professional medical advice and should only be used for informational purposes. If you are struggling with the topic discussed in this article, we advise that you seek the help from a professional.

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