Signs of Burnout: Understanding, Recognising and Healing

Date: 22-01-2024

by Dr Michelle Woolhouse

Burnout is a term that’s often thrown around in everyday conversations, but what does it really mean, and how can we recognize its signs? In this blog post, we will delve into the definition of burnout, its stages, and the critical role of neuroplasticity in the healing process. We’ll also explore key strategies to overcome burnout and regain a sense of well-being. Let’s begin by understanding what burnout is and its classification.

Burnout as an Occupational Phenomenon: According to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is defined as a state of chronic stress and frustration that leads to three key dimensions: physical and emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. It’s important to note that burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition.

This definition emphasizes the relationship between burnout and chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout is not limited to the workplace, as it can manifest in various demanding life situations, such as caring for children or elderly parents.

Lazarus’ Theory of Stress: Richard Lazarus’ theory of stress highlights the importance of an individual’s perception of a stressful situation. Stress is not solely defined by external events but rather by how one perceives and copes with these events. Stress is experienced when a person feels that the demands exceed their personal and social resources, leading to feelings of threat, vulnerability, and an inability to cope.

Understanding Burnout Levels: Burnout can be categorized into four levels, each with distinct signs and symptoms. Recognizing these levels can help individuals address burnout in its early stages and prevent it from escalating further.

Level 1: Passionate but Overwhelmed: At this stage, individuals are still passionate about their work but may begin to experience low self-efficacy, negative coping strategies, and limited pursuit of passions outside of work.

Level 2: Overwhelmed and Becoming Cynical: Here, exhaustion becomes noticeable, and individuals may become easily irritated, bring work home without completing it, and struggle to find time for friends and family.

Level 3: Cynical and Approaching Exhaustion: Cynicism intensifies, and individuals may feel isolated, paranoid, and constantly inadequate, leading to a refusal to engage in professional development.

Level 4: Complete Exhaustion and Breakdown: At this stage, burnout has spread throughout one’s life, leading to daily exhaustion, increased sick days, and a lack of optimism for both career and personal life.

The Role of Neuroplasticity in Healing: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change its pathways when we learn, think, or form opinions. Changing habitual thinking and behaviors can be challenging, as the brain conserves energy through automation and pattern recognition. Unlearning old habits and adopting new ones requires repetition and practice, with the time required varying for each individual.

Key Strategies for Healing from Burnout:

  1. Work with a Trusted Healthcare Professional: Seek support from a healthcare professional who specializes in burnout to guide your recovery journey.
  2. Be Patient and Kind with Yourself: Understand that you are likely a passionate and empathic individual, and healing takes time.
  3. Embrace Self-Compassion: Recognize that burnout is a common outcome of modern life’s demanding challenges.
  4. Learn Effective Relaxation Tools: Incorporate relaxation techniques like breathwork, yoga nidra, mindfulness, or tai chi into your daily routine.
  5. Trust the Body’s Innate Healing: Believe in your body’s ability to heal and restore balance with time and care.

Conclusion: Burnout is a significant concern for many individuals, not only in the workplace but also in various life situations. Recognizing the signs of burnout, understanding its stages, and utilizing neuroplasticity for healing can help individuals regain a sense of well-being and resilience. Remember, healing from burnout is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and the commitment to making necessary changes in your life.

By Dr Michelle Woolhouse – Integrative GP

Dr Michelle Woolhouse is an Integrative Medical Doctor with over 23 years of experience. Her special interests include women’s health, mental health issues, such as anxiety, stress and burn-out, mind-body medicine and the neuro-biology of healing. Dr Michelle has additional post-graduate training in mind-body medicine, meditation, energetic healing, nutritional and environmental medicine and holds fellowships with the Royal Australian College of GP’s (FRACGP), the Australasian society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM) and Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (FACNEM).

To learn more or book a consult with Dr Michelle, click here.  

DISCLAIMER: The content of this post is general in nature, the information should not be relied on as advice, and persons should seek advice relevant to their circumstances.