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Productive Life Coaching: Burnout

Dec 06, 2021


By Zainub Jada

Have your job expectations left you completely drained and running on empty?

Struggling to find the reserves to make it through the day?

Are you completely down out and at a point that you just can’t anymore?

Is your health starting to give in?

Are you losing concentration, missing deadlines, and taking excessive sick leave due to extreme stress, anxiety, and a fear of failure?

BURNOUT might be the answer.


Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

It happens to everyone at some point or another. Our lives get busy going here and there — working, helping others, or taking care of our families. Sometimes, we get too busy and forget to take a step back and rest. That is when burnout can occur.

As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful.

The adverse effects of burnout spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away.

Burnout often results from a misalignment of input and output; you get burnt out when you feel like you’re putting more into your work than you’re getting out of it. Sometimes this happens when a job isn’t rewarding, but often it’s because you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Are you on the road to burnout?

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  1. Every day is a bad day
  2. Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy
  3. You’re exhausted all the time
  4. Most of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming
  5. You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated

Signs and symptoms of burnout

Most of us have days when we feel helpless, overloaded, or unappreciated when dragging ourselves out of bed requires 100% determination. If you feel like this most of the time, you may be burned out.

Burnout is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first but become worse as time goes on. Think of the early symptoms as red flags that something is wrong that needs to be addressed. If you pay attention and actively reduce your stress, you can prevent a major breakdown. If you ignore them, you’ll eventually burn out.

Physical signs

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • An increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioural signs

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food or meds to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Types of Burnout

Three types of burnout have been identified, each with its own cause:

  1. Overload/Individual Burnout

This happens when you work harder and harder, becoming frantic in your pursuit of success. If you experience this, you may be willing to risk your health and personal life to feel successful in your job.  This type of burnout is caused by excessive negative self-talk, neurosis, and perfectionism. In other words, when you place extremely high standards on yourself or believe nothing you do is good enough.

  1. Under-Challenged/Interpersonal Burnout

This happens when you feel underappreciated and bored in your job. Maybe your job doesn’t provide learning opportunities or have room for professional growth. If you feel under-challenged, you may distance yourself from your job, become cynical, and avoid responsibilities. This type of burnout is caused by difficult relationships with others at work or home. For example, an aggressive or unwelcoming boss or co-worker can compound the stress you already feel at work to the point of burnout.

“Biologically, we are not meant to be in that high-stress mode all the time. We get lost in this idea that the only way to be productive is to be on the go-go-go mode.”

  1. Neglect/Organisational Burnout

This happens when you feel helpless at work. If things aren’t going right, you may believe you’re incompetent or unable to keep up with your responsibilities. This type of burnout is caused by poor organisation, extreme demands, and unrealistic deadlines that make you feel like you’re missing the mark and your job is in danger.

The difference between stress and burnout

Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine feeling better if they can get everything under control.

Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.

Stress vs Burnout

Stress is the person who looks a little crazy when they turn up for an after-work get together at the end of the week, strung out and frazzled; the burned-out person is the one who didn’t even bother to show up.  

STRESS          1. Characterised by over-engagement

B/O                 1. Characterised by disengagement

STRESS          2. Emotions are over-reactive

B/O                 2. Emotions are blunted

STRESS          3. Produces urgency and hyperactivity

B/O                 3. Produces helplessness and hopelessness

STRESS          4. Loss of energy

B/O                 4. Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope

STRESS          5. Leads to anxiety disorders

B/O                 5. Leads to detachment and depression

STRESS          6. Primary damage is physical

B/O                 6. Primary damage is emotional

STRESS          7. May kill you prematurely

B/O                7. May make life seem not worth living

Causes of burnout

Burnout often stems from your job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout, from the hard-working office worker who hasn’t had a vacation in years to the frazzled stay-at-home mom tending to kids, housework, and an ageing parent.

But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and personality traits. What you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big of a role in causing overwhelming stress like work or home demands.

Work-related causes

  1. Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
  2. Lack of recognition or reward for good work
  3. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations
  4. Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging
  5. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment

Lifestyle causes

  1. Working too much, without enough time for socialising or relaxing.
  2. Lack of close, supportive relationships.
  3. Taking on too many responsibilities without enough help from others.
  4. Not getting enough sleep.

Personality traits that can contribute to burnout

  1. Perfectionist tendencies: nothing is ever good enough
  2. Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  3. The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
  4. High-achieving, Type A personality

Dealing with burnout

Whether you recognise the warning signs of impending burnout or you’re already past the breaking point, trying to push through the exhaustion and continuing as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage. Now is the time to pause and change direction by learning how to help yourself overcome burnout and feel healthy and positive again.

Dealing with burnout requires the “Three R” approach:

  1. Recognise – Watch for the warning signs of burnout.
  2. Reverse – Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress.
  3. Resilience -Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health.

The following tips for preventing or dealing with burnout can help you cope with symptoms and regain your energy, focus, and sense of well-being.

Tip 1: Disconnect

Disconnecting is the most critical burnout strategy because if you can’t find time to remove yourself electronically from your work, then you’ve never really left job. Making yourself available to your work 24/7 exposes you to a constant barrage of stressors that prevent you from refocusing and recharging. If taking the entire evening or weekend off from handling work e-mails and calls isn’t realistic, try designating specific times to check in on emails and respond to voicemails. For example, on weekday evenings, you may check emails after dinner, and on the weekend, you may review your messages on Saturday afternoon while your kids are playing sports. Scheduling such short blocks of time alleviates stress without sacrificing your availability.

Tip 2: Pay attention to your body signals.

What the mind suppresses, the body expresses. It’s easy to think that a headache results from dehydration, that a stomachache is the result of something you ate, and that an aching neck is from sleeping on it wrong, but that’s not always the case. Often, aches and pains are an accumulation of stress and anxiety. Burnout manifests in your body, so learn to pay attention to your body’s signals so that you can nip burnout in the bud. Your body is always talking, but you must listen.

Tip 3: Get organised

Get organised. Much of the stress we experience daily doesn’t stem from having too much work; it stems from being too disorganised to handle the work effectively. When you take the time to get organised, the load feels much more manageable.

Tip 4: Turn to other people

When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care, let alone take action to help yourself. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. There are positive steps you can take to deal with overwhelming stress and get your life back into balance. One of the most effective is to reach out to others.

Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress and talking face to face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your stressors; they just have to be a good listener, someone who’ll listen attentively without becoming distracted or expressing judgment.

Reach out to those closest to you, such as your partner, family, and friends. Opening up won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends and loved ones will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your friendship.

Be more sociable with your co-workers. Developing friendships with people you work with can help buffer you from job burnout. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues. Or schedule social events together after work.

Having strong ties in the workplace can help reduce monotony and counter the effects of burnout. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.

Limit your contact with negative people. Hanging out with negative-minded people who do nothing but complain will only drag down your mood and outlook. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together.

Tip 5: Reframe the way you look at work

Try to find some value in your work. Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your role helps others or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your co-workers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.

Find balance in your life. If you hate your job, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life: in your family, friends, hobbies, or voluntary work. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy.

Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave of absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery.

Tip 6: Re-evaluate your priorities

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.

Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make.

Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email or social media.

Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favourite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work or whatever is causing your stress.

Set aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.

Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can exacerbate burnout by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep.

Tip 7: Make exercise a priority

Taking at least 30 minutes of exercise is proven to have a multitude of health benefits. Not only is it good for you physically, but it can improve your sleep quality and mental health as well.

Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re burned out, exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout. It’s also something you can do to boost your mood.

Break up the 30 minutes into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.

Tip 8: Support your mood and energy levels with a healthy diet

What you put in your body can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day.

Minimise sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these high-carbohydrate foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.

Reduce your high intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, unhealthy fats, and foods with chemical preservatives.

Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost.


Burnout can feel insurmountable. But it’s a sign of something that needs to be fixed, not a life sentence

By understanding what causes burnout, how it manifests itself in our daily lives, and how you can prevent, counteract, and recover from it, you can commit to a happier and healthier life at work and at home.


  • helpguide.org
  • webmd.com
  • talentsmarteq.com
  • createlings.co.za
  • blogrescuetime.com



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