what is burnout

Understanding Burnout: The Silent Epidemic of Modern Life3 min read

by Dr Olivia Ong

What is burnout?

As a doctor and professional coach, I talk a lot about burnout with people.  

We all have an idea what the phrase means, but I thought it might be a good idea to take a step back, dig a little deeper, and have a more defining look at what burnout is.

The term “burnout” has become increasingly prevalent in conversations surrounding mental health and well-being. But what exactly is it, and why should we be concerned about it?

Defining Burnout

Burnout is not simply feeling tired or stressed; it’s a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that results from chronic, unrelenting stress.

It’s often characterized by a sense of hopelessness, detachment from work or life in general, and reduced performance.

Burnout typically occurs in response to prolonged periods of overwork, unrealistic expectations, or a lack of control over one’s workload.

Recognizing Burnout

Identifying burnout can be challenging because its symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Common signs include:

Chronic Fatigue:

Feeling tired all the time, even after a full night’s sleep, is a hallmark of burnout. This exhaustion is both physical and emotional.

Reduced Performance:

Burnout can lead to decreased productivity and an inability to concentrate or complete tasks efficiently.

Cynicism and Detachment:

People experiencing burnout often become cynical about their work, colleagues, or life in general. They may withdraw from social interactions and isolate themselves.

Physical Symptoms:

It’s not just the mind that can be affected; it can manifest physically as well, leading to headaches, stomach problems, and increased susceptibility to illness.

Loss of Passion:

A once-passionate individual may lose interest in their work or hobbies, feeling disillusioned and disengaged.

Causes of Burnout

There are seveal contributing factors, including:

Excessive Workload:

Overloading employees with work and expecting them to be constantly available. Or if you are your own boss falling into the same traps, giving yourself too much work and too little time to get everything done.

Lack of Control:

Feeling powerless or having no say in one’s work or schedule can be a major contributor.

Lack of Recognition:

Not receiving acknowledgment or appreciation for one’s efforts can erode motivation.

Inadequate Work-Life Balance:

A blurring of boundaries between work and personal life can make it difficult to recharge.

Unclear Expectations:

When expectations are vague or ever-changing, it’s challenging to meet them, leading to frustration and stress.

Preventing Burnout – strategies

Preventing burnout is essential for maintaining mental and physical well-being.

Strategies to prevent or mitigate include:

Setting Boundaries:

Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life to ensure time for relaxation and self-care.

Self-Care:

Prioritize self-care activities like exercise, meditation, and hobbies to recharge.

Seeking Support:

Talk to friends, family, or a therapist about your feelings and experiences to gain perspective and emotional support.

Effective Time Management:

Organize tasks and prioritize them to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Open Communication:

Discuss workload and expectations with supervisors to find mutually beneficial solutions.

What next?

Burnout is a serious condition that can have far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health. Recognizing the signs and taking steps to prevent or address burnout is crucial in our fast-paced, demanding world.

Remember that seeking help and making self-care a priority are signs of strength, not weakness, and can help you regain control and balance in your life.


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If you have any questions or feedback regarding this article and any of the issues it raises, or if you’d like to get in touch to find out more about fulfilling your true potential I would love to hear from you.

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