Understanding Burnout:

Causes, Symptoms, and Effective Strategies for Prevention

In today's fast-paced world which is full of demands, burnout has become a common issue affecting individuals across various professions and industries. It is therefore crucial to recognise the signs, understand the underlying causes, and implement effective strategies to prevent and overcome burnout. In this article, I will talk about burnout, explore its causes and symptoms, and provide actionable tips to help you prevent burnout and foster overall well-being.


What is burnout?

Burnout and stress are related concepts. Stress is a natural physiological and psychological response to demanding or challenging situations. It is the body’s way of preparing for a perceived threat. It is a short-term response to a specific event, and can quickly disappear once the threat is resolved. Burnout however, is a prolonged state that develops over an extended period. It is a state of chronic emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive high levels of stress.

Common causes of burnout:

According to an article by CNN, burnout from workplace stress is at an all time high. This could be due to several factors including:

Covid pandemic and remote working: The boundaries between work life and personal life are becoming blurred due to the recent covid pandemic where working from home became the norm for a while. Being socially isolated also doesn’t help as we all need some form of social in-person interaction.

Increased workload: There is an increase in today's fast paced environment where things are expected around the clock. We are also faced with higher workload and expectations. It is not uncommon to see job descriptions where ‘the ability to multi-task’ is required.

Technology and the Digital age: We are constantly exposed to emails, notifications, and information overload, which causes us to be overwhelmed, and makes it harder for us to disconnect from work. As we are constantly connected, we may feel the need to be constantly responsive and available - all which can lead to burnout.

Stress from layoff anxiety: Due to the recent layoffs, and in some cases, limited job opportunities, many may feel the lack of job security, and feel the pressure to meet society standards of success, in order to outperform others.

Lack of work-life balance: It is harder to achieve this due to the blurred boundaries between work and personal life. We tend to prioritise our work over our health, neglecting self-care, time to rest, as well as de-prioritising quality time with our family and friends.

Recognising the symptoms of burnout:

I have been through burnout in the past, and it was not an easy journey. It takes a long time to recover! This is why it is important to take steps to address it before it becomes more severe.

So how do we recognise the early signs of burnout? Common signs are:

Physical symptoms: Chronic fatigue, lack of energy, frequent headaches or migraines, sleep disturbances (I used to wake up at 3am every morning!), changes in appetite or weight, digestive problems, and weakened immune system.

Emotional symptoms: Feelings of cynicism, detachment, and irritability, mood swings, increased vulnerability to stress, a sense of being overwhelmed, feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, and decreased satisfaction or enjoyment from work or other activities.

Cognitive symptoms: Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, reduced creativity or problem-solving abilities, indecisiveness, and decreased productivity.

Behavioural symptoms: Withdrawal from social interactions, increased isolation, procrastination or avoidance of work-related tasks, increased reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms (such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs), and neglecting personal care and self-care activities.

If you are feeling any of these symptoms, it’s important to acknowledge that you may be experiencing burnout.

Strategies for preventing burnout:

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Try some of these steps to help:

1. Schedule regular breaks

I used to be guilty of this where I would stay glued to my laptop for hours on end, postponing toilet breaks or even allowing myself to go thirsty just because I had urgent work to do (But what isn’t urgent, nowadays?).

So it is important to schedule breaks in between work where you can do things like take a short walk, grab a healthy snack, dance to a song or play with your pet (if you’re working from home), practice some relaxation techniques or just give yourself some time to rest and recharge. Taking that 5-10 min break at regular intervals can do wonders!

2. Set boundaries

I for one have been out for meals with friends where they would not stop checking their work emails or their whatsapp messages. Have you experienced this, or have been guilty of this?

Establish clear boundaries between your work and personal life. These lines got blurred even more during Covid, so it is important to be clear on when you will switch off from work.

Learn to say no when it's necessary, and communicate your needs and limitations to colleagues and superiors. It is important to set realistic expectations for yourself and others.

Importantly, when you are spending time with friends/family, be focused and stay in the present. The world will not end just because you did not see an email or message , and failed to respond in 1-2 hours.

3. Find your balance

It is not healthy to work all the time. Stay balanced by making self-care a non negotiable part of your routine. Engage in activities that help you relax, for e.g. exercise, meditation, yoga, or any hobbies that bring you joy and help you to unwind. Think about what makes you happy? Make sure you spend some time doing that.

It is also important to spend time with friends and family and colleagues (and stay 100% present). Nurture these relationships, seek support and connection from others, as having this social support can help to buffer the negative effects of stress, and contribute to overall well-being.

On the other hand, stay away from toxic relationships - i.e. people who are unsupportive, and who put you down. In some cases, this may not always be possible, especially if it is a family member or a colleague. But try to put some space between you and them, and limit interactions with them whenever possible.

4. Practice stress-management techniques

Include stress management techniques into your daily routine. Some of these techniques include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises, meditation, journaling, or engaging in activities that help you relax and recharge.

One of the methods I myself practise is doing PQ reps, a concept introduced by Stanford University Lecturer and New York Times best-selling Author Shirzad Chamine - whose program is based on research with more than 500,000 participants from 50 countries, including CEOs, students, elite athletes, and sales, operations, and technology teams. This is one of the concepts that I also teach in my 8 weeks Mental Fitness bootcamp.

5. Optimise your nutrition

You are what you eat. Nutrition plays a big role in supporting your overall well-being and resilience.

A balanced diet is important in managing energy levels - i.e. ensuring a variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats in your meals. All this provides the essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are necessary for optimal physical and mental health.

Getting sufficient water - When you are dehydrated, this can lead to fatigue and poor cognitive function. It is important to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. And no, coffee does not count! As huge amounts of caffeine can cause dehydration.

Certain nutrients also play a key role in managing stress and promoting resilience. By incorporating foods that are rich in Vitamin B as well as Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet, it can help with improved mood, reduced anxiety as well as enhanced cognitive function.

There are also foods that have stress-reducing properties! For e.g. including foods high in antioxidants (like berries, dark green vegetables, and colourful vegetables), and adaptogens (like ashwagandha and saffron).

6. Understand yourself better

Talk to a coach or a therapist about the negative emotions that you feel at work. The common issues relating to work stress are being a perfectionist, imposter syndrome or fear of failure. All this results in negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations, all of which can lead to burnout.

Recovering from burnout is a process that requires commitment, self-care, and support. By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide and seeking assistance from a professional, you can regain your balance, rediscover your passion, and cultivate a fulfilling and sustainable life.

To learn more about how professional coaching can help you overcome burnout and develop resilience, book a free discovery call here.

Balance and burnout