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Avoiding burnout

Illustration of a man jogging to avoid burnout

Does stress ever leave you feeling run down and unmotivated? If the answer’s yes, you may be experiencing burnout.

So what do we mean when we say ‘burnout’? 

It’s the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term workplace stress, and it’s really common. Working as a GP, it strikes me how often burnout contributes to people’s health complaints.

Even though it’s common, it’s vital you understand a bit about burnout. If you don’t recognize the symptoms, it can start to make a real impact on your life. 

Let’s take some time to learn about burnout, the symptoms you should look out for, and what you can do to avoid it. 

What causes burnout?

Burnout is caused by stress at work.1

Research suggests that over time, constant stress could affect the way your brain functions. 

One study points to the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps coordinate emotional responses.2 The study participants with burnout had weaker connections between the amygdala and other parts of the brain linked to emotional response. This may have affected how the participants handled negative emotions in the study. 

The most common causes of burnout include:3

  • being overworked
  • not taking time for yourself
  • being undermined or bullied
  • repetitive exposure to negative emotions
  • lack of social support from others 
  • feeling like you’re not in control.

Learn more about avoiding burnout in our 'Taking care of yourself' video series.

What are the symptoms?

Burnout can look different for everyone, but people tend to experience a range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones:


  • Fatigue and trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues
  • Heart palpitations
  • Reduced sex drive


  • Negativity and cynicism
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • A feeling of isolation


If you’re struggling to cope, make an appointment with your doctor.

How can you avoid burnout?

The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent burnout. Here are my top-5 tips:

1. Prioritize yourself

Work-life balance doesn't just mean getting home on time. Build reset moments into your day to get away from work and social media, take stock, and prevent the accumulation of micro stresses. Make sure you take holidays to get some real downtime.

2. Set boundaries at home and work

It’s important to manage unrealistic expectations for your time, efforts, and relationships. If you work from home, try to separate your work and living spaces. If possible, remove work email and apps from your phone. Learn to say no.

3. Move your body

Nothing beats exercise for fighting stress and feeling better. Find the type of activity that works for you – it could be climbing, swimming, or walking in nature – build a routine, and stick to it.

4. Talk to someone you trust

Talking can help put things into perspective and highlight ways you can reduce stress in your life. Talk to a colleague who could help you make positive changes to your work environment. 

5. Help create a calm and positive environment

Look out for colleagues, friends, and loved ones who may be struggling. Listen to what they say and only offer advice if they ask for it. We all play a part in creating positive environments that do not breed stress.

The constant demands of always-on life can take their toll. But remembering to slow down once in a while can help you avoid burnout. 

  1. WHO. “Burn-out an ‘occupational phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases”. Accessed September 10, 2020.

  2. Golkar, A., et al. PLoS One, (2014), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104550.

  3. Patient.Info. “Occupational Burnout”. Accessed September 10, 2020.