Burnout: What It Is and How to Overcome It


When you think about work, do you feel demotivated, mentally and physically exhausted, or unhappy? Are you overwhelmed as soon as you start the workday? Does work stress spill over into the rest of your day? If any of the above resonates, you may be experiencing burnout.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” or syndrome characterized by mental and physical exhaustion, disengagement, and low productivity due to unmanaged chronic work-related stress.

A January 2022 study estimates that more than a third of Canadians report burnout due to work. Thus, it is crucial to uncover what may cause burnout—and find ways to overcome it.

What might cause work-related burnout

As various studies found, there are many factors that can contribute to burnout. Here are a few:

  • Workaholism (a compulsive need to work beyond requirements or difficulties limiting hours worked)
  • “Flexible” work schedules that lead to working around the clock as individuals are unable to manage time throughout a given work day
  • Extensive working hours, such as working over-time
  • Intense external pressure (e.g. from supervisors) to not only meet but also exceed expectations
  • Feeling that your work is being undermined and not appreciated
  • Lack of resources and support from peers or supervisors to complete tasks

Ways to overcome burnout

  • Try creative arts.
    Creatively conducting your work and managing stressors may help you cope with burnout. If you’re stressed about something at work, write a short poem or make a simple meme! These can be productive emotional outlets that help you de-stress. In one study, health care workers (often at high risk of burnout) were encouraged to create memes and short poems about infection prevention. Health care workers who participated in this activity reported that it boosted morale by helping them creatively manage stress.
  • Engage in physical activity.
    Studies have shown that burnout is negatively linked to physical activity, which means that burnout is more common among inactive individuals. Consider going to the gym a few times a week. Even a short walk or run can help! Physical activity can, over time, have a protective effect against burnout: A study in nearly 4,000 health care professionals found that feelings of burnout decreased as they did more physical activity.
  • Practice mindfulness.
    Techniques such as guided meditation, focused breathing, stretching, and practicing gratitude can be useful, as they promote focus on the present and help reduce negative feelings associated with burnout. These can be a short part of your morning or bedtime routine. In a meta-analysis of 6 studies that involved nearly 700 medical students, researchers concluded that the aforementioned mindfulness techniques compared to no intervention helped reduce stress and burnout.
  • Play some music.
    Listen to your favourite songs or find one that helps you reframe how you see your job by infusing meaning into your work. To explore music therapy in response to burnout, 51 stressed teachers were split into two groups: one received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and music therapy (where they listened to music); the other received just CBT. The researchers found that music therapy (where music is played and considered as a way of forming positive connections with work) in conjunction with CBT is more effective in countering burnout than just CBT alone.

If you feel your mental health deteriorating due to burnout and worry that you may have chronic stress, anxiety, or depression, please consult a health care provider for treatment options.