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Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of ongoing mental, emotional and physical exhaustion which occurs as a result of overwhelming demands, chronic stress or job dissatisfaction. Although it is not illness on its own, it is recognized as being a stepping stone to more severe physical and mental conditions. With burnout, people may feel worn out everyday, cynical, unenthusiastic, and find reduced satisfaction from their job.

Burnout can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and sleeping difficulties. It is important to recognize and treat burnout early, and with psychological counseling and support, most people begin to feel better and recover quickly.

Symptoms of burnout

Symptoms of burnout can be both physical and emotional. Physical symptoms include headache or back pain, disturbed sleep, nausea, tense muscles and tiredness. Emotionally, people with burnout feel irritable, tense, and unmotivated. They may also feel indifferent (not care about things) and cynical, and may socially distance themselves from others. Affected people may lose confidence in their work, feel unproductive and overloaded.

Find out more about the Signs of Burnout »

Burnout risks

In most cases, burnout is work-related. However, other factors can contribute to the situation, such as demanding tasks and activities outside of work, certain personality traits (such as perfectionism), and a stressful lifestyle. Burnout can affect anyone, but tends to commonly affect people in jobs which are physically and emotionally stressful (such as nurses, doctors, police, social workers, etc.) or people going through or supporting a loved one through a stressful life event.


A diagnosis of burnout is made by a doctor. The medical definition of burnout differs from the common usage. But a early diagnosis may help a person more quickly regain a healthy work-life balance.

Treating burnout

There is not a single method for treating burnout, but affected people may cope better with stress by adjusting their attitude (rediscovering enjoyable aspects of work, reevaluating priorities and goals), resting (taking short breaks throughout the day, sleeping more), and taking time to recharge themselves outside of work (spending time doing enjoyable things outside of work, seeking support from family and friends, exercising, etc.).


Since burnout usually develops over a long period of time, attention to tell-tale signs, like feeling constantly overloaded at work, may help with prevention. Affected people may find that working within their abilities, developing healthy habits (e.g. regular meal times and exercise), and finding strategies to counter stress may help with prevention. Preventing burnout is sometimes an ongoing process, so finding reliable sources of emotional support is important.

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