How to prevent burnout

by Jake Smolarek
A toy skeleton lying on a laptop looking exhausted

Tara Winstead / Pexels

Over the past year, there has been a 250% increase in google searches for the term "burnout." Similarly, "How to cure burnout" has seen a 4,850% increase. So it's pretty safe to say that most of us have experienced some kind of emotional or mental burnout in the past year. It's been a tough year.

Pandemic-related burnout has been the cause of many struggles over the past year. Working from home, lack of socialising, and anxiety caused by COVID-19 means many people feel overwhelmed, stressed, and suffer from burnout.

But what is it? How do you avoid burnout? Here's what you need to know.

What is burnout?

The term burnout was coined in the 1970s by a psychiatrist to describe a combination of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by extreme or repetitive stress.

Burnout isn't the same as just being tired and fed up. Burnout syndrome comes from prolonged periods of overexertion and stress, making it hard to continue with everyday life. Burnout is effectively the first stage of developing more severe conditions like anxiety and depression, and it can even lead to physical conditions like heart disease.

How burnout affects your mental health

One of the major reasons burnout is such a big problem is because it has a serious impact on a person's mental health. Suddenly, simple tasks like getting out of bed, cooking dinner, or going to work become challenging and can signal the start of a downward spiral.

Being consistently tired and stressed can be extremely overwhelming and lead to a pessimistic outlook that impacts every aspect of life.

Causes of burnout

Burnout can come from any number of places. Usually, it is a combination of several factors that can cause burnout over a period of time. The most common cause of burnout is job or work-related. Working too hard without a break, working non-stop, or taking on more than you can handle can cause significant feelings of stress and pressure, leading to burnout.

However, usually, it is caused by multiple stressors. For example, stress caused by work combined with a complete lack of social interaction can be incredibly damaging. In contrast, work stress combined with too many hobbies and social activities can also lead to feeling overwhelmed.

The most common causes of burnout are:

  • Work or career stress (also, school)
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Inadequate emotional support system
  • Overexposure to social situations
  • Tension in personal relationships
  • Too much or too little physical activity

Symptoms of burnout

Burnout can also present differently in different people. Depending on how you handle stress, you may act very differently compared to a friend or colleague. This is partially why so many people aren't aware they are experiencing burnout. We look for specific symptoms while ignoring others. These are just some of the ways you can identify burnout:

  • Constant headaches
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Sudden feelings of anger over minor inconveniences
  • Feeling isolated and isolating yourself
  • Becoming ill regularly
  • Procrastination
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental fog and inability to concentrate
  • Negative attitude and pessimistic thoughts
  • Physical tension and aches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Depression

But there are other symptoms of burnout that are less common and less obvious. Sometimes, it can even look positive. Burnout symptoms include:

  • Hyper-focus
  • Periods of intense productivity
  • Increased desire to work out as a distraction
  • Changes to food cravings

Symptoms of burnout can look very different and may come on slowly. You may find yourself slowly slipping rather than waking up one morning feeling burnt out, but others may well feel fine and then suddenly feel overwhelmed. Burnout is extremely personal. It can be caused and present in a range of ways in different people, making it super hard to identify and deal with.

Dealing with burnout

Exhausted man in a suit touching a wall

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Dealing with burnout is hard because recognising you are experiencing burnout is one of the difficulties. But once you've realised your got burnout, what should you do?

Firstly, stop feeling like you've failed. Burnout is totally normal in the modern-day and age and is experienced by many people. Burnout doesn't mean you are weak or not up to the challenge; it just means you've done too much in too short a period, and you need a break.

The second thing to do is to take that break. You may not be able to stop doing things like work, but work out where you can scale back. For example, if it feels like you are constantly juggling balls, you need to work out which ones are made of glass and which are made of plastic. Some balls, if dropped, will bounce right back. Some balls cannot be dropped, or they will shatter. For example, a good friend will understand if you need to cancel on them and take some time for yourself. It won't change anything. However, you probably can't just stop showing up for work.

Once you've worked out where you can take a step back, communicate with anyone involved. Many people experience burnout, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Let people know you are taking some time off and why and you'll feel better knowing that there is no social pressure on you.

Finally, if you feel burnt out, now is an excellent time to speak to a professional. A therapist can help you cope with current feelings of stress or anxiety. Working with a professional life coach can also help you find ways to manage your stress and restructure your life to allow more time for yourself.

When dealing with extreme emotional and mental stress, you need to identify what caused you to feel so overwhelmed. Burnout can happen again if you don't actually tackle problem spots in your life. Working with a professional can help manage and organise your commitments so you don't feel like this again.

How to avoid burnout

Without a doubt, the best way to deal with burnout is not to get it in the first place. Ensuring you have routines in place to ensure you are taking time for yourself to keep your mind and body healthy helps protect against burnout. Taking control of your life in small ways can help keep you healthy.

Acts of self-care

Making sure you take time to look after yourself is one of the best ways to prevent burnout. Self-care means taking some time to do something that makes you happy. This might mean having a night in and taking a long bath; it might mean ordering a takeaway and watching Netflix; it might mean going for a long walk or visiting a friend.

Self-care is different for everyone. The important thing to remember is that it should make you feel good in the long run. It doesn't mean going out partying, which feels good to start with but leaves you tired and hungover the next day. Sometimes, self-care means doing things that you don't necessarily enjoy, like cleaning your home, sorting paperwork, or letting your friends go out without you.

Take a moment to get yourself together, and you'll feel rested and prepared to face any challenges.

Good exercise routine

Making sure you are moving your body and staying fit and healthy is a great way to prevent burnout. Often burnout can be exacerbated by a bad workout routine. Exercising causes your brain to release endorphins that help you relax and feel happy. So, regularly exercising is key for overall happiness and can help ensure you feel good in your own body.

Negative thoughts and feelings of self-doubt are common, so ensuring you challenge yourself physically is crucial to preventing burnout.

However, over-exercising and pressure to maintain a particular body image can cause feelings of self-doubt. It's important to have a routine but to take time off and rest to ensure exercising doesn't become a source of stress.

Learn to manage stress

Learning to manage stress is incredibly important. Effectively managing stress can benefit all areas of your life. By managing and dealing with stress, you can learn to face challenges and move past stressful situations rather than letting stress control your life.

Meditation, journaling, yoga, walking, and other activities can be used to manage stress daily. You can also speak to a professional who can help you to overcome stressful situations at the time. Learning how to cope with stressful challenges means you are in control and can take active steps towards a healthier, happier life without holding on to past stresses.

Take control of work

Since work is a major cause of stress for many people, speaking to your boss to help manage expectations can significantly reduce feelings of burnout. Open communication to control the amount of work, deadlines, expectations, support, and tasks at work can reduce stress and prevent overworking.

By taking control of your work life, you can help protect yourself against mental and emotional trauma. Work is a significant source of stress and concern, and feeling out of control or unable to meet deadlines or expectations can create feelings of anxiety and doubt.

Ensuring you have a support system at work means you will never get into a situation where you've taken on too much and can seek support when you feel overwhelmed.


Dealing with burnout is very difficult. It can be hard to recognise, present in a variety of ways, and often sneaks up on people. Making sure you have good routines in place and regularly make time for self-care is a great way to ensure you don't ever and end up feeling overwhelmed.

If you do notice yourself exhibiting some of the signs of burnout, you should take some time to consider how you really feel and if you could make some changes to improve your life. Speaking to a professional is a great way to help you get in control of your life and prioritize your mental health and emotional wellbeing.

It's also important to keep an eye out for signs of burnout in friends in colleagues. Burnout can happen to anyone, so stay aware and know when to take a step back.

About the Author

Jake Smolarek

Life and Business Coach & Entrepreneur

For over 10 years I have been helping people achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals faster and easier than they've ever imagined.

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