Last Updated: February 16, 2024

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Understanding Burnout: A comprehensive guide on its causes, symptoms, prevention, management and recovery methods. Essential reading for a balanced life.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is excessive and prolonged mental, physical, and emotional stress. It can be the cause of feeling tired, overwhelmed, unmotivated, drained, and unable to keep up with life's constant demands. It can even trigger other mental health issues and physical health problems.

Burnout makes it difficult for us to feel productive, happy, and fulfilled, and it often impacts all areas of our lives.

Chronic burnout can also affect us physically and weaken our immune system, leaving us feeling run down and even more likely to catch common illnesses like colds or the flu.

Implementing practices that help combat burnout is essential to our self-care to manage existing signs of burnout and prevent future episodes.

Three Common Types of Burnout

Mental health professionals have suggested that there are three main forms of burnout, each leading to physical and mental symptoms. Identifying which one we may be experiencing can help us determine the best way to address and recover from it.

Overload Burnout

Overload burnout is when people continue to work to the point of mental or physical exhaustion. Those of us suffering from this type of burnout may sacrifice our health to achieve the success or goals we value and aim to achieve. Unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of our health, relationships, and hobbies external to our work.

Under-Challenged Burnout

Under-challenged burnout occurs when people don’t feel appreciated or useful. We may feel bored or like we lack opportunities for growth, combined with a lack of passion or enjoyment for the work we are currently doing.

Those of us who predominantly relate to this form of burnout often cope by disengaging and avoiding responsibilities, distancing ourselves from work or our usual supports, while increasingly feeling underwhelmed or apathetic.

Neglect Burnout

Neglect burnout stems from feeling helpless and incapable of dealing with responsibilities. Neglect burnout is similar to imposter syndrome, which makes people doubt their skills, talents, and accomplishments while fearing being exposed for their incapability. Coping mechanisms can include being disengaged while also feeling frozen or unmotivated to take action.

Causes of Burnout

Though burnout is primarily attributed to work-related stress, other factors can contribute to the likelihood of experiencing burnout. These include:

  • personal responsibilities (e.g., caring for elderly parents or managing household finances)

  • lifestyle choices (e.g., poor sleep habits)

  • personality traits (e.g., perfectionism or people-pleasing tendencies)

  • mindset (e.g., negative self-talk)

Job Burnout

The World Health Organization says burnout “...is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Various situations can cause chronic workplace stress or job burnout.

Some examples of job burnout include:

  • working in a chaotic and high-pressure environment, including being responsible for the well-being of others (e.g., therapists, medical doctors)

  • lack of clarity of job expectations

  • overly demanding positions

  • too many tasks and feelings of overwhelm

  • feelings of little or no control over work

  • no recognition or praise

  • doing work that’s repetitive and underwhelming

Job Search Burnout

When searching for a job, the constant grind of scrolling through listings, crafting applications we put so much of ourselves into, and facing rejection or silence from prospective employers can take its toll.

The repetitive nature of the process, coupled with the lack of tangible progress, can lead to a sense of powerlessness and frustration.

Unfortunately, job search burnout has become increasingly common in today's uncertain economy. The pressures of financial stability, the erosion of our sense of identity, and the absence of fulfillment in our day-to-day lives only serve to compound our stress and anxiety.

However, amidst these challenges, there is a glimmer of light, the recognition that we are not alone in our struggles. Countless others traverse the same uncertain terrain, all while navigating similar doubts and fears. In acknowledging our shared humanity, we can find solace and strength in one another’s stories.

Through connecting with others, we can cultivate a sense of belonging and support that sustains us on this journey. We can find the courage to continue walking toward the light one step at a time.

Personality and Job Burnout

Personality traits play a significant role in how individuals respond to stressful work conditions, with some being more susceptible to burnout than others. Understanding these traits can shed light on why workers differ in their experiences of burnout despite facing similar workplace stressors.

  • Neuroticism: Individuals with higher levels of neuroticism, characterized by experiencing negative emotions more intensely and having less emotional stability, may be more prone to burnout

  • Agreeableness: Being cooperative and empathetic can help smooth interactions with others at work. When people lack these qualities, they may experience more conflicts and stress

  • Conscientiousness: People who are organized, reliable, and disciplined tend to handle their workloads better. Their ability to manage tasks and challenges effectively reduces their risk of burnout

  • Extraversion: Sociable, assertive, and outgoing people often seek support from others and tackle problems head-on. This proactive approach helps them cope with workplace stress and reduces the likelihood of burnout

  • Openness to Experience: Openness to experience, reflecting curiosity, creativity, and flexibility, may mitigate burnout risk by fostering adaptability and resilience in the face of change and uncertainty

However, it is essential to note that research findings on the relationship between personality traits and burnout are not always consistent. While some studies support these associations, others yield conflicting results or suggest nuanced interactions between personality and environmental factors in predicting burnout outcomes.


Lifestyle choices can affect the ability to handle everyday stress and job stressors. Habits like overworking, not having or prioritizing close and supportive relationships, poor sleep habits, and not prioritizing self-care can all contribute to burnout.

Human Giver Syndrome

“Human givers must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs” ― Emily Nagoski Ph.D., Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.

In their insightful book 'Burnout,' Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski shed light on a phenomenon they term "Human Giver Syndrome," which notably impacts womxn due to the multitude of micro-stressors they encounter.
Human Giver Syndrome is rooted in societal expectations that womxn should dedicate all their time, energy, and resources to supporting and caring for others. These expectations manifest in various aspects of life, including childcare, tending to family members, and managing household responsibilities.

The societal notion that prioritizing one's own needs is selfish adds immense pressure, often resulting in many suffering silently from burnout. The cumulative toll of constantly giving without replenishing one's own resources can lead to exhaustion and feelings of isolation and guilt. Nurturing both physical and emotional health during our spare time is crucial for how womxn, and those in caregiving roles, find balance amidst external expectations, work, and personal life stressors.

Signs of Burnout

We must stop romanticizing overworking and burnout.

The symptoms of burnout can include both mental and physical symptoms. Chronic stress and strain can deeply impact our physical and mental health, seeping into our work, daily routines, health conditions, and overall well-being.

Recognizing the gradual onset of burnout is crucial, as it allows us to identify and address the symptoms before they escalate into more chronic ailments or illnesses. Here's a breakdown of some common indicators:


Persistent feelings of emotional and mental exhaustion serve as significant red flags for burnout. Many individuals find themselves caught in a cycle of perpetual fatigue, experiencing a profound sense of dread or low mood, regardless of how much rest they manage to obtain. These sensations can manifest physically, resulting in bodily discomfort and gastrointestinal issues.

Social Alienation

The onset of cynicism, social withdrawal from friends and family, and a sense of emotional numbness towards daily activities often signal burnout. Such detachment may foster frustration towards one's social circle, workplace, or familial relationships.

Poor Mental Health

Anxiety disorders and depression frequently accompany burnout, casting a shadow of self-doubt, helplessness, and isolation. A pervasive sense of inadequacy, coupled with diminished motivation and satisfaction with accomplishments, can all indicate burnout.

Reduced Performance

An inability to perform daily tasks makes it harder to be creative, concentrate, and deal with responsibilities. This becomes a cyclical problem, leading to more stress and burnout. If a person feels tired too often, this can be a sign of burnout.

Frequent Illnesses

Being run-down, losing appetite, lacking sleep, and exhaustion can have physical effects such as a weakened immune system. A side effect of this is the susceptibility to getting sick more often.

Burnout also puts the body under stress, which raises cortisol levels. Cortisol triggers the fight or flight response, which is good when there is an actual threat, but when constantly raised, it causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to worse, more dangerous diseases, metabolic conditions, and illnesses.


Burnout can also cause insomnia, where one might feel exhausted but unable to sleep. A lack of sleep harms health and mood, and the inability to sleep even when tired can be frustrating.

Measuring Burnout

Diagnosing burnout is not straightforward, as there is no single test for it. However, healthcare professionals rely on a combination of signs and symptoms to assess and identify burnout in individuals.

Typically, healthcare professionals use either a self-assessment questionnaire or a clinical interview to diagnose burnout. The self-assessment questionnaire is based on standardized questions assessing the presence and severity of burnout symptoms.

One widely recognized tool is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which consists of three subscales to evaluate;

  • emotional exhaustion

  • depersonalization

  • personal accomplishment

Other assessment scales include the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory and the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory. These measures assess the severity of burnout symptoms and provide valuable insights into the extent of the condition.

Apart from these standardized tools, a mental health professional also relies on a thorough medical examination, including a physical and psychological evaluation, to rule out other potential diagnoses or physiological causes of exhaustion.

Since burnout is typically related to work settings, clinicians also take into account the patient's occupational history, job demands, work environment, and job-related stressors.

Ways to Combat Burnout

Taking steps to prevent and manage burnout is essential for our well-being. While it may require conscious effort, and during a time when we already feel drained and spread thin, we can incorporate small practices into our lives that will make a big difference.

Set Boundaries

Giving ourselves permission to rest and being attuned to our own needs is a vital aspect of self-care. Allowing the stress cycle to run its course involves recognizing and honoring our emotions rather than pushing them aside or pretending they don't exist.

By acknowledging our feelings and giving ourselves space to process them, we can better navigate challenging situations and cultivate emotional resilience.

Connect with Others

Discovering healing through connection involves allowing ourselves to be authentically seen and understood by others. It's important to recognize that it's okay not to have everything together all the time. Engaging in honest conversations with loved ones or our peers can increase our sense of community while allowing others to show up for us in our authenticity.

Prioritize Sleep

The quality of our sleep profoundly influences both our mental and physical well-being. Insufficient sleep can significantly impact our mood, motivation, and memory. Conversely, when we are well-rested, we are better equipped to face challenges with resilience and maintain emotional regulation.

Engage in Relaxing Activities

Relaxing activities have benefits for well-being. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, being creative, and spending time in nature all have the positive benefits of relieving stress and allowing the body to release tension.

It is also important to do activities that bring joy. This allows the body to exist in a state of relaxation and feel more motivated when returning to daily responsibilities.

Practice Mindfulness

Meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing can help identify certain feelings and work through feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Breathing is a powerful tool that can help people to cope with burnout symptoms.

“Part of recovering from a loss is turning toward your grief with kindness and compassion, as well as completing the cycle of stress brought on by failure. But another part is recognizing failing’s unintended positive outcomes,” ― Dr. Emily Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.


A minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate to strenuous exercise has positive benefits on mental and physical health, which combats burnout symptoms and helps with sleep, focus, and motivation.

A Healthy Diet

Changes to diet can positively impact energy levels and mood. These include minimizing refined sugar consumption, increasing omega-3-rich foods such as fish, nuts, and seeds, and limiting alcohol intake.

Supplements focusing on stress relief include magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha, and Lion's mane.

Burnout is a complex issue that manifests in various ways, with dire and long-lasting consequences.

Though removing stress exposure is nearly impossible, it is important to be aware of the common causes, signs, symptoms, and strategies for preventing and managing burnout.

Seek Professional Support

If burnout manifests mentally, such as feeling unmotivated, anxious, overwhelmed, or experiencing brain fog or depression, seeking help from a mental health practitioner is highly recommended. If burnout manifests physically, such as illness or pain, reaching out to qualified healthcare professionals is essential.

Burnout is a complex issue with serious consequences. Still, by being mindful of its signs and symptoms and implementing strategies for prevention and management, we can work towards a healthier and more balanced life.


Burnout isn't a sign of weakness; it's a signal that it's time to pause, breathe, and reevaluate our priorities. Amid our hustle culture, it's easy to forget that our well-being matters more than our productivity.

By honoring our boundaries, leaning on our support networks, and embracing self-compassion, we reclaim our power and resilience.

Let's remember that we're not alone in our struggles and that reaching out for help is a brave and necessary act of self-love.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is burnout different from stress or depression?

Burnout, stress, and depression are all interconnected, yet they have distinct qualities. While stress often arises from external pressures or demands, burnout stems from prolonged exposure to stressors, resulting in emotional and physical exhaustion.

Depression, on the other hand, involves persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. Burnout can manifest as a result of chronic stress, but it's important to recognize the nuanced differences and seek support tailored to our individual experiences.

How do I know if I am experiencing burnout or just going through a rough patch?

Distinguishing between burnout and temporary challenges can be tricky. Burnout often involves feelings of disillusionment, cynicism, and a loss of motivation that persist over time, affecting various aspects of our lives.

If you find yourself consistently depleted, detached, and struggling to find joy in activities that once brought fulfillment, it may be a sign of burnout. Trusting your intuition and seeking support from loved ones can help you navigate these uncertainties with grace and compassion.

What can I do to prevent burnout and prioritize my well-being?

Prioritizing self-care is critical to preventing burnout and nurturing our well-being. Setting boundaries, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in activities that bring us joy and restoration are crucial steps in maintaining balance.

Cultivating supportive relationships and seeking professional guidance when needed can also provide invaluable support along the journey. Remember, it's not selfish to prioritize your well-being; it's an act of radical self-love that allows you to show up fully for yourself and others.


What is Burnout? - Maslach and Leiter, (2016)

I’m not Good Enough – How Patriarchy Blindness Contributes to Burnout in Women

Burnout an "Occupational Phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases

The Physiological and Health Effects of Burnout

Occupational Burnout - Wikipedia


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.