Managing Burnout

Stress is the mental and physical symptoms that occur when the body adjusts to change. Surprisingly, not all stress is bad for you. Some stress is actually enjoyable, such as the stress experienced during a sporting event or an exciting movie. The fact is we all need some level of stress in our lives to get us going, to motivate our behaviour.

Problems arise when this level of arousal lasts for some time and accumulates. When our lives are busy, we seldom allow ourselves time to decrease stress. If tension occurs frequently and is not released, the effects build up over time. If this continues, such stress levels can reach a critical threshold, causing your body and mind to be in ‘protection mode.’ You exist in a state of preparedness, which readies you for threat. In this mode, you are more likely to view regular events as threatening. You may be more likely to jump or snap at people for no reason, see the threat in what they are doing or saying, be startled easily, or be easily provoked into a fighting (protective) response.


Too much stress can lead to burnout. But stress and burnout are not exactly the same. 

Burnout is considered an occupational phenomenon defined by the World Health Organisation as a “syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Though it’s a popular buzzword, it’s important to note that burnout is strictly related to work and study.

There are three major components to burnout. The first is exhaustion. This comprises physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue that undermines people’s ability to work effectively and feel good about their actions. 

The second component of burnout is cynicism. It’s essentially a way of distancing yourself psychologically from work or study. When a person is feeling cynical, they may feel detached, negative, and bitter. They may even seem irritable and often snap at others. 

The third component of burnout is inefficacy which is a feeling of incompetence. People experiencing this symptom of burnout often feel a lack of achievement and like they can’t perform at their peak. They may also worry that they won’t be able to succeed in certain situations or accomplish tasks.

Burnout is a serious issue. If burnout is not successfully managed and treated, it can lead to adverse outcomes like leaving school, being fired from work, or health issues like clinical depression and anxiety.


Burnout can be tricky to diagnose. High performers at work and school are excellent at meeting productivity goals even when they are highly stressed and overwhelmed. This is especially true for people who are mission-driven and passionate about the work that they are doing. 

People at risk of burnout don’t always appear frazzled, frantic, and overworked. In fact, they are more likely to be the person that jumps into problem-solving mode. They may be the team player who is always happy to lend a hand, even when it adds to their workload. But on the inside, these people may be struggling. 

These highly dedicated individuals work at an unsustainable pace and often work themselves to physical and mental exhaustion. Others may not notice that these folks continuously overlook their own needs or personal life to fulfil work demands. From the outside, it’s hard to spot that they invest more than is healthy into their career or study. Unfortunately, those experiencing burnout often endanger their wellbeing in pursuit of their work and study goals, sometimes without being aware of the toll it takes on their physical and mental health.

There are other indicators of burnout as well. Some symptoms are physical, like changes in sleep, eating habits, and energy. Other symptoms are emotional. This can look like a loss of motivation, becoming easily overwhelmed, or feeling cynical or bitter about life.

 Burnout symptoms can be behavioural as well. For example, substance abuse and dependency can indicate that there is a problem. People experiencing burnout may behave in a way that is not typical for them, like withdrawing from their responsibilities and procrastinating. Those experiencing burnout may also have trouble getting along with others. They may isolate themselves or seem irritable.


If you have spotted some signs of burnout in your life, don’t worry. Though burnout is serious, there are quite a few things you can do to manage it. One of the best things you can do is become aware of the signs and take action to prevent or treat it as soon as possible.

  1. Recognise when you are at risk for burnout. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How overwhelmed did you feel, on a scale of 1 to 5?
  • How many days did you work later than you should?
  • How many days did you answer emails after hours?

If you score more than 3 on these questions, you might be at risk of burnout.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How effective did you feel, on a scale of 1 through 5?
  • How productive did you feel, on a scale of 1 through 5?
  • How much fun did you have, on a scale of 1 through 5?

If you score less than 3 on the questions above, you might also be at risk of burnout. 

If you feel like you are overwhelmed or struggling, seek support. Don’t wait until to you feel like you aren’t coping well with work and life. A licensed mental health professional may be able to assist you in making the necessary changes to overcome burnout and develop strategies to avoid it in the future.

  1. Work on your foundations of Mental Fitness, sleep, exercise and nutrition.

During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function, maintaining your physical and emotional health. The right amount of quality sleep can help you pay attention, make better decisions and be more creative – and even lead to better academic and work performance.

Prioritise exercise is another critical foundation of mental fitness. When we exercise, our brain releases feel-good chemicals to help us feel better and promote better brain function. So much so, that the results of a 2018 study showed that 45 minutes of aerobic exercise acted as an anti-depressant, significantly reducing symptoms after nine weeks.

Just like your body, your brain needs vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to function properly. Recent research shows a strong relationship between nutrition and mental health.

According to the Food and Mood Centre from Deakin University (2017), “better quality diets are consistently associated with reduced depression risk, while unhealthy dietary patterns – higher in processed foods – are associated with increased depression and often anxiety.” A healthy diet can help prevent mental illness and better protect the mind and body from the detrimental effects of stress in work and life. 

  1. Boost Your Mood

Our brains are, in fact, hardwired to ‘Velcro’ the negatives and ‘Teflon’ the positives. This can cause problems for us by creating an unhealthy positive-to-negative emotional ratio, which can contribute to burnout and mental illness. Negative emotions are important, but most people need to make a conscious effort to shift their mood. Think about what makes you feel good more often.

Creating a list of mood-boosting strategies to have on hand at your desk or on your phone can be very beneficial when you are feeling stressed or flat. It can be as simple as playing some music, taking a quick walk, watching a funny video, or texting a mate. The important thing is to have a plan ready when you need it.


Burnout is a serious issue that many people experience in their lives. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can prevent burnout or treat it when it starts. One of the most important things you can do is spot the warning signs of burnout and take action. A qualified mental health professional can assist you with developing the skills to manage burnout and chronic stress. 

Even if you aren’t experiencing burnout symptoms, take preventative action by building your mental fitness and resilience. 

There are many evidence-based ways to develop your Mental Fitness. Our training arm, Applied Education and Training (RTO 46114), has a selection of courses for individuals and organisations to learn how to beat burnout by creating a personal, team or organisational Mental Fitness strategies and supporting practices.  

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