Managing Work-Related Burnout

“Burnout” is a word you have probably heard a lot over the past few months. Living through a global pandemic has thrown us into a world in which loneliness and anxiety are a constant threat. You may be experiencing a mixture of stress, sadness, and fear but know that you are not alone! Our current climate has bred uncertainty and the onset of COVID-19 has added a universal pressure to everyone’s lives. None of us were fully prepared to shift from regular life to one of isolation, virtual relationships, complete remote work, and generalized fear. Though these measures have been put in place for everyone’s safety, they are by no means easy to adjust to. With these added difficulties, it is understandable that some of us are feeling our stress levels rise.


What Exactly Is Burnout?

Burnout is a state in which someone feels mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted due to prolonged stress. It can affect a person in every aspect of their life, including their work and social lives. A person will feel a loss of motivation, productivity, and overall energy. As their energy is drained, a person may go on to feel cynical, hopeless, and resentful.

Some of the symptoms of burnout are:

  Feeling constantly drained or tired.

  Persistently feeling like a failure or doubting yourself.

  Losing motivation.

  Having a negative outlook.

  Never feeling satisfied or accomplished.

  Avoiding responsibilities, procrastinating, or avoiding work altogether.

Physical symptoms can include:

  A persistent loss of energy.

  Frequent headaches or muscle pain.

  Frequently falling ill.

  Changes in appetite or sleep habits. 

If unchecked for too long, burnout can have severe results on a person’s physical and mental health. In cases like these, it is important to seek professional help (see below).


Stress vs. Burnout:

There is a difference between feeling stressed and experiencing burnout. Someone who is stressed will often feel that once they get their tasks under control, their life will improve. Someone who is experiencing burnout, however, will often feel it is not possible to get things under control and may feel hopeless. describes the difference as: “If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.”

Another difference is that burnout does not occur instantly. It is a gradual process in which prolonged stress and responsibility eventually deplete a person’s sense of accomplishment and motivation. Burnout is characterized by disengagement, a loss of hope, and numbness. Eventually the smallest task can completely overwhelm a person.


Burnout & Work:

Though it is important to address stress in every aspect of a person’s life, this additional pressure can affect a person’s relationship with their work. Work is one area in which it can often be difficult to slow down or take time off. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and stretched too thin, as it is hard to know how to make space for yourself within a busy work life.

Some causes of work-related burnout are:

  Working too much with little or no time to relax.

  Feeling like you do not have control in your work.

  Feeling like you are not being recognized for good work.

  Working in a high-pressure or disorganized environment.


What Can You Do?

How do we prevent work-related burnout, or combat it when it occurs? There are many ways to ease some of the weight from your shoulders.


Identify What is Draining Your Energy:

  • Often we know that we are strained but are unsure of what the root cause is. You may know that you have too much on your plate but may not have identified what is causing that. Are you taking on too much responsibility? Are you under-staffed or not delegating enough? Are there members of your team who could take on more responsibility? It is necessary to identify what is causing your stress. This will either highlight your triggers or uncover a problem that you can fix. Knowing what is causing you stress will help you either change your own behavior or find a solution to an external problem.


Reassess Your Goals:

  • Thinking long-term or “big-picture” is helpful when mapping out which direction you want to work in. However, it can also mean that you’re losing track of smaller tasks or forgetting to validate yourself for your accomplishments. In trying to break your work down into smaller, short-term goals, you might increase your sense of satisfaction and motivation at work.


Find Meaning in Work:

  •  Try to reframe your mindset around work. Can you find significance in the work you’re doing? Is there a way to pivot a project so that it better aligns with your values? This may help you feel like you are contributing to something bigger than yourself and allow you to find passion in the work that you are doing.


Take Regular Breaks:

  • This is a key aspect to managing burnout. You might not have the freedom to work less, but creating a schedule with breaks and diligently sticking to it will be a game-changer. You may be someone who can work uninterrupted for an hour or two and then take a break, or you may be someone who consistently works for 25 minutes and then needs 5 minutes to reset. Neither option is the ‘right’ option, they are both valid, and it is important to figure out how long you stay productive for. This allows you to then schedule yourself accordingly and will help you maintain productivity and avoid overstretching yourself.


Implement Boundaries:

  • Do you work on the weekends? Do you work late into the night? Try to avoid this. We all know the feeling of having a last-minute task assigned or falling behind on a project. In these instances, you may need to work outside of your expected hours. However, for the betterment of your mental health, it is important to set boundaries with your work life. If you’re working remotely due to COVID-19, it may be even harder now to separate work and home, but without these boundaries you’ll find yourself without enough time for relaxation.


Talk to Your Employer:

  • If this option exists for you, take it. Discuss how you can be better supported in your role. If this is not an option, see if it is possible to shift where your attention is being focused. If you’re finding yourself exhausted from all the Zoom meetings, see if you need to be present for all of them. Making sure your attention is mainly focused on priority tasks will give you a sense of control in your work.


Reach Out to Loved Ones:

  • With COVID-19, the loss of our regular routines has impacted everyone’s mental health. We no longer get those frequent interactions throughout our day that help us feel less alone. We are also being asked, for the most part, to stay away from friends and family which heightens our sense of loneliness. If you are experiencing burnout, you may also be leaning towards isolation. It is important to reach out to loved ones. Try to remember that in our COVID-19 world, there is a “new normal.” In accepting that, you may find it easier to seek out new ways to interact with your circle. Virtual hang-outs, phone calls, and outdoor social-distancing plans are all acceptable ways to see those that you miss. This will help ease some of the loneliness you may be feeling.


Small Changes:

  • Small changes can go a long way! Try changing some of your daily habits.
  • Write Lists: Make a list of all your to-do’s at the start of every day. You can have separate lists for “home,” “work,” “long-term,” and so on. Visually breaking tasks down and being able to cross them off as you complete them can add to your sense of accomplishment and help you to better manage your time.
  • Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: There are many guides available on how to practice mindfulness and start meditation. You can learn how to take a short 5 minute break during your day to help regulate your thought processes, practice anxiety management, and make space for yourself.
  • Take Breaks from Social Media: Though social media can be a great source of entertainment and news, it is also filled with a lot of false information and images that have the power to subconsciously influence how we view our lives. If you’re finding yourself overloaded with data, try to take some time out of your day to put your phone down and do something else.


Seek Professional Help:

  • Mental health regulation is a long-term effort and it doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes changing parts of your routine just isn’t enough, and that’s okay. If you are overwhelmed beyond what you consider normal, it may be time to seek professional help. Getting help can be the best solution, as prolonged stress and depression can lead to physical health problems. In light of COVID-19, Ontario has extended their online mental health resources. If you’re looking to get professional help, please visit this website:


Overall, remember that taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You are not alone and taking action in caring for your mental wellbeing is always a step in the right direction. You can do this.


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