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Burnout: Causes, signs and tips

I-Chin Tsai
Occupational therapist from Taiwan and student of neuroscience in Germany.

According to the definition in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition. Burnout syndrome is thought to result from chronic stress at work that has not been successfully addressed. Burnout is becoming a common problem for workers because lockdowns have dramatically changed our work-life balance and our work environment.

The signs of burnout can be classified in three dimensions:

  1. Feelings from lack of energy and exhaustion
    • Feeling exhausted, regardless of how much sleep or rest is achieved, frequently falling ill and feeling pain, lack of motivation and interests in your free time
  2. Mental detachment of one's own profession or negative/cynical thoughts/feelings towards one's own profession
    • becoming cynical / irritable, avoidance and procrastination of work
  3. Decreasing efficiency at work
    • Communication with colleagues is avoided, important tasks or work is not completed in time, little interest in improving one's own skills / in further training.

Causes of burnout:

  • Lack of control in the workplace
  • Lack of social support
  • Skills are not valued in the workplace
  • Lack of fairness
  • Efforts are not acknowledged
  • Other expectations of the job
  • Imbalance of the work-life relationship
  • Inappropriate workload: too many tasks at once or too few demanding tasks to achieve successes
  • No rewards or positive feedback

You are overburdened with mental, emotional and physical stresses and receive little or no support for the immense burdens of work. This can lead to psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, pay attention to the signs that your body is telling you.

Common signs of burnout:

  • Persistent feelings of tiredness / exhaustion
  • Feelings of helplessness, imprisonment or defeat
  • Feelings of disconnection from others and work
  • Self-doubt
  • A cynical or negative outlook on life
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Concentration problems and problems focusing on work
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of motivation or passion for work / further education

Negative effects on physical and mental health:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional problems: sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Neck, back, head or stomach pain
  • Problems in decision-making
  • Reduced attention span / inattention
  • Memory problems
  • Negative or cynical view of life

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you have to drag yourself to work? Do you have problems getting started?
  • Are you irritable or impatient with colleagues or clients?
  • Do you feel you lack the energy to be productive or efficient at work?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate? Do you have problems remembering things?
  • Do you lack the satisfaction of your achievements?
  • Are you losing enthusiasm or motivation to improve your skills or expand your knowledge?
  • Do you use food, drugs or alcohol to feel better?
  • Has your sleep changed?
  • Are you too exhausted or tired to do anything fun or interesting in your free time?

Tests for detecting burnout:

  • Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI)
  • Job Diagnostic Scale (JDS)
  • Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES)

Tips for recovering from burnout:

  • Pay attention to your feelings
  • Think about and set clear boundaries for your work
  • Cutivate interests outside work
  • Build relationships with colleagues
  • Take care of your physical health
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Ask for help
  • Talk to your supervisor
  • Know your limits and don't be afraid to say no
  • Organise your desk
  • Adjust your working pace
  • Take time to relax
  • Spend time without your smartphone
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Exercise
  • Try to get enough sleep
  • Spend a few days in the fresh air, for example during a 2-3 day trip into nature
Von Burnout erholen mithilfe von Sport und Zeit mit der Familie verbringen.

Observe and listen to your mind and body. Filter out unhealthy causes of burnout and create a work environment and workload that you can determine yourself. This way you can not only find your passion, but also love your job again.


Goodman, M. J., &Schorling, J. B. (2012). A mindfulness course decreases burnout and improves well-being among healthcare providers. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine43(2), 119–128.

Ho, A. H. Y., Tan-Ho, G., Ngo, T. A., Ong, G., Chong, P. H., Dignadice, D., &Potash, J. (2021). A Novel Mindful-Compassion Art-Based Therapy for Reducing Burnout and Promoting Resilience Among Healthcare Workers: Findings From a Waitlist Randomized Control Trial. Frontiers in Psychology12(October).

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W., &Leiter, M. (2001). Job Burnout.pdf (p. 52).

Salvado, M., Marques, D. L., Pires, I. M., &Silva, N. M. (2021). Mindfulness-based interventions to reduce burnout in primary healthcare professionals: A systematic review and meta-analysis. In Healthcare (Switzerland) (Vol. 9, Issue 10).

Westphal, M., Wall, M., Corbeil, T., Keller, D. I., Brodmann-Maeder, M., Ehlert, U., Exadaktylos, A., Bingisser, R., &Kleim, B. (2021). Mindfulness predicts less depression, anxiety, and social impairment in emergency care personnel: A longitudinal study. PLoS ONE16(12 December), 1–14.

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