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Burnout syndrome: symptoms, signs, causes, and treatment

Reading time: 19 mins
Burnout syndrome

Burnout syndrome is a psychological state where individuals experience prolonged emotional exhaustion due to uncontrollable work-related stress. This leads to feelings of energy depletion, weariness, negativity towards work, and reduced effectiveness. This state significantly reduces productivity, diminishes engagement, and has adverse effects on overall well-being.     

Symptoms of burnout include both physical and mental symptoms. The physical symptoms encompass chronic headaches, digestive issues, chronic exhaustion (fatigue), frequent illness, unhealthy appetite, disturbed sleep, and sexual dysfunctions. The mental symptoms include trouble concentrating, loss of interest, a sense of worthlessness, decreased satisfaction, feelings of helplessness, emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.

Signs of burnout are low performance in everyday tasks, isolation or withdrawal, angry outbursts, procrastination, unhealthy coping methods, cynicism, and detachment.

Causes of burnout syndrome are lack of control, insomnia, lack of support, dysfunctional work environment, chronic workplace stress, inability to focus, unclear job expectations, working too much, and high workload.
Treatment of burnout necessitates a comprehensive approach that comprises stress management techniques and programs, psychotherapy, mindfulness-based interventions, lifestyle changes, setting boundaries, social support, employee assistance programs (EAPs), and professional support.

What is burnout syndrome?

Burnout syndrome is the syndrome when prolonged workplace stress is not managed properly. It manifests through three key dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, an increased mental distance from one’s job, which include feelings of negativity or cynicism, and a reduced sense of professional efficacy. 

In the 1970s, American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” as published in the chapter “Depression: What is burnout?” last updated in 2020, in a book by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). He used it to describe the effects of severe stress and high ideals in professions focused on helping others. For instance, doctors and nurses frequently experience feeling exhausted, apathetic, and overwhelmed.

Burnout occurs when individuals feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and are unable to meet constant demands. It is not simply a result of working long hours or facing challenging situations but is often a combination of factors including workload, lack of control, and a mismatch between personal values and job demands. Burnout has serious consequences on physical health, mental health, job performance, and overall well-being, if not addressed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it as an occupational phenomenon and does not classify it as a medical condition. Burnout often begins subtly, progressing gradually without immediate recognition by those affected. Individuals do not realize the negative changes in their mental and physical health. The lack of official recognition of burnout as a medical condition complicates epidemiological data collection and the development of preventive strategies.

Is burnout syndrome a medical condition?

No, burnout syndrome is not a medical condition. In 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) published an article titled “Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon” : International Classification of Diseases” and included burnout in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. This means that it arises from work-related stress and factors, rather than being considered a medical illness. Burnout is specifically associated with phenomena within the occupational context.

How common is burnout syndrome?

Burnout syndrome is common, 79% of employees experienced work-related stress, as evidenced in the article “Burnout and stress are everywhere” by Ashley Abramson, published by the American Psychological Association in 2022. Almost three out of every five employees have reported experiencing negative effects from stress related to their work, with 26% experiencing a lack of interest, motivation, or energy, and 19% showing a lack of effort at work. Additionally, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and 44% reported physical fatigue—an increase of 38% since 2019.

In the article “Prevalence of symptoms of burnout syndrome in primary health care professionals” by Maria Luiza Fucuta-de-Moraes and Jéssica Cristina Ruths, published in the journal Revista brasileira de medicina do trabalho in 2023, a high risk for burnout syndrome in 10.6% of healthcare professionals was noted. On assessing individual dimensions, it was found that 29.8% experienced high levels of emotional exhaustion, 52.1% had reduced professional accomplishment, and 22.3% showed signs of depersonalization. Moreover, those working 40 to 60 hours per week had a 31.40% higher prevalence of emotional exhaustion compared to 27.50% among those working fewer than 40 hours.
Especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout has become increasingly prevalent. A 2022 research study titled“Prevalence of Burnout Syndrome Among Work-From-Home IT Professionals During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Kumaresan, A. et al., published in the journal WORK, highlights that 95% of IT professionals experienced burnout, with women being more affected than men.

Who is affected by burnout syndrome?

Individuals affected by burnout syndrome are the ones who have been experiencing prolonged exposure to stressful work environments. A study titled “A new definition of burnout syndrome based on Farber’s proposal” published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology by Montero-Marín, J. et al. in 2009 highlights the relationship between work overload and psychological distress, emotional fatigue, and depersonalization. The study’s results indicate that challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities significantly contribute to stress, aligning with the overload. Additionally, a lack of control over decision-making, particularly in situations with low authority, has been associated with emotional exhaustion and burnout. 

Certain professions are more susceptible to burnout due to their high-stress levels, emotional demands, and heavy workloads. Burnout has been extensively studied and diagnosed in various occupations, including medical staff, teachers, social workers, and those in the financial sector. The article “Burnout Research: Emergence and Scientific Investigation of a Contested Diagnosis” authored by Linda V. Heinemann and Torsten Heinemann in 2017, and published by the journal SAGE Open, reports high prevalence, approximately 30% in teachers, 31% in medical students, and between 44% and 68.6% in medical oncologists. These findings indicate burnout is a significant issue in society.

Healthcare professionals, like nurses and doctors, experience burnout due to long hours, high-pressure situations, and the emotional toll of caring for others. In a 2020 article by Stefan De Hert titled “Burnout in Healthcare Workers: Prevalence, Impact and Preventative Strategies” published in the journal Local and Regional Anesthesia, it was noted that healthcare workers, particularly perioperative clinicians, are particularly vulnerable to burnout. Physicians in specialties such as family medicine, general internal medicine, and emergency medicine are at the greatest risk.

What are the physical symptoms of burnout syndrome?

The physical symptoms of burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Chronic headaches: Chronic headaches are prevalent in burnout, which starts from muscular tension in the neck and shoulder. These pains impair concentration, productivity, and overall well-being, exacerbating the strain caused by exhaustion and stress.
  • Digestive issues: Burnout results in multiple digestive issues like abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea. It even leads to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The study conducted by Mohammed Attieh Alzahrani in 2023, titled “Assessing the relationship between burnout syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome among medical health providers and medical students in Saudi Arabia” published in the Journal of Medicine and Life, indicates that healthcare providers, particularly physicians and nurses, exhibit high levels of burnout and severity of IBS. The research highlights a significant association between burnout syndrome and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, with approximately 61.4% of healthcare providers reporting complaints of IBS.
  • Chronic exhaustion (fatigue): Chronic exhaustion, a hallmark of burnout, is characterized by persistent tiredness despite adequate sleep and rest. The body’s stress response depletes energy reserves, leading to this constant drained feeling.
  • Frequent illness: Frequent illness weakens the immune system, and increases the vulnerability to colds, flu, and infections. The body’s ability to combat viruses and bacteria is compromised, perpetuating a cycle of sickness, and worsening burnout symptoms. In a 2021 study published in the journal Medical Science Monitor, authored by Jing Cui et al., titled “Cross-Sectional Study of the Effects of Job Burnout on Immune Function in 105 Female Oncology Nurses at a Tertiary Oncology Hospital” the results indicated increased levels of C4 protein of immune system in nurses in the oncology department who reported severe depersonalization. Additionally, levels of CD4- and CD8-positive cells increased in nurses with low levels of personal accomplishment. These findings suggest that depersonalization and personal accomplishment are not only psychological issues but also occupational health problems that affect immune function.
  • Unhealthy appetite: Stress hormones influence appetite, leading to either increased or decreased eating habits, contributing to unhealthy dietary patterns.
  • Disturbed sleep: Disturbed sleep is characterized by difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep. Burnout disrupts the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle leading to insomnia, frequent awakenings during the night, or waking up feeling unrefreshed despite spending sufficient time in bed. 
  • Sexual dysfunctions: Burnout is associated with decreased libido, difficulties with arousal or orgasm, and experiencing pain during sexual activity. Efstathios Papaefstathiou et al.’s2020 study, “The impact of burnout and occupational stress on sexual function in both male and female individuals: a cross-sectional study” published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, found a correlation between personal burnout and sexual dysfunction in men, while job stress was associated with female sexual problems.

What are the mental symptoms of burnout syndrome?

The mental symptoms of burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Trouble concentrating: Trouble concentrating refers to having trouble staying focused on tasks, organizing thoughts, or remembering information. It leads to distractions, disorganization, and forgetfulness, affecting productivity and causing frustration. This impacts both work and personal life.
  • Loss of interest: Loss of interest in burnout syndrome refers to a significant decline in enthusiasm or enjoyment for activities that were once pleasurable or fulfilling. Individuals experiencing this symptom no longer find satisfaction in their work, hobbies, or social interactions. It often leads to disengagement and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities.
  • Sense of worthlessness: A sense of worthlessness refers to feelings of low self-esteem, inadequacy, or self-doubt. Individuals perceive themselves as incompetent or incapable of meeting expectations, leading to a diminished sense of self-worth. This contributes to a negative outlook on oneself and one’s abilities, further exacerbating burnout symptoms.
  • Decreased satisfaction: Decreased satisfaction is a notable decline in enjoyment, fulfillment, or contentment in various aspects of life. Individuals experiencing this symptom find less pleasure in their work, hobbies, relationships, or daily activities. It contributes to feelings of dissatisfaction and disengagement, worsening overall burnout symptoms.
  • Feelings of helplessness: Feeling of helplessness is the pervasive sense of being unable to cope with or control one’s circumstances. Individuals experiencing this symptom feel overwhelmed by work demands or life stressors, with a belief that they lack the resources or ability to improve their situation. It contributes to feelings of despair and frustration, exacerbating burnout symptoms.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Emotional exhaustion refers to a state of profound depletion of emotional energy. Individuals experiencing this symptom feel drained, overwhelmed, and depleted of emotional reserves. It often results from prolonged exposure to work-related stressors, leading to fatigue, irritability, and a diminished ability to cope with daily challenges.
  • Anxiety and depression: Anxiety and depression refer to experiencing symptoms of both conditions concurrently. Anxiety symptoms include worry, nervousness, or restlessness, while depression symptoms involve sadness, hopelessness, or loss of interest in activities. These mental health challenges often coexist with burnout, exacerbating the overall distress and impairment in functioning.

What are the signs of burnout syndrome?

Burnout syndrome presents a mix of physical, emotional, and mental signs, greatly affecting overall health and job effectiveness.

The signs of burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Low performance in everyday tasks: Low performance is a decrease in work productivity and efficiency. It stems from difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and completing tasks effectively. Individuals experiencing burnout struggle to maintain their usual level of performance due to cognitive challenges and emotional exhaustion.
  • Isolation or withdrawal: Isolation or withdrawal involves distancing oneself from colleagues, friends, or social activities, often as a result of feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained. This behavior exacerbates feelings of loneliness and contributes to the overall sense of burnout.
  • Angry outbursts: When individuals feel overwhelmed, stressed, or emotionally exhausted due to burnout, they have difficulty managing their emotions, leading to sudden bursts of anger or frustration. These outbursts occur in response to relatively minor triggers and are out of proportion to the situation.
  • Procrastination: When individuals experience burnout, they feel overwhelmed by their workload or lack the motivation to complete tasks. This leads to delaying or avoiding tasks altogether, resulting in procrastination. 
  • Unhealthy coping methods: Unhealthy coping methods are ways individuals attempt to manage overwhelming stress or emotional exhaustion, but they ultimately harm their well-being. Examples include excessive alcohol or substance use, overeating or undereating, procrastination, avoidance of responsibilities, and withdrawal from social interactions. These coping strategies provide temporary relief but exacerbate burnout symptoms in the long run.
  • Cynicism and detachment: It refers to adopting a negative and skeptical outlook towards work-related tasks, colleagues, or the organization as a whole. Individuals experiencing this symptom exhibit feelings of disillusionment, distrust, or indifference toward their work environment. They become cynical about the value or purpose of their work, leading to a sense of detachment and emotional disengagement. This manifests as a lack of enthusiasm, motivation, or commitment to their job responsibilities. Overall, cynicism and detachment contribute to the erosion of job satisfaction and further exacerbate burnout symptoms.

What are the causes of burnout syndrome?

The causes of burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Lack of control: Lack of control refers to the feeling of being powerless or having limited autonomy in decision-making within the work environment. When individuals perceive that they have little influence over their work tasks, schedules, or the direction of their projects, it leads to increased frustration and stress. This sense of helplessness contributes to burnout as individuals feel unable to effectively manage their workload or make decisions that align with their preferences or abilities. Without a sense of control over their work, individuals experience heightened feelings of stress, exhaustion, and disengagement, ultimately leading to burnout.
  • Insomnia: Persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to work-related stress or worry leads to chronic sleep disturbances. This lack of restorative sleep results in fatigue, irritability, and decreased ability to cope with job demands, ultimately contributing to burnout.
  • Lack of support: Inadequate support from colleagues, supervisors, or management leaves individuals feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Without a strong support system in the workplace, individuals struggle to manage stress effectively, leading to increased feelings of burnout.
  • Dysfunctional work environment: Toxic work environments characterized by ineffective communication, poor leadership, or interpersonal conflicts significantly impact employees’ well-being. Constant exposure to negativity and hostility erodes morale, increases stress levels, and contributes to burnout among employees.
  • Chronic workplace stress: Prolonged exposure to high-stress levels in the workplace, whether due to excessive workload, tight deadlines, or interpersonal conflicts, leads to burnout. Chronic stress overwhelms an individual’s coping mechanisms, leading to physical and emotional exhaustion over time.
  • Inability to focus: Difficulty concentrating or staying focused on tasks hinders productivity and increases feelings of frustration and inadequacy. When individuals struggle to maintain attention and productivity despite their best efforts, it contributes to burnout and feelings of overwhelm.
  • Unclear job expectations: Ambiguity about job roles, responsibilities, or performance expectations leads to confusion and frustration among employees. When individuals are unsure about what is expected of them or how their performance will be evaluated, it increases stress levels and contributes to burnout.
  • Working too much: Excessive working hours or overcommitment to work-related tasks lead to physical and mental exhaustion. When individuals consistently prioritize work over other aspects of their lives, it results in neglect of personal well-being and increased susceptibility to burnout.
  • High workload: High workloads that exceed an individual’s capacity to cope lead to burnout. When individuals are consistently overwhelmed by the volume or complexity of tasks, it results in feelings of being unable to meet expectations, leading to stress and burnout.

What are the types of burnout?

The types of burnout are listed below.

  • Frenetic burnout: The frenetic type of burnout is characterized by overwhelming demands and intense workloads, causing employees to work tirelessly until they become exhausted. This type is typically seen in occupations with split shifts, temporary contracts, and other situations requiring high levels of involvement to secure employment. Workers with this type of burnout typically show a strong commitment to their jobs, driven by a desire for significant accomplishments. 

Their motivation comes from a deep sense of engagement, often accompanied by a coping mechanism focused on actively solving challenges. As a result, these individuals dedicate long hours to their work or take on multiple job roles simultaneously. This profile is associated with high levels of burnout and neglect of personal well-being and life outside of work.

  • Under-challenged burnout: The under-challenged type of burnout is typically found in professions characterized by repetitive and unstimulating tasks that fail to offer workers a sense of fulfillment. Employees describe their work as unrewarding and mundane, leading to feelings of indifference, boredom, and a desire for a career change. 

This type is associated with heightened levels of cynicism, as workers struggle to connect with their job responsibilities. Moreover, individuals adopt an escapist coping mechanism, resorting to distraction or cognitive avoidance to cope with their dissatisfaction.

  • Worn-out burnout: Worn-out burnout refers to long-standing or intensely experienced burnout. It is characterized by carelessness, lack of fulfillment, and neglect. Worn-out workers are acutely aware of the challenges they face, leading them to diminish their sense of purpose and disconnect from their work. They downplay the importance of tasks and minimize their goals, feeling unable to fully engage. Over time, they may choose to ignore, overlook, or neglect challenges at work, leading to feelings of inefficacy and incompetence. People experiencing worn-out burnout feel disillusioned, apathetic, or overwhelmed by work demands and perceive themselves as incapable of making a positive difference in their circumstances.

What are the stages of burnout?

The stages of burnout are listed below.

  • Honeymoon phase: In this initial stage, individuals are highly enthusiastic, energetic, and committed to their work. They take on additional responsibilities willingly and excel in their tasks. However, they ignore early signs of stress or fatigue, believing their passion and drive will sustain them indefinitely.
  • Onset of stress: As work demands increase or personal life stressors emerge, individuals begin to experience heightened levels of stress. They notice signs such as increased irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Despite these signs, individuals often attribute them to external factors and push themselves to continue working at the same pace.
  • Chronic stress: In this stage, stress becomes persistent and overwhelming. Individuals feel emotionally drained, cynical, and detached from their work. Physical symptoms like headaches, digestive issues, or sleep disturbances manifest. Despite these symptoms, individuals often feel unable to take a break or seek help due to the demands of their workload.
  • Burnout: At this critical stage, individuals experience a profound sense of physical and emotional exhaustion. They feel disillusioned with their work, leading to feelings of detachment and a reduced sense of accomplishment. Burnout significantly impacts performance, relationships, and overall well-being.
  • Habitual burnout: Habitual burnout is a chronic condition, if burnout is not addressed and it deeply affects an individual’s daily life. Physical health deteriorates, and mental health issues like depression or anxiety arise. Individuals in this stage struggle to find joy in activities they once enjoyed and feel trapped in their circumstances.

What are the risk factors for burnout syndrome?

The risk factors for burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Toxic work environment: Factors within the work environment such as high workload, lack of control, inadequate support, poor job satisfaction, and organizational culture contribute to burnout. These factors lead to chronic stress and feelings of overwhelm, ultimately increasing the risk of burnout.
  • Personal life challenges: Challenges in personal life, such as relationship issues, financial problems, or health concerns, exacerbate burnout. When individuals are dealing with significant stressors outside of work, it impacts their ability to cope with job-related stressors and contributes to burnout.
  • Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism, high levels of self-criticism, and a tendency to prioritize work over personal well-being, predispose individuals to burnout. These traits lead individuals to push themselves too hard, leading to exhaustion and eventual burnout.
  • Unrealistic personal views and beliefs: Individual beliefs and attitudes about work, success, and self-worth influence the experience of burnout. For example, individuals who have unrealistic expectations of themselves or who tie their self-worth solely to their job performance are more susceptible to burnout.
  • Genetic factors: Genetic factors explain the predisposition to burnout, with a heritability of 33%, which was consistent for both women and men, as evidenced in the article “Genetic susceptibility to burnout in a Swedish twin cohort” authored by Victoria Blom et al, published in European Journal of Epidemiology in 2012
  • Economic instability: Job insecurity, financial worries, and income inequality contribute to chronic stress and anxiety, impacting overall well-being and making individuals more susceptible to burnout.

What are the complications of burnout?

The complications of burnout are listed below.

  • Musculoskeletal problems: Headaches, muscle tension, chronic fatigue, back pain, and digestive issues like ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are common.
  • Weakened immune system: Increased susceptibility to infections due to the body’s reduced ability to fight off viruses and bacteria.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke due to chronic stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or poor sleep quality, further exacerbating fatigue and impacting other health aspects.
  • Anxiety and depression: Burnout often co-occurs with these conditions, creating a vicious cycle of negative emotions and reduced motivation.
  • Reduced sense of self-worth and confidence: Feeling depleted and ineffective leads to self-doubt and negative self-image, impacting both personal and professional life.   
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Neglecting hobbies, social interactions, and relationships due to exhaustion and lack of motivation.
  • Increased substance abuse: Turning to alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy eating habits as coping mechanisms, leading to addiction and further health problems.
  • Work performance decline: Absenteeism, decreased productivity, and poor decision-making due to cognitive impairment and emotional challenges.
  • Damaged relationships: Conflict with colleagues, strained family dynamics, and difficulty maintaining healthy connections due to emotional withdrawal and irritability.

Does burnout lead to substance abuse?

Yes, burnout leads to substance abuse as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress, emotional exhaustion, and other symptoms associated with burnout. The use of substances such as alcohol, drugs, or even prescription medications provides temporary relief by numbing emotions and helping individuals escape from the overwhelming feelings of burnout. This coping mechanism is not sustainable and exacerbates burnout symptoms in the long run. Drug abuse further complicates the already challenging effects of burnout, leading to a vicious cycle of increased stress, deteriorating mental health, and physical health issues.

How is burnout syndrome diagnosed?

the girl is tired at work

Burnout syndrome is diagnosed through clinical assessment and measurement instruments. Clinical assessment signs include both physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of dread about work, and frequent feelings of cynicism, anger, or irritability. Additionally, feeling ineffective in performing one’s job indicates burnout.

The various measurement instruments include models like maslach burnout inventory (MBI), maslach burnout inventory- general survey (MBI-GS), and oldenburg burnout inventory (OLBI). 

The MBI assesses three dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. The MBI-GS is a questionnaire with 16 self-report items that evaluate exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy, in line with maslach’s framework. The exhaustion scale measures feelings of being overextended and depleted, the cynicism scale assesses detachment from work, and the reduced professional efficacy scale focuses on perceptions of effectiveness and productivity at work as discussed in the research article “Should Burnout Be Conceptualized as a Mental Disorder?” by Lindsey Nadon et al, published in 2022 in the journal Behavioral Sciences.

In their 2001 article “The job demands-resources model of burnout” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, E. Demerouti et al. employed the OLBI instrument to assess burnout. The OLBI consists of two dimensions: exhaustion and disengagement from work.
Despite the availability of diagnostic instruments, clinicians encounter challenges in distinguishing clinical burnout from stress disorders. Arno van Dam’s article “A clinical perspective on burnout: diagnosis, classification, and treatment of clinical burnout” published in 2021 in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, highlights that clinicians cannot rely solely on questionnaires to differentiate mild stress disorders from clinical burnout. The article emphasizes the importance of work- and organizational psychologists in understanding the role of biological processes in clinical burnout.

What are the available treatments for burnout syndrome?

Treatment for burnout syndrome typically involves a combination of strategies aimed at addressing the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of the condition. 

The available treatments for burnout syndrome are listed below.

  • Stress management techniques and programs: Stress management programs offer specialized training to help individuals cope with stress associated with burnout syndrome. These programs typically include relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation to reduce stress levels. They also teach time management skills to prioritize tasks and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. Communication skills training is also provided to improve how individuals express their needs and manage conflicts, which reduce stress in relationships. Learning and practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or mindfulness significantly reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.   
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, particularly approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance & commitment therapy (ACT), effectively treat burnout by addressing the underlying psychological factors contributing to the condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective approach for treating burnout, helping individuals to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to stress and exhaustion. By understanding how thoughts and feelings influence behavior, CBT teaches practical skills to manage stress and promotes healthier coping mechanisms. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), focuses on increasing psychological flexibility by encouraging individuals to accept difficult emotions and thoughts rather than trying to control or eliminate them. ACT helps individuals clarify their values and take committed action toward living a meaningful life, even in the presence of burnout. 
  • Mindfulness-based interventions: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) using mindfulness practices like meditation, and body awareness to increase awareness of the present moment. By cultivating mindfulness, individuals develop greater emotional awareness, reduce reactivity to stressors, and enhance their coping skills.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, help improve overall well-being and resilience to stress.
  • Setting boundaries: Learning to set boundaries and prioritize self-care helps prevent burnout from recurring. This includes learning to say no to additional responsibilities and making time for activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Social support: Building a strong support network of friends, family, or support groups provides emotional support and encouragement during difficult times.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Many workplaces offer confidential counseling and support services to employees struggling with stress, burnout, and other personal challenges.
  • Professional support: Seeking support from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to provide additional guidance and support in managing burnout.

What should you do if you are burnt out?

If you are burnt out, recognizing it is the first vital step toward recovery. Don’t ignore your feelings; instead, acknowledge and address them with care. Practice self-compassion by understanding that burnout isn’t a personal failure but a sign of the need for support. Seek validation by confiding in trusted individuals, whether friends, family or a therapist, to share the burden. Prioritize relaxation to combat burnout. Take breaks to disconnect from work, prioritize sleep, and engage in relaxing activities like yoga or meditation. Setting boundaries and managing your workload are essential for preventing burnout from recurring. Learn to say no, establish clear work hours, and communicate with your manager for a healthy work-life balance.

Seeking professional help, such as therapy or utilizing workplace resources, provides valuable support and coping mechanisms for managing burnout. Recovery takes time and effort, so one has to be patient with themselves and celebrate progress along the way. Focusing on long-term solutions by addressing the root causes of burnout and overcoming hesitation to make changes, whether in the job or career path, is necessary for overall well-being. Taking proactive steps to address burnout and prioritize self-care, helps regain a sense of balance, fulfillment, and well-being in both your personal and professional life.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

How long it takes to recover from burnout varies based on the individual’s circumstances and the severity of their condition. With appropriate treatment and support , individuals experience a relatively quick recovery, spanning a few weeks to a few months. They benefit from interventions such as counseling, stress management techniques, lifestyle changes, and workplace adjustments.

However, for others, the recovery process is more prolonged, lasting several years. Factors like the extent of burnout, underlying causes, personal resilience, and the effectiveness of treatment influence the duration of recovery. Individuals with severe burnout or those who have experienced prolonged neglect of their symptoms require more intensive and long-term interventions to fully recover.

Overall, recovery from burnout is a gradual process that requires patience, self-care, and commitment to implementing healthy coping mechanisms and lifestyle changes. It is important for individuals experiencing burnout to seek professional help and support to navigate their recovery journey effectively.

How can burnout syndrome be prevented?

Burnout syndrome is prevented by implementing various strategies at both the organizational and individual levels. Organizations prevent burnout by managing workloads effectively, ensuring they are reasonable and not overwhelming for employees. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is key, as it helps employees set boundaries and prioritize personal time for relaxation. Providing support through counseling services and promoting open communication help create a supportive environment where employees feel valued and heard. Recognizing and rewarding employee’s efforts boosts morale and motivation, contributing to a positive work culture. Additionally, offering opportunities for training and development helps employees grow and avoid stagnation, reducing the risk of burnout. Regularly monitoring workload and stress levels allows for early intervention to prevent burnout from escalating.

On an individual level, taking proactive steps helps prevent burnout. Setting boundaries and prioritizing personal time helps avoid over-commitment and maintain balance. Practicing stress management techniques such as meditation and exercise alleviates stress and promotes relaxation. Nourishing the body with healthy habits like nutritious meals and adequate sleep supports overall well-being. Seeking support from trusted individuals and disconnecting from technology periodically provide emotional rejuvenation. Prioritizing self-care activities that bring joy and relaxation fosters resilience against burnout. Additionally, reevaluating workload distribution and embracing progress over perfection are essential for long-term well-being.

What is the difference between burnout syndrome and depression?

The difference between burnout syndrome and depression is that burnout is often perceived as a syndrome resulting from prolonged exposure to chronically adverse working conditions. Depression affects different areas of a person’s life, including their mood, thoughts, behavior, and physical health.  

Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment, which are symptoms that align with depression. Burnout is often fixed by taking a break from stressful activities. Depressive disorders usually need professional help and do not go away easily.

However, distinguishing between burnout and depression has historically been challenging, as they share overlapping symptoms. The article “What is the difference between depression and burnout? An ongoing debate” by Irvin Sam Schonfeld et al., published in the journal Rivista di psichiatria in 2018, suggests that there is limited empirical and theoretical evidence supporting the distinctiveness of burnout from depression. Emotional exhaustion, which is a key aspect of burnout, is closely associated with feelings of depression and fatigue.

What is the difference between burnout syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome?

man at work

The difference between burnout syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) lies in their underlying causes and symptoms, despite symptom overlap. 

According to the article “Fatigue, burnout, and chronic fatigue syndrome among employees on sick leave: do attributions make the difference?” by M Huibers et al., published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal in 2003, burnout syndrome is primarily linked to prolonged work-related stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, reduced effectiveness, decreased motivation, and dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors at work. In contrast, CFS is a complex medical condition characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by an underlying medical condition and is not significantly alleviated by rest.

Symptomatically, burnout syndrome often manifests as emotional and physical exhaustion, along with feelings of cynicism and inefficacy in the workplace. Conversely, CFS is typified by persistent, unexplained fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive difficulties like impaired memory or concentration, and unrefreshing sleep. While burnout is usually associated with work-related stress, CFS is triggered by various factors such as viral infections, immune system irregularities, and hormonal imbalances.

Moreover, treatment approaches for burnout and CFS differ. Burnout is typically addressed through stress management techniques, lifestyle modifications, and counseling. In contrast, managing CFS focuses on symptom relief, including medications for pain and sleep issues, cognitive behavioral therapy, and graded exercise therapy.