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Burnout: It’s Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

man with head in his hands

The term, “Burnout” was first conceptualised by Herbert Freudenberger  in 1974. He described it as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a “occupational phenomenon”. It is characterised by: feelings of exhaustion, cynicism towards your job and an inability to perform tasks to a satisfactory or expected degree.

I am currently on sick leave from my job as a nurse because of burnout. I’ve spoken previously about the importance of mental health. This blog post will explore the symptoms and causes of burnout. It will also explore its effects and provide strategies to cope with it.

The Causes of Burnout

Burnout can be caused by a myriad of factors. At work, stressors can include: unmanageable workload; lack of role clarity; lack of support; unreasonable time pressures and a lack of autonomy.

According to the The Health and Safety Executive, a staggering 828,000 workers in the UK were affected by stress, depression and anxiety in 2019/2020.

Burnout can also be caused by factors in your personal life. If you are currently experiencing ongoing stressors without relief, this can lead to feelings of burnout. Moreover, people who have a Type A personality or are neurotic by nature are more susceptible to burnout.


Burnout often occurs gradually. Consequently, the symptoms can be easily dismissed. Only when a crisis point has been reached, do people recognise it and seek help.

There are several symptoms which indicate that a person is either in pre-burnout or is already experiencing burn out.

They can include:

  • Physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, stomach problems, muscle aches)
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Neglecting your personal needs
  • An increased desire to move away from work, family or friends.
  • Ruminating about seemingly small events.
  • An Increasingly pessimistic outlook on work and life
  • Chronic mental fatigue
  • Feelings of anxiety and panic
  • Increased alcohol, caffeine or drug consumption
  • A lack of boundaries around work or personal life.

The effects of Burnout

People who report feeling burnt out are more likely to take sick leave as a result of symptoms of depression, anxiety and physical health symptoms. 

Moreover, people are likely to quit their jobs altogether to work in a different field. For me, I have been contemplating leaving nursing altogether.

Prolonged stress, anxiety and fatigue can lower the immune system. As a result, a person can become susceptible to infections and to becoming physically unwell.

Additionally, a person can begin to isolate themselves. This in turn can affect their personal relationships with their family, friends or children.

Ways to Prevent and Treat Burnout

1. Recognise the Symptoms 

It’s important to listen to your body and mind and to be able to see signs and symptoms of burnout. It’s also important to practice self-compassion and to not dismiss the symptoms. Instead, listen and be kind to yourself.

2. Identify the source of the issue and communicate

It’s important to identify things that are triggering the burnout. After identifying them, you should speak to your employer and see if suitable adjustments can be made.

3. Seek Help

If you are able to, getting in touch with a Therapist will be useful. Speaking to a Therapist can help to sort out any thoughts you may have. A GP will be able to prescribe medication, if needed and refer you to specialist services for further  support.

You should also reach out to your social network of friends, family or colleagues because speaking to others will make you feel less isolated.

4. Take a Break

Taking time off will allow you to replenish your empty energy stores.

I’m currently on sick leave. I felt so drained, that I didn’t have anymore to give. I’m using this time to just relax and rejuvenate my energy.

Even if you’re not on sick leave, it’s important to utilise annual leave throughout the year. People that are self-employed or are students should schedule time off. They should go on holiday, spend time with friends and make an effort to switch off.

5. Exercise and Mindfulness

Physical activity boosts your endorphins and allows you to feel better. I’ve been doing yoga, mindfulness and running and in the last few days and I’ve noticed massive improvements to my mood as a result. 

Additionally, Mindfulness and Yoga have been shown to create mental clarity and calmness because of the deep breathing exercises involved in both practices.


Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion, which can be caused by a variety of factors. The consequences of burnout can be devastating for an individual and those around them. It’s important for a person to have the ability to recognise its warning symptoms, as this can allow a person to take action to prevent and treat it.

Have you ever experience burn out? How was your experience and how did you overcome it?

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