Burnout has been highlighted in the news last week as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, resigned stating she did not have “enough in the tank” to continue in her role. The fast pace and demands of modern society mean more and more of us are suffering from burnout. This blog will explain the signs of burnout as well as steps you can take to prevent it.

Man stressed at work

What is burnout?

Put simply, burnout is when you have been carrying too much for too long and are physically and emotionally exhausted. It may be caused by long-term workplace stress and is common in helping professions. However, it is not exclusive to these professions and can affect anyone. It does not have to be related to a job, for example caring for family members can also lead to burnout.

What are the signs of burnout?

It can be difficult to know the difference between stress and burnout. We may all experience some of the signs below from time to time, but if you notice a number of these over an extended period, you may be experiencing burnout. You may wish to speak to a medical professional if this is the case, as this list is designed to help you be more aware of the signs of burnout, not to diagnose yourself. Please note that some of these signs can also be associated with other conditions, such as depression.

  • irritability / anger
  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • changes to appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • fatigue
  • loss of concentration
  • isolation / disconnection
  • feeling like what you do makes no difference

5 ways to prevent burnout:

1. Set boundaries and stick to them

Work-life boundaries will look different for everyone. It may not be possible to not work weekends or take work home, but there are still ways you can boundary your work. For example, not having work emails on your phone or only checking them at set times. It can be really difficult to put these in place, but deciding what your limits are and saying no to anything beyond this protects your time outside work.

2. Schedule breaks

Many of us have got into the habit of working through lunches and not taking breaks. However, taking breaks and then coming back to a task makes us more productive. If you find when you try to take a lunch break you get phone calls, emails or people asking you to do things, it may help to go outside, physically leaving your workplace and your phone so you actually get a break. Another thing that can help is setting reminders to take breaks on your phone. For example, you could use this meditation to spend one minute every hour focusing on your breathing not your to-do list.

3. Actively transition between work and home life

With more of us working from home or taking work home, the line between work and home life can get blurred. If you work from home, taking a walk round the block to physically distance yourself from work at the end of your working day can help. Another thing that can help is really focussing on an activity that brings you back into what you are doing in the present and out of work-mode. This could be anything, for example, working out, gardening or even doing the washing up. What matters is that you focus your attention on what you are doing in the present moment.

4. Make time for self-care

When we are busy and stressed, it can be easy to stop doing the things that help us relax and recharge. This is when it is even more important to do those things. Whilst we may have physically left the stressor, we may carry the stress with us. Things that can help are exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep and spending time with loved ones. It may be that all of these things have slipped off your priority list. It can help to pick one to focus on and schedule specific time to do it. This could be scheduling in a yoga class, coffee with a friend or time to wind down before bed

5. Identify your stressors and change them

One of the reasons burnout can creep up on us is that we don’t always spot the signs. Think about your job – what are the specific parts that stress you out? Then think about what you can do to change them. It may not be possible to get rid of them altogether, but you may be able to break a task you usually do in one day into chunks across the week, or ask for help and work on something with a colleague. If there are too many stressors that you can’t change, it may be worth considering if changing your job altogether is an option.


Burnout can affect anyone and can creep up on us. Awareness of the signs of burnout can help you spot if you are on the way to it. It can be really hard to put boundaries in place, but there are steps you can take today to prevent burnout. If you think you may be experiencing burnout and would like to find out more about how counselling can help, please get in touch:

Photo by Antoni Shkraba production