Burnout: what it is, the signs and preventions

Have you ever felt completely exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally? You may have experienced burnout. This mental health month, WISE is talking to our experts about recognising signs of poor mental health and providing tips on looking after your mind. Senior Occupational Rehabilitation Consultant Samantha (Sam) Davis explains burnout, how to recognise the signs and how to prevent it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that can zap the joy out of your career, relationships and personal goals. It can happen to anyone experiencing constant stress in their daily lives.

The cause of our stress does not need to be from work, but can also be from constant negative information on social media, news websites, friends, family and even constant damaging thoughts about yourself.

When the stress outweighs our self-care, we start to feel burnt out.

“The most common cause is imbalance. In our lives, we need to find a balance between completing our tasks, looking after ourselves and doing other things that make us happy,” says Sam.

Signs and symptoms

Sam explains that because burnout creeps in slowly, it can be hard to recognise the signs.

“By the time we know we’re burnt out, it’s usually too late.”

However, if we check in regularly with our mind and body, we may notice changes in our daily routine, mood and energy levels.

Common signs of burnout include a combination of the following:

  • Negative attitude
  • Anger and frustration
  • Broken sleep or insomnia
  • Complete lack of motivation
  • Struggling to get out of bed when you are usually positive
  • Finding it difficult to do things you usually love
  • Your routine starts to change
  • Becoming sick as the body is more susceptible to viruses and infections
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Skin disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Back or neck pains

“When you start to ignore those signs, life can feel meaningless, and we might lose our purpose,” says Sam. “When you become overworked, it can feel like you’re swimming against the tide and not able to keep your head above water, which can lead to feeling helpless and hopeless.”

Read more about the 12 steps of burnout here.


The good news is that we can do things in our everyday routine to prevent or start recovering from burnout.

Sam recommends starting by looking at the bigger picture.

“Look at your daily routine and recognise your habits. Are you taking breaks? Are you getting exercise or expressing yourself? Do you give yourself the chance to switch off from what causes you stress?”

Think about “expression vs suppression”, which means looking at the amount of information you take in and figuring out the best way for you to process and express it. This can be physically, creatively, verbally or emotionally.

“Once you have evaluated everything, you can put together a self-care plan that prioritises the things that are important to you.”

Some ideas for your plan can include:

  • Take some time off to do things you enjoy
  • Talk to someone – whether that be a therapist or a friend
  • Use mediation and relaxation
  • Exercise regularly in a form that works for you – dancing, walking, swimming etc
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stay connected to those you love – it can be friends, family, pets, workmates or anyone who helps boost your morale
  • Find hobbies you enjoy – puzzles, gardening, crafting, cooking, writing, music
  • Re-evaluate your expectations of people around you
  • Practise daily positive self-talk
  • Find something that makes you laugh
  • Care for yourself as a person by doing nice things for yourself

Learn more about mental health, expression vs suppression and creating a daily routine that’s right for you.



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