man despairing at desk

Eleven Practical Steps To Take If You Are Experiencing Burnout

Are you continuedly struggling to manage pressure at work and feeling stressed? If yes, then you could be experiencing burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a term coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his book Burnout: the cost of high achievement. Burnout is not classified as a medical condition. Such is the seriousness of burnout in 2020, it was included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO referred to burnout as an occupational phenomenon and agreed on the following definition in 2020 –

“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”


Burnout is different from stress.

Stress is our reaction to a situation that makes us feel under pressure, which we think we cannot control or manage. Not everyone experiences stress the same, which can be experienced in individual and group situations or caused by an event.

In comparison, according to the WHO, burnout has three main characteristics,  –

  • Exhaustion: Physical, emotional, and cognitive energy depletion.
  • Depersonalization: Developing increased cynicism and feeling disconnected from one’s work.
  • Inefficacy: Reduced professional performance.

It is essential to understand that burnout happens over a prolonged period and is not just the feeling of exhaustion. With feelings of physical and mental fatigue, having no motivation even for small tasks, and feeling disconnected, burnout cannot be resolved by a holiday or a period of rest.

According to researcher Christian Dormann, the more severe a person’s burnout, the more stressed they become at work. A person who is experiencing burnout will have a limited ability to be unable to cope and deal with work stress due to exhaustion.

All tasks are perceived as too much and increasingly stressful, and you have insufficient time to complete them. Burnout affects one’s ability to deal with work stress, which fuels burnout.

What can you do to help yourself?

A McKinsey survey conducted in 2020-2021 post-COVID pandemic found that 49% of respondents reported feeling burned out. Ironically, the response rate was unlikely to include those respondents experiencing burnout, suggesting that rates are much higher. There are eleven practical steps you can take to reduce burnout:

  1. Say no and prioritize your needs.
  2. Engage in self-care by focusing on what you need to flourish to help you recover and feel more positive and healthier.
  3. Assess your work and home life and understand what you can do to create balance.
  4. Set boundaries between home and work life.
  5. Take your full allocated holiday entitlement.
  6. If you are sick, stay at home and fully recuperate. Switch your phone and laptop off.
  7. Leave work on time.
  8. Review your company policies. Speak to Human Resources and your manager for support.
  9. Set up a healthy bedtime routine and get enough sleep.
  10. Try daily meditation, yoga, and exercise to increase your physical and mental well-being. Better still, do this with a friend who can support you.
  11. Speak to a medical professional.

Focus on what is in your control

Spotting the warning signs is imperative; if these are not spotted, burnout will lead to serious mental health issues if you are experiencing a feeling of sheer exhaustion (the primary symptom) which a short break does not rectify.

Taking small but decisive steps of what is in your control is crucial. Doing this will help you to recuperate. There is no quick fix to burnout, but the good news is that burnout is reversible once you acknowledge that you are suffering from it and, importantly, show yourself compassion and prioritize your needs.


Featured image reproduced courtesy of

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