14th December 2018

Burnout: Reasons, symptoms and coping strategies

Burnout: Reasons, symptoms and coping strategies (c) KarinSieger.com
Burnout: Reasons, symptoms and coping strategies (c) KarinSieger.com

Under certain conditions we all can suffer from burnout – physically, mentally and emotionally. The severity and length can vary. What are the reasons and how to cope?

1. Tell tale signs of burnout include

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • permanent, heightened stress
  • restless sleep or insomnia
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • loss of appetite or over-eating
  • feeling demotivated, hopeless and helpless
  • forgetfulness, impaired ability to focus and concentrate

Depending on the severity of the burnout these symptoms are more or less pronounced. Mid- or longer-term health and lifestyle interventions are needed to manage and recover from burnout. Serious burnout can lead to break downs, which can take weeks or months to recover from.

2. Why does burnout happen?

It happens when we have taken on too much and overstepped our coping threshold. The reason for this may be circumstantial (eg too much happening at once), it may be down to our attitudes, employment arrangements or lifestyle choices.

Common factors include

  • An inability to say ‘no’.
  • The fear of putting our needs first and in doing so letting others down.
  • Taking on too much because we
    • want to please,
    • need to control,
    • cannot delegate,
    • want to micro-manage,
    • cannot trust anyone else to do things for or with us,
    • or have no-one to share responsibilities with.
  • Our coping mechanisms have outlived their shelf life, or have started working against us and become part of the problem (eg alcohol, food, gambling etc).
  • We are not sufficiently in touch with our bodies, minds or emotions to see the tell signs.
  • We think it is a sign of strength and authority to be able to take on more and more.
  • We are afraid of becoming replaceable.
  • We find it difficult to accept, that we can no longer take on as much as before.

3. What to do?

Don’t delay dealing with burnout. It is a crisis risk we cannot afford to ignore.

If you think you are suffering from burnout or heading that way, then you need to seriously reassess your circumstances.

The problem is, that when we are experiencing burnout, we have probably lost the capacity for rational appraisal and it all feels hopeless.

Nevertheless, if you are worried, than get help now. Speak with your line manager, HR, a trusted friend, your GP or an independent professional like a counsellor or therapist.

You need to understand what is happening and why; what changes short- and long-term are required to improve your situation and wellbeing.

4. Resistance to address burnout

Chances are you may struggle with letting go and stepping back.

But trying half baked coping strategies will only increase the risk and impact of burnout.

Timely intervention is often delayed due to our reluctance based on attitudes and beliefs such as

“Pushing myself reflects my (job etc) dedication and loyalty, personal and professional strength.”

“If I don’t do it, then who will?  I will only end up having more to deal with … more to worry about.”

Yes, and that may be so. But coping with burnout is non-negotiable.

You cannot drive a car without petrol and maintenance. The longer you ignore that fact, the worse the damage and the repair costs will get.

5. Important anti-burnout attitudes

How far away or close to believing the following are you?

  • Even the strongest amongst us, those with a super thick skin, energy, endurance and focus like an ox do have their limits, too.
  • It is the smart thing to do and not the coward’s way out, to accept our limits and live accordingly.
  • Our limits and how much we can shoulder will vary throughout our life-time, depending on how much we need to deal with at any given time.
  • Our limits can change with age, and depend on our health, too.
  • Sometimes in life overstepping our energy threshold cannot be avoided and we need to schedule enough time and helpful support to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally.

6. Important anti-burnout strategies

Self care is important at the best of times. At times of burnout self care is essential.

Self care, looking after yourself and recharging energy needs to address your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Different people have different ways that work well for them. A healthy diet, limited stress, moderate exercise, sufficient sleep and quiet down-time are the essentials.

Self care must be addressed during and after times of heightened stress. And remember, for all of us the worst times of stress include bereavement, ending of a relationship, job loss, unemployed, retirement, health crisis, moving house. You will probably be able to think of a lot more.

Another important area is knowing your emotional triggers for stress and which feelings and beliefs can help or get in the way. To find out more check my articles on

Self care is about weeding our emotions  READ MORE

Emotional bubbles: which help and which hinder READ MORE

7. Ultimately …

Being aware of and mostly living within our energy threshold is the smart thing to do. It can make us more productive, satisfied, and overall healthier individuals.

Living within our thresholds and recharging when we overstepped our coping threshold is something that we may not always get right. It requires monitoring and reappraising.


Image by geralt via pixabay

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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.

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