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Burnout 101: How to prevent and detect exhaustion

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion that results from chronic stress. Burnout can show up in professional or personal life (or both) and may include changes in mood and energy, a decline in feelings of personal accomplishment, and a sense of pessimism or withdrawal. In today’s fast-paced and demanding environment, it’s no wonder more and more people are experiencing burnout. And it can creep in over time, making burnout hard to recognize.

Burnout was first described by Herbert Freudenberger as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources.” This exhaustion can make it challenging to handle day-to-day responsibilities and stressful situations.

Who is at risk for burnout?

Anyone is at risk for burnout if they have continued exposure to high stress. Chronic stress can come from many types of life situations like working long hours, having too many projects, competing priorities, or caring for an ill family member.

What are signs of burnout?

Burnout can be characterized by both physical and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms may include exhaustion, fatigue, frequent headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, sleeplessness, and shortness of breath. It can also include behavioral signs such as frustration, anger, and signs of depression or withdrawal.

What are consequences of burnout?

If left unaddressed, burnout can have a significant impact on health and well-being. Burnout can affect your health by causing problems like fatigue, insomnia, substance abuse or misuse, high blood pressure, and vulnerability to illness.

How can you prevent burnout?

If you believe you may be experiencing burnout, it is important to talk to your doctor or counselor about how you are feeling. You may also want to take some time for self-care and evaluate how well you are tending to your personal needs. Since stress can be a contributing factor for burnout, you may want to focus on stress management and building resiliency. General self-care tips include getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and staying socially connected with friends and family.


Heinemann, L. V., & Heinemann, T. (2017). Burnout Research: Emergence and scientific investigation of a contested diagnosis. Sage Open, 7(1), 2158244017697154.


World Health Organization: