Burnout: What Is It and How to Prevent It

Portrait Placeholder No Profile Image By Erin O'Neil

You hear the same message over and over again: do better, work harder, keep improving, never stop. Whether it’s burning the midnight oil at the office, maintaining a spotless home, making sure you get to every single one of your kids’ soccer games, or creating an image of the perfect life on social media, we are all constantly trying to succeed. The constant pressure to be the best, stay competitive in a crowded workforce, and attain any type of security (financial, emotional, etc.) is exhausting. And the daily stress that chasing these goals brings can take a tremendous toll on your health.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a result of chronic stress—of pushing yourself to keep going even when you are struggling with your current load of responsibilities. It can often manifest as physical exhaustion which can result in feelings of fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, and constantly falling ill. When it presents as emotional exhaustion it can lead to anxiety, depression, and anger problems. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to differentiate normal stress from burnout. Perhaps even more challenging, is accepting the need to slow down and take a break. However, recognizing the signs that you’re suffering from stress-induced exhaustion is critical as it can have a tremendous impact on your life.

Signs You’re Burning Out

  • Constant fatigue
  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Mood changes
  • Change in eating habits
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hopelessness

Despite burnout being an official medical diagnosis recognized by the World Health Organization, many individuals struggling with it dismiss the symptoms. While living in a society where being constantly busy and having a side-hustle on top of a full-time job is celebrated, having to admit that you’re suffering from burnout feels like admitting that you can’t handle the pressure or that you’ve failed. In search for ways to deal with a constant feeling of failure stemming from unattainable goals, some resort to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. While these substances provide individuals with temporary relief from the anxiety, depression, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, and lack of energy, they fail to address the root of the issue—burnout.

Common Causes of Burnout


According to the International Labor Organization, America is the most overworked nation in the developed world. So, it is not surprising that the demands and pressure that stem from working is one of the primary causes of burnout. A toxic work environment or work culture can increase the risk of experiencing chronic workplace stress. Other common causes include:

  • Difficulty communicating with co-workers
  • Unfair workplace treatment
  • Long work hours
  • Major consequences to inaction
  • Constant change/a changing schedule
  • Working a physically demanding job
  • Overloading work
  • Not receiving feedback or support


While work is often a factor, your home environment, who you surround yourself with, and how you spend your time can also leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted. Major events such as the death of a loss one, the end of an important relationship, or a serious medical diagnosis can also lead to burn out. Other lifestyle-related causes include:

  • A demanding school workload
  • Lacking meaningful, close relationships
  • Having too many responsibilities
  • Family stress
  • Relationship stress
  • Lack of work-life balance

How to Prevent Burnout

Getting in the habit of checking in with yourself and your needs is crucial to preventing burnout. In an ideal world, you could easily walk away for whatever is causing stress but that’s not always realistic. For most, quitting a taxing job is not a viable option — bills need to get paid whether you’re happy or not with work. But while you may not be able to quit your job (at least until you find a new one), you can have an honest conversation with your boss about what aspects of your work are causing you to feel overwhelmed. This can help create a better working environment and relieve some of your stress.

However, there are situations, such as the death of a loved one, that can’t be altered and learning how to manage the stress related to situations outside of your control is important. Fortunately, burnout doesn’t occur overnight. If you learn how to recognize when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, you can effectively address your stress and prevent yourself from burning out.

Ways to Better Manage Stress Include:

Practicing Self-Care: While certain things such as eating healthy, getting a proper amount of sleep, and exercising regularly are a given, self-care looks different for everyone, so it is important to figure out what else you need to feel your best. This could mean starting your day with a quick meditation session, cutting out negative people, taking up a hobby, or spending more time outdoors.

Finding a Creative Outlet: Doing something creative such as painting, sewing, writing, or playing music is a fun way to let your mind unwind and focus on the activity at hand. And because your creative outlet is just for you, there is no pressure to be the next Picasso or Mozart. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, as long as you enjoy it.

Talk to Someone You Trust: Whether it’s a friend, family member, or a therapist, speaking with someone you trust about how you’re feeling will not only help you feel better but can help you get a better understanding of what is causing your stress, and what changes you can implement to reduce it.

Be Kinder to Yourself: Sometimes burnout can be a result of self-imposed pressure. Learning how to be kinder and giving yourself a break can make all the difference for your mental health. Rather than constantly focusing on your shortcomings or who you want to become, focus on what you have accomplished. Are you a kind, caring person? Do you go the extra mile for your loved ones? Do you make others smile? These are all things that should be celebrated.

What to Do If You’re Burned Out

It’s easy to get wrapped up with work, family, or social responsibilities, have self-care go out the window, and suddenly find yourself burned out. When this happens, what can you do? Of course, an increase in coping skills is necessary. Seeing a therapist to learn new and more adaptive ways of managing the stress can be helpful. Setting clearer boundaries between work and home or with certain people can provide more emotional space to reset. Powering down electronics and taking breaks or vacations can provide some much-needed physical, emotional, and mental rest. In the end, what works to cope with burnout will be individual to each person. There is no set antidote for burnout but surrounding yourself with support and positivity are key. And of course, never be afraid to ask for help. Your well-being should always be a priority.

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