What is burnout, do I have it, and how do I recover?
Updated: Feb 15
Burnout is a gradual process that builds up over time and is often confused with stress. However, while stress goes away when the situation causing the stress is resolved, burnout is a more persistent, chronic condition that, on average, can take 3 years to recover from.
Burnout is the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, and it is more common than you might think. There are many causes of burnout, however people are more likely to experience it when they work in a physically or emotionally demanding role, or when their efforts at work don't produce the results that they expected.
The symptoms of burnout can be broken down into three components: Exhaustion, Cynicism and Inefficacy.
Extreme physical and emotional exhaustion and feelings of being overextended; feeling drained, having difficulties sleeping, concentrating, or experiencing frequent illness.
Cynicism and a lack of engagement, enthusiasm, or a negative or indifferent attitude towards your job.
Inefficacy – reduced productivity and ability to perform your job, or a feeling of dread and aversion when it comes to work.
If you identify with these symptoms, you may be experiencing burnout. The good news is the earlier you notice the signs and address the cause of burnout, the faster the recovery. The long-term recovery plan for burnout can be explained using the 3 R’s: Reorganize, Reframe, and Rebalance.
Reorganize your goals to understand why you do what you do and to ensure that your goals are in line with your values. Doing this enables you to prioritise and focus on what is most important to you.
Reframe the way you approach your goals and ask “Should I keep on my current path?” or “Should I make adjustments to my current path?” or “Should I leave this path altogether and start a new one?”
Rebalance your goals to have more “want to” and less “have-to” in your daily life. Finding a balance between things you want to do vs. things you have to do will increase your joy and engagement with life, helping you to recover and avoid burnout in the future.
The answers to the above questions may take time to answer, so in the short-term it is important to focus on your recovery. You may want to try the following strategies:
Focus on the basics of what you need to start your recovery, such as developing a self-care plan.
Take a vacation or leave of absence and use this time to recharge and reassess your goals.
Practice saying “No” to additional responsibilities or other people’s agendas. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Burnout doesn't go away on its own and can get worse unless the underlying issues causing it are addressed. If left unaddressed, burnout can lead to depression and/or anxiety, which can affect your work and personal relationships. If you ignore burnout, it will only cause you further harm down the line, so it's important that you begin recovery as soon as possible.
Recovery from burnout is a slow journey; not a quick dash to the finish line. You need time and space to recuperate, so don't rush through the process and make sure you treat yourself with kindness and compassion.
If you think you might have burnout, we recommend you contact your GP, a psychologist or therapist to develop a personalised plan for your recovery.