How Does Burnout Affect Your Health?

Eight ways to prevent burnout at work

A young woman looks tired in front of her laptop, a sign of job burnout.

Eight ways to prevent burnout at work

In today’s fast-paced world, stress and burnout have become an inevitable part of many people’s lives. What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress. It is not a medical condition, but a syndrome that can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender or occupation.

Burnout is a common issue in the workplace, even with remote working, and has negative effects on employees and their organizations.

“If left untreated, burnout can have serious consequences on your health and well-being,” says Brandon Ciaudelli, DO, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic John R. Anderson V Medical Pavilion in La Jolla.

Fortunately, steps can be taken to prevent burnout. They include setting boundaries, practicing self-care and seeking support when needed.

What is job burnout?

Job burnout is specifically related to work. Caused by prolonged stress and pressure at work, burnout can affect job satisfaction, performance and health.

Workplace stress can have many causes, such as feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities, conflicts with your boss or dissatisfaction with your salary, to name just a few.

“No matter what causes tension, our bodies instinctively react to stress,” Dr. Ciaudelli says. “This triggers a sequence of chemical and hormonal reactions that affect you both physically and psychologically.”

What are warning signs?

The signs of burnout may vary depending on the individual and the situation. There are some common signs, including:

  • Feeling exhausted and depleted
  • Reduced performance
  • Negative attitude
  • Losing interest

What are symptoms?

Burnout is a gradual process that develops over time. Identifying early signs can be hard. People may not recognize they are feeling burned out until it is too late.

In the short term, symptoms can result in:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Frequent headaches
  • Upset stomach and digestion
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Lower immunity, higher risk of catching colds, flu and other infections

Over time, burnout can contribute to more serious and chronic problems, such as heart disease and mental health disorders.

Impact on mental health

Burnout can have a significant impact on your mental health. It can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. It can also affect your relationships and social life. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious mental health problems.

“Seeking help from a mental health professional can be beneficial in managing burnout and improving mental health,” Dr. Ciaudelli says. “Always remember your health and well-being are your number one priority.”

Eight tips to prevent burnout

1. Get organized

Stay organized and try not to see temporary crises as impossible problems.

“Being organized can make a major difference in how stressed you are,” says Dr. Ciaudelli. “When your workspace is chaotic, it tends to make you feel disorganized and out of control as well.”

Sure, deadlines and competing priorities can seem never-ending. Try to shift your focus to a point in the future when today’s issues have been resolved. This can help clear any intense emotion that is getting in the way of effective planning and execution.

2. Practice acceptance

Workplaces, bosses, coworkers, conditions, demands, support structures and business plans are always subject to change. Try to develop a habit of asking yourself: “What’s changed and how can I adapt?

A daily, analytical, tactical approach to changing conditions can help keep the fight-or-flight response at bay.

3. Set realistic goals

Focus on attainable short-term and long-term work and personal goals. This can help you take control and responsibility of your emotions at work.

“Set short-term goals that feel achievable without being overwhelming,” recommends Dr. Ciaudelli.

Creating a plan to complete a difficult task can bring a sense of control. Breaking the task into smaller, achievable steps will help you make progress. Setting specific deadlines for completing the individual tasks can be helpful in reaching the larger goal.

4. Set boundaries

A good work-life balance is essential for long-term mental health. “It’s important to establish clear limitations between work and personal life in order to maintain a healthy balance,” Dr. Ciaudelli says.

One way is to learn to say “no” to requests that are beyond your capacity to fulfill and could affect your health with stress.

Many people welcomed working from home during the pandemic and found it beneficial for a variety of reasons, including not having to make a daily commute and deal with traffic. But while remote working can reduce stress, burnout can still occur without rules to when to stop working and resume home life.

5.   Take a break

Taking a break can help you recharge and reduce stress. It can be a short break during the day or a longer break, such as a vacation.

“Take small breaks during the workday. Listen to music, go for a walk or just take a few minutes to unwind," Dr. Ciaudelli says.

6.   Engage in activities you enjoy

Make time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy, whether that’s exercise, reading, or spending time with friends and family.

Exercise can reduce stress and improve mood. It can also improve physical health and well-being,” Dr. Ciaudelli says.

7.   Practice self-care

Self-care includes activities that boost physical and mental health. Examples are getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and practicing mindfulness.

Meditative tools, such as yoga and breath awareness, can help you reduce and manage your stress levels.

8.   Seek support

Talking to a friend, family member, or mental health professional can provide emotional support and help manage stress and burnout.

“Having people that you can talk to about your work-related stress can help you to feel less isolated and more supported,” Dr. Ciaudelli says.

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