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What is burnout and can I do anything about it?

Author: Rex Fan, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, BGUK

Published: 28 Mar 2024

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Rex Fan, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, explores what burnout is and what you can do about it.

Going to work can be good for our mental health.1 It gives us contact with other people and a routine to follow, as well as a chance to develop useful skills.2 But sometimes, if our working environment isn’t right, it can affect our physical and mental health.1 This can lead to burnout. But what exactly is burnout, and can you do anything about it?

What is burnout?

When you’re stressed for a long time and this stress isn’t managed, you may experience burnout.3,18 It’s an ‘occupational phenomenon’, which means it’s not a medical condition, but it’s something that people might seek help and support for.3 That also means it describes feelings that are caused by work-related pressure, rather than from other life stresses.3

How does burnout make you feel?

 If you’re experiencing burnout, you may:

  • lack energy and feel emotionally exhausted3,5
  • feel negative about your work – you may feel detached from it or cynical about it3,5
  • be less efficient at work and feel inadequate or unable to accomplish things3,5

How can I manage burnout?

Maintain work-life balance

Try to use your annual leave.9 It’s important to take time off work to relax, if you can.9 And remember to take breaks, too – they can improve your mood and performance.27 Try to schedule them on your calendar so they’re given the same importance you might give to meetings.28

Boundaries are also important. While you’re working, try not to work more than your hours on a regular basis.9 By shutting down your computer at the end of each day, and wearing ‘work’ clothes – even when working from home – you can help create boundaries.28


When you’re overworked, your sleep can be one of the first things to suffer. Perhaps you stay up late or get up early to make a dent in your to-do list. However, after 17 hours of being awake, your attention and cognitive control may be almost the same as the legal blood alcohol limit for driving.7 Sleeping well is also important for your health.10

To help stave off burnout, try to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.8 And if you’re having difficulty sleeping, consider seeking help from a medical professional.8


Large studies have found that physical activity and exercise can reduce stress and improve your mood.11 Exercise also has some protective effects against conditions like depression, which can be a long-term consequence of prolonged burnout.12,13

Stay connected

If you feel overworked, you might lose time with family and friends in favour of more time at the office. But humans are inherently social creatures, so spending time with people you like may improve your wellbeing.14,15,16 And feeling connected to other people can have a number of benefits on both your physical and mental health.16

Get creative

Therapies that use creative techniques – such as art, music, dance or drama – have been shown to reduce stress.14,19 Emerging evidence suggests that these creative arts can be an effective way of managing stress.19 Taking part in these creative activities may also give you something else to focus on outside of work. If you don’t know where to start, try something like daily journaling.20 Expressing yourself through writing can help manage symptoms of stress and help you figure out what’s causing it.20

Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and being an impartial observer of thoughts and emotions as they pass by.21,22 Studies have linked mindfulness with improved wellbeing, and it’s been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in healthcare professionals.23,24,25 Just taking a moment to focus on your breathing when you feel stressed could be helpful.


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