3 Signs of Burnout and What to do about it

by 1 Mar,20182 comments

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including YOU.

Anne Lamott - Activist, speaker, teacher

3 Signs of Burnout and What to do about it

As we live in a fast-paced society with no signs that this would slow down any time soon,  we’re left feeling like if we ‘don’t keep up’ with it, then we will somehow lose. After all, someone else who’s prepared to ‘do what it takes’ will get that promotion. So, juggling work, family, relationship and social activities, starts to feel much harder than it should be.

The Stats

In the UK, over half a million workers suffer from work-related stress, depression, and anxiety with a 12.5 million working days lost as a result. Workers cited the following reasons for their increased stress on workload (44%), lack of support (14%), violence, threats or bullying (13%), changes at work (8%),  others (21%).  The most affected industries are Human health and social work, Public administrative and defence, and Education.

As we continue to battle to win that all important but elusive ‘work-life-balance’, psychological breakdown can creep up slowly over time, and in some extreme case of stress, ‘burnout’ becomes inevitable.

Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.


So, what is burnout?

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Disease (ICD-10) characterises burnout as “a state of vital exhaustion”. Although burnout manifests in our mental health, it is not considered to be a mental health disorder, but rather a form of chronic workplace stress. Nevertheless, burnout appear to share many characteristics with depression in that the symptoms are clinically similar in presentation.

The 3 horsemen of burnout and their characteristics.

Burnout is characterised by three components..

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment


Physical and emotional exhaustion

Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion will include chronic fatigue where you may feel more and more tired with a lack of energy. You might feel emotional drained with a sense of dread of going in to work most days. It may also result in difficulties sleeping which could gradually get worse; and since you’re not sleeping well, your ability to concentrate and pay attention to details becomes impaired. Gradually, you can imagine how you might start to be become more and more anxious, feeling increasingly low in moods and finding it harder to make yourself feel better.


Cynicism and detachment

Signs of cynicism and detachment will include a loss of enjoyment of activities, not wanting to go into work.  And when you are at work, you’re constantly ‘clock-watching’ eager to go home. Or anywhere else but work. You may get increasingly pessimistic about yourself, your abilities as well as that of your colleagues at work. You might find yourself moving from glass half-full to a glass half-empty outlook.  Your team meetings at work will start to feel much harder to engage in, finding yourself becoming the source of doom to every idea or suggestion made, as you increasingly become more disconnected from your colleagues.


Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment include thinking negatively and a general sense that nothing is going right and that nothing matters. You may find yourself blaming yourself for things outside of your control such as ‘it’s my fault the project failed’. You might also experience irritability as a result, where you don’t feel able to do things as effectively as you used to. No matter how hard you try to work, it feels like a waste of time and your work productivity suffers anyway. You might miss crucial work deadlines and your boss will certainly have noticed a change in your performance.

3 ways to recover and prevent burnout

It’s important that when you start to experience some of these symptoms, that you try to reduce them as soon as you can. These are my favourite ways.

  1. Increase your self-care dose.

It’s essential that you refill your physical and emotional energy, along with your ability to focus, by prioritising good sleep practises, eating nutritious food, exercising, social connection, and practices that promote self-control and well-being, like meditating, journaling, and enjoying nature.

If you already have self-care practices in place such as meditation, exercise, catching up on sleep, then the first thing to do here is to increase it frequency. Instead of yoga once a week, go twice. It also helpful to introduce a new self-care practice you’ve never tried. The reason being that your old ones may be as effective as before because your challenges are new. This is a bit like changing your medication because your body has increased its tolerance to the dose.

  1. Investigate the cause.

It’s important to find out the cause of your stressors especially the activities and relationships that trigger your unhealthy stress. It could as easy as getting a piece of paper and writing these down, and then reviewing how these trigger you physically, emotional, and behavioural. For example the thought of an approaching deadline means you get stomach aches (physical), feel anxious (emotional), and you call in sick (behaviour). Also note down how often these happen.

Once you established the cause, then it time to put some boundaries in place. This might include saying ‘no’ more often, negotiating or delegating tasks or asking for more support from your boss and colleagues. You might feel guilty about saying’ no’ at first but it’s important to be firm once you have put in these boundaries.

  1. Install a growth mindset.

When we prioritise learning over seeking approval from other people, we increase our potential to grow and find solutions to problems much more quickly. If cynicism is a major issue, you might hold the belief that your situation won’t change and there’s no point in doing anything about it. Or you can shift this perspective and figure how what you can learn about your situation, and what opportunities might be hiding in plain sight.

What parts of your organisation can you reengage with within your specific role? You might like to get involved with improving employee experience by joining a steering group or a project you are more passionate about?  You could also seek to connect and build some positive, supportive relationships at work with people from other departments to counteract the ones that drain you. It may be helpful to find a mentor who is able to inspire you or a life coach who can help you gain perspective on what’s important to you.


So while burnout and its characteristics can often feel overwhelming, it’s helpful to view these as vital signs neccesary to let you know that something is not quite right with you. It should be seen as an opportunity to change course to a much smoother path. By understanding the symptoms and causes and implementing these three strategies, you can recover from burnout and build a road map for prevention, thereby allowing you to feel happier and more in control of your life. Remember, you only live once.

We all need to be reminded to stay connected to the essence of who we are, to take care of ourselves along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder and to connect to that place from which everything is possible.

Arianna Huffington - Journalist, Entrepreneur, Boss.

At Aurora Wellness we are all about self-improvement & productivity. To discover ways in which you can maximise your full potential and learn skills to grow your business, contact us for information about our online productvity programmes for female entrepreneurs.

Click here to get a copy of the Aurora Reflection & Projection Guide 2019, to help you set winning goals!

Obehi Alofoje

Obehi Alofoje

Operations Director

After experiencing three separate bereavements in the family, I learnt how to overcome the lasting effects of my low moods and anxieties, and to get back into the world! I learnt that all the resilience I need to survive is already in me, and that it is my responsibility to make myself happy.

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  1. Angela

    Great approach – ‘view these as signs to let you know that something is not quite right. . . and as an opportunity to change course’


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