What Is Burnout (And How Do I Deal With It?)

Has somebody told you that you’re burned out?  If so, or you’re just wondering ‘what is burnout’, then read on to find out more about burnout and how to avoid it…


What Is Burnout?
What Is Burnout?

Are you just managing to keep going with important things in your life?  Or perhaps getting to the point where you can’t keep going with them anymore?  The chances are you’re experiencing what is often called ‘burn out’.


What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a general term that is used to describe when we’re unable to either function with key life tasks (such as work, family or social commitments) at all – or, often, not in the way we need to be.  It can often be a consequence of ‘over doing’ things, or trying to achieve more than is reasonable.

We often talk about burnout when someone is struggling – or feeling stressed to a point that their life is starting to suffer.  Whilst this is a highly unpleasant experience, it’s important to realise that burnout isn’t a clinical problem or diagnosis in itself, but more a normal experience that we can all have from time to time.  However, being burned out is often a very strong warning sign to take action in order to prevent certain mental health or emotional issues developing.

Sometimes Psychologists refer to burnout as a ‘red flag’, meaning that it’s a sign something isn’t working properly and needs adjusting before bigger problems creep in.

What Types Of Burnout Are There?

Almost any life activity can lead to a sense of burnout.  Some common examples are:

  • Professional Burnout – Some jobs are particularly prone to leading to staff experiencing professional burnout.  Take a look at our article to find out what jobs are shown in research to be the most stressful ones.  It’s no coincidence that these jobs also tend to be the ones people experience most burnout from.  Of course, if your job isn’t listed that doesn’t matter – the important thing is that the world of modern work generally tends to have far more opportunities for experiencing burn out now than it has ever done before.
  • Compassion Burnout – This one is sometimes called ‘Compassion Fatigue’.  It’s where you have a harder time caring and empathising with the people around you.  It can often be experienced by people in caring professions (such as Doctors and Nurses), but also by parents and carers of children or older family members.  Compassion burnout can also happen in romantic relationships too.
  • Physical Burnout – This one is focused specifically on your body.  Whilst we all know that pushing ourselves a little bit through exercise and activity is a good thing, sometimes we can over-do it.  You might have reached a point where you are struggling over a period of days or weeks to use your body in the ways you want because you don’t have the energy you need.  Or even noticing increases in physical problems such as becoming unwell more often (for example having more coughs and colds than usual.)  These could be signs that you’re physically burning out.
  • Psychological Burnout – A typical psychological ‘symptom’ of burnout can be reduced levels of motivation for particular things in your life, or struggling to concentrate.  These are also often symptoms of depression too.  We would usually look at the severity of them as well as the amount of time you had been experiencing them as some ways of working out whether you are burned out or experiencing depression.

How Do I Deal With Burnout?

You might find the answer to this question surprisingly simple!

There are 3 important things you can do to that often help with burnout:

  1. Take A Break – Yes, this one is often recommended as a way of dealing with burnout.  But it’s also often one of the hardest steps you can take.  Many people find themselves burning out precisely because they are doing too much as a way of dealing with all the important things in their lives.  The idea of stopping for a while can often seem impossible.However, one important way to think about this is to imagine you are driving a car when an engine warning light comes on.  If this is the case, one of the first things you might do is pull over and stop the engine, before any damage is done.  If you continued driving it is likely the car would either breakdown and stop, or that lots of smoke might start appearing – which could cost you more problems in the long term.  Dealing burnout is much the same.  By continuing to ‘plough on’ through burnout you might find that you actually make it less likely you will be able to consistently continue with tasks into the future.Taking a break can be as simple as having a day off – it’s down to you to ask yourself the question ‘how much time to I need to reset’.
  2. Make Some Changes – Once you’ve taken a break, it’s important to make sure that you don’t go straight back into the same areas that led you to burning out, without seeing what changes you can make.  Have a think about what it was that made the situation difficult in the first place.  For example, was it that you were trying to do more than is reasonably possible to expect of yourself?  Or perhaps you need additional resources (such as help from others).  To explore this area in more detail why not check out our articles on dealing with internal and external stressors?
  3. Monitor Things Closely – Sometimes it can become a fulfilling prophesy, that we notice we’re stressed and so concentrate on the stress even more.  Sometimes we might do this by telling others about all the stressors in our lives, or overly thinking them over.  This inevitably makes us even more stressed, and can lead to a greater likelihood of burnout!However, it’s important not to ‘bury your head in the sand’ either, and simply hope that thinks will automatically improve.  Once you’ve made some changes from tip 2, above, see if you can move back towards life as normal – but keep an eye out for any warning signs that might indicate early signs of stress that could escalate towards burnout again.

What Else Can I do?

Like many things, it’s easy to write and read about ‘what is burnout’ and ways of dealing with it – but, the reality is that it can be hard sometimes to make even quite simple changes to your life in order to reduce burnout in future.  If you’re struggling and need help, why not explore if a good quality Psychological Therapy could help you?

Most people think that Therapy is only for people that are psychologically unwell – and this most definitely not the case.  Psychological Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), that our Clinic offers provide the ideal opportunity to explore alternate ways you can cope specifically as a way to reduce the risks of psychological problems developing.

Like most things in life – prevention is better than cure.  So why not get in touch – we might be able to help…