Breaking the Burnout Cycle: Strategies for Recovery

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Feeling burned out, exhausted, fatigued or just feeling very tired? Distinguishing between these states can be challenging, as their symptoms often overlap. However, dismissing burnout as mere tiredness or a need for a holiday can be detrimental to your health. 

It is crucial to heed the signals your body is sending, as burnout requires more intensive recovery efforts compared to fatigue or exhaustion alone. Recovering from burnout goes beyond a single night of rest or a brief getaway. Ignoring the symptoms over time only compounds the challenge of recovery. 

The term ‘burnout’ is often used interchangeably with extreme tiredness, fatigue or exhaustion, leading to confusion about the distinction between the terms. Burnout, unlike the other states, stems from chronic stress, altering our physiology and resulting in persistent fatigue and disconnection.

To differentiate between burnout and tiredness, it’s essential to understand the various types of tiredness:

Fatigue: Feeling overtired with low energy and a strong urge to sleep, disrupting daily activities.

Exhaustion: Extreme physical or mental fatigue.

Burnout: Emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion resulting from excessive and prolonged stress.

Primarily occurring in the workplace, no matter where your workplace is or how many people you work with. Job burnout is characterised by work-related stress leading to physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, along with reduced productivity and a sense of diminished accomplishment and personal identity. 

Workplace stress has become a leading cause of lost workdays, contributing to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, resentment and increased risk of anxiety and depression.

The causes of burnout include:

  • Work-life imbalance stemming from excessive working hours
  • Unhealthy interpersonal relationships
  • Lack of control and influence over job-related decisions
  • Lack of clarity around job expectations 
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of trust

These causes may seem minor individually, but when left unaddressed they accumulate over time and contribute to burnout.

Symptoms to watch out for include the following:

– Loss of energy or interest in work and home life

– Increased absenteeism

– Chronic fatigue despite adequate rest

– Physical symptoms like headaches and muscle pain

– Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns

– Emotional signs such as sadness, anger or irritability

– Increased alcohol or substance use

– Increased vulnerability to illness 

– Feelings of failure, self-doubt and/or isolation

man feeling burnout

Recognising burnout symptoms is only the beginning. The next crucial step is to engage in an honest conversation with yourself, a trusted ally, or a professional, like a therapist or doctor. Remember, there’s no shame in admitting burnout—it’s the first step towards recovery, similar to acknowledging any other illness.

How to recover from burnout

  • Remove yourself from stressors and immerse in a rejuvenating environment.
  • Delve into the root causes with professional guidance, addressing underlying issues.
  • Evaluate whether to make modifications in your current situation or pursue significant life changes.
  • Implement strategies to create a healthier equilibrium between work and personal life.

You will also need to create a sustainable work-life balance. Here are four ways to set about achieving this:

  1. Separate work and non-work life.
  2. Prioritise self-care activities and relaxation at home to recharge.
  3. Develop a strong, dependable support network.
  4. Consider finding new work that is more in keeping with your values.

Burnout is a serious issue affecting many people today. By understanding the differences between burnout, fatigue and exhaustion, by recognising the symptoms and taking proactive steps to prevent and recover from burnout, you can reclaim your physical, emotional and mental well-being. 

Recovering varies in duration and is influenced by multiple factors such as the duration of symptoms, the extent of life areas affected and the effectiveness of addressing underlying causes. 

While there’s no quick fix, progress is made day by day with the time needed to recover ranging from a few months to a much longer period. The important thing is to take the first step on that journey – begin today!

Woman feeling burnout

Listen: If you possess resilience, it can propel you to overcome workplace challenges you never thought possible – but if you lack it, it can have significant ramifications on your future. So, why do some individuals seem effortlessly resilient when faced with adversity while others grapple with burnout and stress? Trinity alumnus Jack Kavanagh, Pharmacist, Speaker and Non-Exec Director, is a well-known speaker on the value of health and well-being as drivers for performance, particularly when cultivating diverse and inclusive environments where people belong and are valued. In our Inspiring Ideas @ Trinity webinar, Jack was joined by the Director of the Disability Service, Declan Treanor, and they delved into why we face burnout, how to recognise it and how we can combat it. They also shared practical tips on how you can cultivate resilience in the workplace. 

Read: In a world that glamorises stress, ‘burnout’ is a badge of honour. But there is a cure


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