Burnout – Signs, Symptoms, Phases, Causes and How to Prevent it?

This term was derived by Herbert Freudenberger, a psychologist in the 1970s. It refers to a condition where extreme stress can cause acute mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Elongated or persistent stress in the workplace can cause burnout.

It is recognized through three primary symptoms, cynicism (where the person doesn’t connect to the job), fatigue, and when people feel that their professional capabilities have diminished.

What is Burnout?

What is Burnout

Drawn out and extreme stress can cause a burned-out person to be mentally, physically, and emotionally weary. Burnout generally occurs when someone is emotionally exhausted, overloaded and when continual demands can’t be met.

As the stress prolongs, you tend to lose the enthusiasm and appeal the work had when you initially took on the role. It becomes difficult for employees to carry on with their everyday responsibilities and manage the stress.

Burnout needs to be treated and does not get better on its own. Diabetes, heart diseases, and depression can arise due to untreated burnout.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

1. Physical indicators

  • Stomach aches, intestinal issues, headaches, and other physical symptoms might arise due to persistent stress.

2. Disconnection from activities related to work

  • Work gets exasperating and stressful due to burnout.
  • Burnout might cause people to be pessimistic towards colleagues and the work environment.
  • It can also lead people to withdraw emotionally and be desensitized with respect to work.

3. Diminished performance

  • Day-to-day tasks either at home or at work are affected by burnout, especially when caregiving is a significant responsibility of the individual at home.
  • Pessimism about work is caused by burnout.
  • A person’s attention span is affected along with creativity.

4. Emotional weariness

  • People tend to be exhausted, saturated, and can’t cope due to burnout.

5. Fantasizing about a break

  • The continuous demands at the workplace might cause a person to be discontent and fantasize about a break ( a vacation or escaping)
  • Food, alcohol, or drugs can be used as coping mechanisms for their emotional pain in extreme cases.

6. Seclusion

  • Burnout causes a person to feel overburdened.
  • People experiencing it might stop interacting with colleagues, friends, and family.

7. Temper

People experiencing burnout can get angry or irritated at colleagues, friends, and family members easily.

Phases of Burnout

12 phases were highlighted by psychologists Gail North and Herbert Freudenberger

  1. Extreme urge/ aspiration.
  2. Pressurizing yourself to work more diligently.
  3. Disregarding your own requirements.
  4. Deracination of disputes. (check)
  5. No time for personal needs.
  6. Blaming others instead of owning up to your actions.
  7. Seclusion from friends and family.
  8. People experiencing burnout may get irritated or angry at family and friends unnecessarily.
  9. Disconnection from life and your control over it.
  10. Feeling anxious or numb. Adventurous behavior might be used as a coping mechanism. Example: overeating, gambling, or substance abuse.
  11. You lose motivation and hope. Suffer from depression.
  12. Crash emotionally or physically. Might lose your coping ability. Might require medical or mental health attention.

Causes of Burnout

1. Work-related causes of burnout

  • No acknowledgment or compensation for good work.
  • Doing tedious or uncomplicated work.
  • Notions of losing your command overwork.
  • Working in an intense or disorderly environment.
  • Vague or extremely challenging job expectations.

2. Lifestyle causes of burnout

  • Absence of intimate and encouraging relationships.
  • No time for entertainment or socializing due to excessive work.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Taking more responsibilities than they can handle alone.
  • It gets difficult to entrust others with work—a constant need to be in charge.

The negative perspective of the world and yourself.

How to prevent burnout

1. Consuming a balanced diet

  • Nourishing diets containing Omega 3 fatty acids can help de-stress.
  • Walnuts, fish, and flaxseed oil are rich in Omega 3 and give u an emotional boost.

2. Work out

  • In addition to improving our physical health, exercise also provides a mental boost.
  • Short walks and mini workouts that do not require a lot of time and effort can also so be beneficial if made into a habit.

3. Seek help

  • It is essential to seek help when you are stressed.
  • You can check in with close family members or friends as a part of “self-care” if asking for help feels difficult and you want to be there for each other.

4. Having a healthy sleeping pattern

  • Healthy sleeping patterns are important for our well-being since our bodies need to relax and reboot.
  • Forming bedtime rituals, avoiding the use of phones in bedrooms, and not consuming caffeine prior to bedtime can encourage healthy sleep patterns.

Dealing with burnout

The “Three R” approach is advised to deal with burnout.

  • Recognize – keep an eye out for indicators for burnout.
  • Reverse – seek help to cope with the stress and reverse the damage.
  • Resilience – Build your adaptability to stress by keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy.

Possible causes of job burnout

  • Insufficient control.
  • Defective workplace environment and practices.
  • Vague job requirements.
  • Immoderate activity.
  • No Work-life balance.
  • No social support.
  • Try to satisfy everyone by doing all the work alone.
  • Employed in a helping profession like health care
  • An unchallenging and tedious job
  • Feelings of no command over one’s work.

Consequences of job burnout

  • Excess stress
  • Inability to sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Ill temper or sadness.
  • Cardiac disease
  • Substance abuse or alcohol
  • High blood pressure
  • Susceptible to diseases
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Managing job burnout

Stress vs. Burnout

Symptom is over-engagement.
Symptom is detachment.
Extreme emotions.
Dulled Emotions.
Creates excitability and urgency.
Creates hopelessness and powerlessness.
Energy deprivation.
Deprived of hope, ideals, and encouragement.
Gives birth to anxiety disorders.
Gives birth to depression and disconnection.
Majorly physical damage
Majorly emotional damage.
May cause premature death.
It might make life seem not worth living.

Burnout Example


  • Japanese companies have the world’s longest working hours, and it is literally killing their employees.
  • The government now plans to do more.
  • It is not new for Japanese employees to work long working hours.
  • The first case was seen in the 1960s.
  • Karoshi has been brought to attention again through the latest high-profile cases.

Case 1

Naoya landed a job at a large Japanese telecoms company straight out of college. He loved computers, and it seemed like a great opportunity in Japan’s competitive graduate jobs market. But just two years later, things started to go wrong.

“He usually worked until the last train, but if he missed it he slept at his desk,” his mother said. “In the worst case, he had to work overnight through to 10 pm the next evening, working 37 hours in total.”

Two years later, Naoya died at the age of 27 from an overdose of medication. His death has officially ruled a case of “karoshi” – the Japanese term to describe death attributed to overwork.

Case 2

On Christmas Day in 2015, 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi, an employee at the Japanese advertising agency Dentsu, jumped to her death.

Japan’s Overtime culture

  • There are hundreds of official karoshi cases reported every year.
  • They include suicides, strokes, and heart attacks. But according to campaigners, the actual figure is significantly higher.
  • According to a survey, greater than 80 hours of overtime is covered by employees in 1/4th of Japanese companies every month.
  •  They are frequently unpaid.
  • The 100 hours monthly overtime mark has been crossed by more than 12% of employees.
  • These values are vital – more than 80 hours of monthly overtime is considered the limit, after which your chances of dying increase.
  • Even though almost 35% of them don’t take it, employees are permitted 20 days off annually.