Understanding and Managing Burnout

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Understanding and Managing Burnout

Burnout, a common expression for feeling overwhelmed and fatigued, is a part of our everyday vernacular. Since May of 2019, it has officially been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a syndrome, resulting in a classification in the latest ICD-11 handbook (International Classification of Diseases). This recognition is important as it starts to legitimize in the medical community the effects of our environment on our mental health. While the WHO limits the classification in an occupational context it is a great start that can be built upon to include other dimensions, such as parenting and caregiving- something most therapists already acknowledge as a part of burnout.


Right now, as we adjust to living through this time in history, we are recognizing we are experiencing symptoms that look a lot like burnout, on a larger scale. The term, burnout is broken down into 3 areas:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. increased mental distance (…) or feelings of negativism or cynicism 
  3. reduced (professional) efficacy

Source: (https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/)

Burnout is a sign that we’ve been under excessive stress for a prolonged period of time. The good news is, burnout is something we can address and work through, even while the external factors aren’t completely mitigated. 

During this time there are lots of factors compounding, which add to feelings of burnout. If we’re still working outside of the house, there may be fear around safety, hypervigilance and emotional exhaustion. If we’re out of work, there is likely stress around financials and looking for a new job, which is a job in and of itself. And if we’re in the group of people able to work from home, there are stress factors relating to boundaries between work and personal life, along with navigating parenting, caregiving, partnerships or feelings of isolation if living alone. 

Simple as ABC: Tools for dealing with burnout

Ask questions-Take stock of what is causing you the most stress at this time. Is it the endless Zoom calls for work and pleasure? Is it the extra time looking at screens (phone, tv, etc.)? Unrealistic deadlines? Struggling with too many tasks? It’s important to know what parts of your work are causing you the most stress. By asking these questions you can start to come up with solutions. For instance, maybe you can talk to your manager about delegating or re-prioritizing certain tasks. Perhaps if it’s the sheer overload from screens/zoom calls, you can switch to audio only for certain calls or space out your schedule so that you aren’t in back to back meetings.

Set and Adjust Boundaries-Remember that boundaries are you friend. If you are feeling overwhelmed, fatigued and negative about your everyday, you can create more space for yourself through the use of boundaries. Often those around us won’t know we are struggling unless we speak up. Having a conversation with a co-worker or manager to let them know what you can and can’t do helps set boundaries for your time and energy reserves. Maybe the boundary you need to honor is with yourself. Noticing that you are working up until the moment your head hits the pillow? Sounds like you need to create a boundary for yourself, that includes wind-down time and a night- time ritual to help get restful sleep which will help with burnout symptoms.

Connect– To ward off symptoms of burnout, connection is crucial. Surround yourself with those who can be of help. Turn to family and friends who can help you through talking or taking on some miscellaneous tasks. Mentors or colleagues who can offer professional guidance or finding those outside your circle to engage in pleasurable activities like a hobby can help empower you with feelings of efficacy and optimism.

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