September 19, 2023


What is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.   Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.


Adapted from the work of Dr Herbert J Freudenberger

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself
    Often triggered by high ambition and turns into a strong desire to prove oneself in the workplace. This desire then turns into determination and compulsion.
  1. Working Harder
    Because you have to prove yourself to others, or try to show you fit into the organization, you establish high personal expectations. In order to meet these expectations, you tend to focus only on work and start to take on more work than you usually would. This then becomes the begging of an obsession to show how capable you are to others.
  1. Neglecting Their Needs
    Since since you have devoted everything to your work, you now have little time or energy for anything else. Friends and family, eating, and sleeping start to become seen as unnecessary or unimportant, as they reduce the time and energy that you can spend on work.
  1. Displacement of Conflicts
    You start to become aware that what you are doing is not right, but you lose clarity about the source of the problem. This gradually leads to seeing others as having a problem. At this stage the first physical symptoms start to appear.
  1. Revision of Values
    In order to cope, you start to isolate yourself from others, avoid conflicts, and begin to go into denial about your own physical needs.  Your perceptions and values change. Work  consumes all your energy, leaving nothing for family, friends or hobbies. You may go through the motions, but see no value in things outside of work. Your new value system is your job.
  1. Denial of Emerging Problems
    You begin to become intolerant. You don’t like being social.  If you’re forced into social contacts, it’s boring and unsatisfying. Others start to see you as more aggression and sarcastic. You blame your increasing problems on time pressure sand all the work you have to do. You don’t recognize the changes in yourself.
  1. Withdrawal
    Your social contact is now at a minimum, soon turning into isolation, a wall. Alcohol is often sought as a way of coping.
  1. Obvious Behavioral Changes
    Your family, friends, and colleagues in your immediate social circles comment on the behavioral changes, but usually don't say anything to you because of how you may react.
  1. Depersonalisation
    You start to lose emotional contact with yourself and may no longer see any value in yourself or others. You also lose track of your personal needs. Your view of life narrows to only seeing in the present an each day turns into a series of mechanical functions.
  1. Inner Emptiness
    You feel empty inside and to overcome this, you might look for activity such as excessive overeating, alcohol, or drugs.
  1. Depression
    Depression sets in and you feel exhausted, hopeless and indifferent. The typical indicators of depression symptoms arise.  These are lack of interest in anything, a sense of hopelessness, fatigue, agitation, social avoidance and poor self-care.
  1. Burnout Syndrome
    You collapse physically and emotionally and are likely to require medical attention.  This is “Burnout”.

Effects of Burnout

The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life – including your home 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.

Michael Tunnecliffe, is a Clinical Psychologist who has a Masters Degree in Philosophy and a keen interest in the aging brain. Michael is a Director of the Ashcliffe Psychology practice, based in West Perth. 

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