Dealing With Burnout

Burned OutI was recently asked by someone on Quora to answer this question:

How did you overcome serious mental, emotional, and or physical burn-out and exhaustion?

Burnout is a particular form of stress.  It usually relates to something very focussed, often work, but could also stem from a demanding relationship or some other circumstance.  The result is emotional and physical exhaustion.

Burnout is a common experience.  In some professions, burnout rates exceed 25% (1).  If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you probably know someone who has.

From a health standpoint, burnout has been found to be associated with low levels of physical activity, obesity, exhaustion, heavy drinking, and diminished professional efficacy (2).

Obviously, it’s a personal and social problem that warrants attention, but if you are living with a condition of chronic pain and/or fatigue, burnout is definitely not a place you want to visit because burnout makes pain worse (3).

All things in life occur because of the choices, compromises and trade-offs we make, and this applies to burnout as much as anything else.  Knowing that equips you to take your first steps to trade burnout for balance.
How do you trade burnout for balance?
To begin, you need to understand what “balance” is going to be for you.
Balance can be static or dynamic.  People who prefer static balance like to schedule everything, and may place limits on the amount of time they will devote to a given activity in a given time period in order to maintain their schedules.  They place a high priority on keeping to their schedules.
People who prefer dynamic balance will devote more time to work, for example, in one week and more to personal needs in another week; their balance point shifts to reflect changes in their priorities.
Your balance needs to take into account the degree to which your prefer static balance versus dynamic.  It also needs to reflect your values and priorities.  In an ideal world, your priorities align with your values.  For example, if time with your family is your number one value, it should also have a high priority.
If you examine how you set priorities and what you spend the most time on, and compare these to your list of values, it can show you where you are out of balance.  You are then in a better position to make decisions about how you structure your time or whether you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
What about the role your health plays?  Many chronic conditions have their roots in lifestyle and dietary choices, or are at least influenced by them.  You could think of these aspects as the “life” part in the work-life balance equation.  If you are allowing heath-supporting habits such as regular exercise, a wholesome diet and adequate rest to rank highly on your list of life priorities, then you have “programmed” your life balance in favor of good health.

Look at other things that can help to help you strike the right balance:

  • an honest self-assessment of the factors that are affecting you, and a commitment to act on the ones you can
  • implementing a set of regular routines (times for sleep and getting up, mealtimes, etc) to support physical recovery
  • learning how to shift your perspective to manage stress and make it easier to say “No” when required
Wayne Dyer says:

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

It’s true, and completely under your control.

10 Life Changing Tips Inspired By Wayne Dyer


(1) Dyrbye, Liselotte N., et al. “Burnout among US medical students, residents, and early career physicians relative to the general US population.” Academic Medicine 89.3 (2014): 443-451.
(2) Ahola, Kirsi, et al. “Burnout and behavior-related health risk factors: results from the population-based Finnish health 2000 study.” Journal of occupational and environmental medicine 54.1 (2012): 17-22.                                                                                                   (3) Armon, Galit, et al. “Elevated burnout predicts the onset of musculoskeletal pain among apparently healthy employees.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 15.4 (2010): 399.