Understanding and Avoiding Burnout

If you’re feeling exhausted or disconnected in or out of work, you may be experiencing burnout. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout is commonly understood as a stress condition brought on by being involved in an intense situation for a long period of time without enough rest and recreation. Although usually thought of in relation to a job, people who are the primary caregiver for small children or those who are severely or chronically ill also experience burnout.


Symptoms of burnout can include:

Physical signs

  • exhaustion
  • digestive problems
  • other physical complaints
  • general lack of energy
  • sleep disturbances

Behavioural signs

  • poor performance at work
  • unable to concentrate
  • procrastination
  • lacking creativity or inspiration
  • negativity/cynicism
  • taking sick leave


  • emotionally overwhelmed or numb
  • unable to cope with daily tasks
  • difficulty processing emotions
  • resentment towards job role/work colleagues
  • anxiety
  • low mood

Who is at risk of burnout?

Anyone is at risk of burnout if their daily tasks feel too overwhelming to accomplish, there is no easing of pressure, and there is no chance of respite in between activities. This can happen to anyone regardless of your profession, status, age, ethnicity, or class. It is not possible to separate different parts of your life—they are all linked together and will impact one another. Therefore, although burnout is traditionally related to work settings, anyone can feel burnt out in any part of their life.

Learning to understand burnout can help you to avoid it. Try to know your own limits and develop coping strategies for periods when stress overload seems unavoidable. Here are some great tips to help you cope with—and get through—feelings of burnout:

If you’re feeling burned out, it might be useful to ask yourself some of the following questions. The answers could help you establish some boundaries in areas of your life that may currently be out of balance:

  • When did you begin feeling this way (tired, unable to relax, etc.)?
  • Are you under a lot of pressure to succeed? From whom?
  • How’s your sense of humour holding up?
  • Are you identifying so closely with your work that if a project fails, you will think you personally have failed?

To overcome burnout, try some of the following:

  • Write down key values, as well as long-term and short-term goals.
  • Set aside time each day for relaxation exercises—and do them.
  • Analyse how you spend your time. Learn and practice time management techniques.
  • Move towards healthier eating habits; exercise more frequently.
  • Renew your friendships.
  • Talk about your feelings; don’t let anger or frustration build up.
  • Learn to say no when you’re given more than you can handle.
  • Recognise when you’re driving yourself too hard and depleting your inner resources. Take a break.

Tips for taking care of yourself

When you ignore your physical and emotional needs during a period of constant or severe stress, you are likely to get burned out.

Good self-care includes:

  • eating nutritious, well-balanced meals at regular hours
  • regular exercise—Why not try walking or jogging around the block at lunch time?
  • adequate and satisfying sleep

If you are depriving yourself in these areas, you are not doing anyone any favours. Start practising good self-care today. Regular rest and recreation are essential to help avoid burnout.

Share your experience with others

Consider joining a support group for people in your situation. For example, a support group for caregivers, new mothers or workaholics. Listen to what others have to say about the strategies they use to cope. Talking to someone outside your situation who might have new ideas can be very helpful.

You can learn how to avoid, or come through a period of burnout by learning and communicating your own limits, taking care of yourself and learning from the ideas and strategies of others. Furthermore, by re-connecting with your true self, your values and what you truly want from life, you will be in a better position to recognise, and overcome, feelings of burnout.

It’s important to recognise the early warning signs of burnout before they get any worse. By taking steps to get your life back into balance, you can prevent the onset of a breakdown and begin to take care of yourself again. If burnout is becoming severe and is affecting your ability to function properly, talk to your doctor or a professional.


From longer work hours to increased demands at home, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced new stressors to nearly every domain of life. As the world is half way through the 3rd year of the pandemic, these stressors have become persistent and indefinite, heightening everyone’s risk of burnout. Anyone exposed to chronically stressful conditions can experience burnout, but human services employees, first responders, and those in educational services are at an even higher risk, especially as the public continues to resist COVID-19 prevention measures.

The city that tops the global burnout list is Tokyo, Japan due to some of the highest global scores for presenteeism, lack of motivation and the number of people sleeping less than 7 hours a night. Cases of people being overworked are well-known in the city and Japan has recently introduced a new law capping legal overtime to 45 hours a month, to try and tackle the nation’s notorious culture of long working hours. Mumbai, India has the second highest burnout levels with the longest work hours in the world. Employees work around 3,315 hours a year or 65 hours a week, double the average annual work hours of cities like Tallinn and Ljubljana.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates has been ranked among the safest cities in the world to live in, however its residents are among the most overworked, according to a new study on work-life balance. Within the category of work intensity, Dubai came out highest for most overworked population, meaning full-time employees work more than 48 hours per working week. The UAE recently became one of the first countries to have a 4.5 work week for public sector employees, in a move towards promoting a healthier work-life balance.

Overwork can make you less effective on the job and can have a negative effect on relationships with the people you love. Having a healthy work-life balance can improve your mental health and well-being. Gaining control over your work may take time, but it can greatly enhance your enjoyment of life.

This article on “Understanding and Avoiding Burnout” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur health insurance plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.