Protecting Yourself from Burnout

Jan 10, 2020

“I’ve been dreaming about becoming a doctor since I was a small child. I’ve always thought of it as my calling, to care about children and to support their parents. A lot of adults panic, after all, when their children, their precious babies become sick. And so I became a pediatrician, yay! …Yay? It’s becoming harder for me to go to work everyday recently. I no longer feel the happiness and inspiration I used to have when helping others. This often happens to us doctors. It is how we distance ourselves from other people’s grief, and we need to do this to stay sane, we cannot let everything get to us. But this is not what I want. I want to love my job, I want to welcome patients. Why do I feel so tired and frozen? Why do I feel ever so useless day after day?”

– Tamara, 34, pediatrician


Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of interest towards your job, loss of meaning – it is quite clear that Tamara is experiencing professional burnout, which is often seen among medical staff. Doctors are not the only ones at risk, any person can have a burnout and lose interest in their job.

How do we distinguish this emotional burnout? Can we handle it by ourselves? Are there any preventive treatments for it?



  1. What is “Emotional burnout syndrome”?
  2. Causes of burnout
  3. Symptoms of burnout
  4. Professional burnout in various fields
  5. Professional burnout of medical workers
  6. Professional burnout of teachers
  7. Emotional burnout of parents
  8. Consequences of professional burnout
  9. Financial losses
  10. Work problems
  11. Health problems, depression, anxiety
  12. Three steps to fighting professional burnout
  13. When to call for help


What is "Emotional burnout syndrome"?

Emotional or professional burnout syndrome is a state where a person experiences emotional, motivational, or physical drain. Anyone with this syndrome constantly feels tired, has indifferent or even negative attitudes towards their job or colleagues and may feel worthless and useless – even a failure. Some people say that burnout goes hand in hand with working, but emotional drain can be experienced even by people who do not seemingly work, like housewives or stay-at-home mothers.

“It’s like a Groundhog Day – dishes, diapers, laundry, cooking, playing, cleaning, dishes, diapers and so on. Every day I run around in small circles and see no fruits of my own labor. Whatever I make gets eaten, spoiled, or scattered all over the place within an hour, perhaps two if the children are sleeping. I go to bed and wake up constantly exhausted. I love my daughters dearly, but I’m tired of being a mother.”

– Lily, 27

Emotional drain itself is a particular method of psychological defense. [1] It simply tells us that something in our lives is going wrong. There is too much stress, or too much responsibility, and work ceases to bring satisfaction any longer.

That is why we shouldn’t rush to ignore the symptoms when they first appear, for it is important to get to the bottom and find the root cause.

Causes of burnout

We already have a detailed article about the causes of professional burnout. There you can also read about the stages of this syndrome. That is why we’ll keep it brief and look at the general causes and symptoms.

Causes of emotional burnout fall in two groups, internal causes and external. [2]

The external causes include:

  • overtime, both voluntary and compulsory, forced multitasking
  • too much responsibility, constant need to make decisions that affect wellness and safety of other people
  • large volume of work and constant race against time 
  • toxic work environment (gossips, scheming)
  • low pay and violations of labor laws (for example, in Russia some workers may not get paid for sick leave and can face reduced vacation time etc.).

Internal causes include:

  • perfectionism and an exaggerated sense of responsibility
  • commitment to high volumes of work
  • inability to decline overtime and additional tasks
  • inability to rest and “leave work at work”
  • lack of satisfaction from working, both material and mental.

In fact, the causes listed above are simply stress factors. They do not necessary lead to burnout, but they provide the possibility of it. If you feel constant stress, it is a good idea to take preventive measures against emotional burnout—we will talk about them soon.

There is one more important thing to say. Any individual may be experiencing several causes for drain. For example, your co-worker may be a perfectionist, which is why they take more time to complete their tasks than others. This can lead to constant overtime and the feeling of being undervalued for working long and hard but being paid little. Such a mindset can easily lead to emotional drain.

Symptoms of burnout

Emotional burnout syndrome includes emotional drain, depersonalization, and a reduction of professional achievements. [3]

  1. Emotional drain is usually followed by reduced emotional background, indifference, apathy and a sense of fatigue.
  2. Depersonalization can be seen through the deformation of interpersonal relationships. People experiencing it develop a negative disposition, becoming ruthless and cynical towards their co-workers, clients, patients and even family members. Communication becomes formal and deprived of individuality. Hostility can appear, first hidden and then suppressed, but it can later burst out in the form of tantrums, gushes of anger and severe conflicts.
  3. Reduction of achievements is apparent, where the underestimation of one’s own professional skills and achievements occurs together with a sense of incompetence and uselessness and a reduction in one’s view of the value of work.


An important feature of professional burnout manifestation is the gradual development of symptoms. This syndrome does not appear overnight. A person may start thinking “I’m tired and overworked a bit, I should rest. Oh, I can’t rest, I’ll just wait for the next weekend or vacation.” If this continues, a person will not recognize the problem for some time.

There are a lot of tests for professional burnout, but they are, in general, quite voluminous. Here we offer a checklist of burnout symptoms. [4] These can help you draw preliminary conclusions about whether or not you have this syndrome. Read the following statements and answer “yes, mostly yes” or “no, mostly no”.

Check-list of emotional burnout symptoms

· I often feel exhausted, even a good sleep and resting do not bring relief.

· I often think about my work in my leisure time, it’s hard for me to detach myself from working even while resting.

· I feel that my work has no meaning or benefit.

· I don’t want to go to work, I’m not motivated by new and interesting tasks or pay rises.

· I no longer feel happy and satisfied after completing a task.

· I feel that I do not handle my responsibilities well, I feel that I am unprofessional.

· I am often irritated when talking to co-workers or clients (patients, students)

· I feel that I have started working less well, I lack attention and organization.

· I have started eating badly, I care about myself less, I often drink alcohol to relax.

· I feel that my health has deteriorated, I am often sick and have problems with blood pressure and heart rate.

If you have answered “yes or mostly yes” to more than 4 statements, we recommend you pay more attention to your emotional state. Most likely you are experiencing emotional drain to some extent. For a more precise diagnosis of professional burnout you should consult with a psychologist.

Do not forget that symptoms are individual for each and every person. Some people just feel tired, others suffer from insomnia and lose appetite [5], and some people become obsessed with work during their state of exhaustion. [6] Regardless of the exact symptoms, we can and should fight this emotional burnout. Psychologists have been working with the condition for many years and have achieved good results. One of the most effective treatments comes from behavioral therapy, for example, the 7Spsy behavior modification technique.

Professional burnout in various fields

As stated above, each and every person can encounter burnout syndrome. However, the more you deal with other people in your work, the more is the risk of collapsing under emotional stress, resulting in burnout. That is why the risk is high for following people:

  • support workers: doctors, teachers, social workers, policemen etc.;
  • managers, coaches, call center operators, shop assistants, cashiers etc.

People in these fields often experience depersonalization. For them, a distant attitude, indifference, and cynicism are occupational hazards that appear as a defense mechanism.

Professional burnout of medical workers

Doctors experience emotional drain more often than others and more than half of all doctors have encountered this syndrome at least once. [7] This happens due to their constant responsibility for other people’s lives, frequent encounters with human grief and turmoil, a high workload with constant overworking and intense control from inspection authorities etc.

Professional burnout of teachers

Teachers experience professional burnout almost as often, due to the fact that they also work constantly with people. The causes are almost the same as with medical workers – responsibility for other people’s lives, a duty to establish effective communication with many different people, high workload, long hours, low pay etc.

Emotional burnout of parents

The emotional burnout of parents is something we should specifically highlight. Parents of children with development disorders, disabilities etc. are especially vulnerable to this syndrome. [8] Such burnout is caused by the lack of tangible results, monotone work, absence of support and a high level of responsibility.

Consequences of professional burnout

Emotional burnout is not laziness and not caprice. This syndrome is not included in ICD as a separate disorder however, it certainly exists, and it is quite well studied.

Financial losses

By some estimates, the US spends up to 8% of its yearly healthcare budget on fighting professional burnout syndrome, which equates to between 125 and 190 billion dollars a year. [9] Russia probably spends less than that, as psychological treatment is not as developed in this country.

However, aside from direct treatment costs, emotional burnout leads to a reduction in profits for both enterprises and workers, especially when a large proportion of the salary is made up from bonuses for work quality.

Work problems

Drain and apathy lead to a lower quality of a worker’s output. For example, doctors with this syndrome can make more medical errors, which are damaging to both patients and the doctors themselves, who may even face criminal charges. [7] Professional burnout of managers and employees in any support field damages both the workers and the people with whom they have contact.

Health problems, depression, anxiety

Constant stress can lower the immune response and lead to or exacerbate chronic diseases. Insomnia during burnout also has a negative effect on health.

Aside from physical illness, this condition is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. Moreover, depression and burnout manifest themselves in similar ways [10] and may lead to the same consequences, including a lower quality of life, depressed state, insomnia, anxiety, reduced amount of social interaction, eating disorders, health deterioration and even suicide. For example, male Austrian doctors commit suicide 250% times more often than the average. [11] Female doctors do not take their lives as often, but it is not unheard of in the field.

Three steps to fighting professional burnout

Methods for fighting burnout will depend upon the causes, which is why it is important to have an individual approach, for general advice might just not work. There is, however, a correction scheme for professional and personal burnout, which you can expand yourself, depending upon your individual situation. [5]

Step 1. Recognize the causes of your own burnout. Causes might seem to be the same for everyone, but this is not true. Even in the same company employees might have different stimuli for their stress. One may be stressed about their salary, another about their relationship with the manager, and a third might have an inconvenient work schedule. Think carefully to decide what exhausts you the most. What interferes with your rest? Is it constantly checking your mail? Are you worried about urgent reports or perhaps conflicts with co-workers?

Step 2. Think about how you can neutralize the stress factors. In some cases, only changing employment can help, but of course, this is not something everyone can easily do. Try discussing this problem with managers and co-workers. Mute your phone in the evening, take regular breaks at work, and refrain from taking on other people’s responsibilities.

“I think there are two types of burnout: burnout from boredom and burnout from exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from an excess workload and unreasonable expectations. Boredom appears when work becomes tiresome and uninteresting. People with exhaustion should learn to take rests, while those with boredom should learn to work more interestingly, search possibilities for development and create new tasks. I had burnout from boredom, so I didn’t need to change occupation or employment. Boredom is an essential part of work that has no development. It just means that you should look at what you are doing from a different angle and help yourself grow as a professional.”

– Olga, 35

Step 3. Do not forget about preventive measures. Do not dive back into stress once the symptoms start to fade away. Preventing is better than treating. Set your priorities and define things that are truly important for you. Learn to work efficiently and foster your drive for professional growth. This will help you see the benefit of your efforts, improve the mental satisfaction of your work, and raise your value as a specialist and a professional.

Do not forget about the importance of rest. The advice is simple: sleep at least 8 hours a day, eat healthily, do some favorite sports and find time for hobbies and entertainment. Please note that a complex approach is the key. After all, we do not end up in state of burnout overnight. To some extent, we are all used to doing things that lead to burnout – staying at work late, ignoring rest, going to bed late. That is why it is very important to start physical exercising, muting your phone, and changing all the factors that enable burnout.

In most cases a proper balance between work and rest can significantly lower and even prevent work stress. Taking care of yourself is a perfect measure to prevent emotional drain.

When to call for help

Of course at any step you might need specialized support. For example, you might need to figure out the cause of stress, determine the level of emotional burnout, find an efficient way to fight it, put your work process on the right track and develop your work ethic.

Regardless of the step you are struggling with, you can always ask our specialists for support. We will find the most suitable treatment to help you improve your state depending on your individual situation. Our 7Spsy technique is a registered method of behavioral therapy based on the works of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc.

Behavioral therapy has a long-term effect, as you are not just getting rid of your immediate burnout, but also learning to change your old and inefficient behavior models. You can keep using this method in the future, and thus protect yourself from relapse.

One of the most suitable programs is the program for managing emotions. You will find the balance between your work and personal life, start to feel satisfied with work and start to build work processes in a way that helps you stop focusing on stressful situations.

An important advantage of this program is the ability to engage in it remotely. You won’t have to leave your workplace early and go to another venue. You can follow it when and where you are comfortable. Consultations with your personal psychologist are conducted by phone, in online chats or by e-mail.

After 2-6 weeks in this program you will already begin to feel satisfaction from your work once again, or, if you have never felt it before you will learn to find it.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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