Burnout: Prevention and Recovery

We recently held a readathon following the publication of ‘The Flourishing Woman’ (TFW), and a word that kept coming up from the participants was ‘burnout’. This was described as an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion from all the demands in life, and it seemed to have been heightened during the pandemic. It was the word that also came up during the pandemic when I asked my Facebook community how they were feeling.

In fact, it is reported that there is currently ‘a global epidemic of burnout’ (Parker, 2021, p. 3), so let’s explore the phenomenon of burnout in this blog. [And for your information, a challenge related to TFW is coming soon, related to the keys and tools from the book that can assist you with wellbeing, and with preventing or recovering from burnout.]


Burnout is also defined as a negative psychological syndrome that develops in response to chronic stressful work demands (Parker, 2021, p. 43); and the World Health Organization describes burnout as involving:

  • feelings of exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job
  • decreased professional efficiency (Parker, 2021, p.3).

However, recent research found that burnout is not limited to formal work conditions and can occur in parents or carers. Women are at greater risk than men, and younger people are also more at risk.

Note too that there is a difference between burnout and ‘burning out’. Many people are feeling chronically stressed and exhausted but can readily recover. When burnout occurs, recovery is also possible, but a significant reset in life may be needed. Burnout is often diagnosed as depression, but it is not the same. [Note: you will find various ‘burnout questionnaires’ available online.]


The main symptoms reported by those experiencing burnout are exhaustion and cognitive problems, such as poor concentration or indecisiveness. In addition, indifference or a lack of empathy, anxiety and depression symptoms, irritability and anger, sleep disturbance, lack of motivation or passion, impaired performance, withdrawing from social activities, physical symptoms, emotional lability and fragility, and inability to feel (sense of depersonalisation) can also occur (Parker, 2021, p. 49).

Risk factors:

The work factors that may contribute include excessive hours, overly complex or relentless tasks, role issues, high levels of responsibility and uncertainty, lack of downtime at work, a perceived lack of control or support, and demands of technology and changing technology. An expectation of availability 24 hours a day via phone or email may contribute. The workplace environment can also contribute (such as noisy open offices or a toxic culture) (Parker, p. 115).

It is thought that burnout is more likely when there is marked stress plus certain personality factors. Perfectionism has been identified as a risk factor. Treatment involves addressing all issues contributing to burnout, for example reducing various causes of stress, anxiety and managing perfectionism.


In burnout, our autonomic nervous systems are activated and hormones such as cortisol are released in the body to try to overcome the cause of stress. When this part of the nervous system remains activated for a long period, the growth of new nerve cells in the brain and neuroplasticity are limited. Our immune system does not function as well so we may develop more infections, and inflammation can occur within the body.


Recovery includes managing stress related to work, such as having appropriate training, supportive management, and good conflict resolution procedures. Having meaningful work is important. For carers, reviewing self-care, gathering support (practical, professional), sharing the load, and ensuring time-out are vital.

Interestingly, there was a recent article in the Forbes magazine by Bryan Robinson, that found that many people take time-off hoping to deal with burn-out. Simply taking time-off for a holiday, for example, will not deal with chronic stress and its impacts. So, we need to have strategies to recover from burnout.

A team at the University of Sydney, including psychiatrist Dr Gordon Parker and PhD candidate Gabriella Tavella, have found that the first steps in recovery are to identify the burnout, then reflect on how it came about and the best ways to deal with it. They have identified six useful strategies for burnout:

  • Talking to someone and seeking support (family, friends, doctor, or therapist)
  • Walking or other exercise
  • Mindfulness and meditation (see my e-book on this topic and meditation recordings)
  • Improving sleep
  • Addressing perfectionism (you can read more on perfectionism in previous blogs and in TFW, Ch. 6).
  • Changing your work situation based on individual needs and what is doable, recognizing there may be financial or other limitations (time off, reduced hours or changing work role) (Parker, 2021, p. 161).


This research on burnout leads me to the notion that prevention of burnout involves taking a holistic approach to enhancing and maintaining our wellbeing, whether physical, psychosocial, emotional, vocational, financial, or spiritual. Ultimately, we are aiming for flourishing or thriving in life (Lessard, 2022). This involves finding fulfilment, meaning and connection. It is also about our life satisfaction and purpose (Iasiello, 2020).

Central to our overall wellbeing and flourishing are our mental health and wellbeing, and a range of strategies from TFW may assist in this area, namely:

  • Raising our self-awareness, focussing on what matters (our values) and being mindful of our emotions
  • Identifying any issues and developing some small goals for change
  • Attending to physical health, lifestyle, and self-care
  • Connecting with others and fostering a positive community
  • Tapping into talking or complementary therapies
  • Knowing and using your strengths and internal resources
  • Exploring self-compassion, meaning and meaningful activities, and practising gratitude

More specifically in relation to burnout, we want to focus on self-care through stress reduction. This will help with prevention and recovery, and we can do this by:

  • Reducing the demands e.g., planning work, reducing workload, delegating work, saying ‘no’ to things, setting boundaries (e.g., not taking calls/emails outside of work hours) or reducing perfectionism.
  • General stress management techniques, such as relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, timeout, or relaxing activities.

Sutton (2021) also emphasizes the importance of the work community and maintaining morale, and a workplace that is fair, where you feel hears and a sense that workplace values are consistent with your own. Working from home became an option for many during the pandemic. It has many advantages, but it is harder to maintain boundaries, and we can struggle to take breaks from work tasks. Attending to all these areas is vital if we want to prevent burnout.


We all want to achieve a sense of wellbeing and flourishing in life. Work, whether related to employment, the home, parenting or caring duties, can create a whole range of demands on us. We are at risk of burnout when, chronically, these demands exceed our capacity to meet them.

Unfortunately, burnout is a common experience, and so it is important to review how you are feeling and tracking and whether risk factors or symptoms of burnout are present. Action may then need to be taken for recovery, such as greater self-care and stress management or reducing perfectionism.

And don’t forget that prevention through addressing wellbeing holistically is key! [There is plenty of information on this in TFW.]


Howell, C. (2024). The Flourishing Woman A mental health and wellbeing guide. Exisle.

Iasiello, M., Van Agteren, J., and Cochrane, E.M. (2020). ‘Mental health and/ or mental illness: A scoping review of the evidence and implications of the dual-continua model of mental health’. Evidence Base, (1), pp. 1–45.

Lessard, K. (2022). ‘What is “Flourishing”? Learn how to walk the 5-part path to happiness (at work)’. www.linkedin. com/pulse/what-flourishing-learn-how-walk-5-part-path-happiness- kylee-lessard/.

Parker, G., Tavella, G. and Eyers, K. (2021). Burnout: A guide to identifying burnout and pathways to recovery. Allen & Unwin.

Robinson, B. (2024). 41% Of Americans Experiencing Burnout After Taking Time Off. Forbes.

Sutton, J. (2021). 20 Strategies to Prevent Burnout in the Workplace. Positive Psychology.

Contact Dr Cate

If you would like to speak with me, please contact me via phone, email or the website.

I look forward to talking with you about mental health and wellbeing education, coaching, speaking or writing.


Sign up now

Join Dr Cate’s subscription list to receive regular information about upcoming events and workshops.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We never trade, sell or rent your information to anyone!