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What is burnout?

What is burnout?


After taking a bit of a break, due to having worked incredibly hard over the past few months, it seems fitting to return with a blog on burnout; a topic that is relevant to not only the fact that I took some time out but also current times…

Not that I burnt out. I am pleased to report that I do actually practice what I preach and took some time to work less/ rest more and therefore avoid burnout!

However, I have been speaking to many people since lockdown started here in the UK (individuals and organisations) and burnout is a hot topic at the moment because of the ‘always on’ culture that, for many people, has intensified due lockdown measures and working from home.


So, over the next few weeks I will be sharing some insights around burnout with the ultimate goal to help you avoid it yourself or for those you lead and/or care for.


As of last year, the World Health Organisation declared ‘burnout’ an official medical condition that is to be recognised by the professional health community.

According to the WHO, burnout isn’t just synonymous with being stressed out, it is “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The classification came as a result of the revision of the International Classification of Diseases and the ailment ‘burnout’ can now be found under “Problems associated with employment or unemployment”.


According to the health guidelines, burnout is categorised by the following symptoms:


  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.


“Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context,” says the WHO, “and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Yet, this is where I somewhat disagree.

Having coached and mentored many people who work in high-pressured environments, I definitely recognise that burnout is caused by work-related stress.

But stress from overall lifestyle can also play a big role, which is often a result of personality traits, coping mechanisms and/or thought patterns.


That is not to blame the individual, but when someone is suffering with burnout it’s really important to consider the following issues as well:


  • People pleasing and not knowing when/ how to say no
  • Being in a toxic environment or around toxic people
  • Prioritising others over yourself
  • Lack of structure/discipline
  • Too much structure/discipline
  • Negativity and pessimism
  • Perfectionism
  • Seeking self-worth from excelling and recognition
  • Super(wo)man syndrome (I can do it all)
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Having little control over what you’re doing
  • Not being appreciated for what you’re doing
  • Addiction to busyness
  • Workaholism
  • Addiction to exercise
  • Never stopping/resting
  • Working hard and playing hard
  • Poor diet
  • Poor sleep


Many of these issues do contribute to burnout and sometimes it’s a chicken and egg situation…

For example, when someone is very stressed due to work-related pressures it’s likely that their wellbeing will be affected, which further exacerbates the problem. Yet on the flip side, if someone isn’t looking after their health and wellbeing, their resilience drops, and they are likely to find it harder to cope under pressure.

Also, as I’ve shared many times before, when we’re stressed, we start to look at life through the lens of potential threats. Which over-time can lead to being more cynical and negative and further stressed: stressful thoughts ramp up stress hormones and vice versa.

When looking at personality traits, one example that I often see in clients is that very driven, ambitious types may also have perfectionist or people pleasing tendencies not just in the workplace but also in their life outside of work: friendships, family, finances, self-improvement, parenting, further education, travel and culture, spirituality, home decor, sports and fitness, appearance etc — adding further pressure, stress and busyness to their overall life experience.

If you feel overwhelmed, burnt out or close to burn out, I suggest you consider the list above and see if you identify with any traits or circumstances that could be contributing to your overall stress levels.


In next week’s blog, we’ll look at how the real-life working challenges of current times (re lockdown and working from home) are contributing to chronic stress and burnout.


If you are worried that you might be close to or experiencing burnout, please do reach out for a no obligation consultation where we can discuss your situation and I can help you get clarity on the best way to move forward. Click HERE


Love Kate x

Kate Horwood