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Mental Burnout

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Burnout is a common symptom of the fast paced lives that we have created for ourselves. The stress and pressure of our daily routines, overwork, excessive screen time, constant drive for perfectionism or excessive cognitive or left brain working are just are just some of the ways mental burnout can occur.

Mental burnout is one of three different types of burnout that I have experienced but in any burnout the lesson is the same:

Burnout is your first sign that you need to change your life.

Researchers from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry and Black Dog Institute have carried out studies on 1019 people and listed the most common factors affecting people experiencing burnout:

Extreme exhaustion Reduced performance Anxiety/stress Depression and low mood Irritability and anger Sleep disturbances Lack of motivation or passion Lack of concentration, memory loss or brain fog Withdrawal from others Physical symptoms such as aches, headaches, nausea and low libido

These are red flags that let you know that your lifestyle is making you sick.

What I do know is that if you ignore these warning signs and push through, sustaining high levels of stress without relief, burnout can have serious consequences.

As a leadership consultant, I've seen executives and leaders who push themselves until they are severely depressed, suffer a stroke or a heart attack.

The term “burnout” was coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Defined as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

More recently in 2019 the World Health Organisation Burnout is classified as an 'occupational phenomenon'*

It is characterised by three dimensions:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job

  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

My own experience however has not been limited to the workplace or to mental burnout for that matter.

I can attest that the symptoms of burnout can also be experienced both emotionally and spiritually and I'll talk more about that in my other blogs. But what I do know for certain is that the lesson from any type of burnout is:

Burnout is your first sign that you need to change your life.

So why does Burnout occur?

Well, I think, it's simple really: We are not machines.

We are not built to withstand unrelenting pressure. Work -Life balance has become more critical than ever.

As a commercial interior designer, I worked for a leading Architectural firm on large scale global projects.

The industry is cut-throat, margins are tight and work needs to be pumped out at high speed. Designers have an unspoken competition and drive to produce more impressive, sophisticated or creative solutions than the last project - we are a unique breed of perfectionists.

Add to that, an office that hardly sleeps, unrealistic deadlines, workplace bullying and the only help I had was from a team of graduates still in training - so as you can imagine, I was a ticking time bomb ready to implode.

Mental burnout

As opposed to emotional burnout, I've found mental burnout to be the result of enduring extended amounts of stress, mental pressure, over thinking or pushing yourself to your mental limits.

If you have a job that requires the majority of your time spent thinking, analysing, calculating, brainstorming, number crunching, working on complex projects, overwhelmed with a heavy workload or like me; the perfectionist, then you may encounter mental burnout.

I've also found that 'monkey mind' or repetitive thinking when the mind just goes over and over and over a scenario/conversation/worry also leads to the same feelings of mental burnout. When my relationship broke down and I spent months in my mind going over how and why it had ended. At one point I remember thinking that I wish I could take a holiday someplace far away from my own mind!

So how do you bounce back from burnout?

Give your mind a

completely different focus.

Ideally something that includes right brain focus along with physical activities to take you out of your head and get you back into the body really helps to overcome mental burnout.

Here are a few tips:

  • Stop. Stop what you are doing that is causing the burnout immediately and take leave because mental burnout can become mental breakdown very quickly. Do not try to push through burnout because that does not work.

  • My best tip for the fastest burnout recovery is a holiday. Ideally solo travel, a meditation retreat or travel to unfamiliar destination preferably a completely different culture.

  • Take a sabbatical from social media and screens in general.

  • Move. Get back in your body with any form of movement that you enjoy. Take up a dance class, hike, bike, run or walk - just start moving.

  • Change your Perspective - visit the ocean and sit looking at the horizon, climb a mountain to a higher vantage point, lie on the grass and watch the clouds or go out at night and star gaze. Observe things which are bigger than yourself and change your minds focus from the minute to the infinite.

  • Laugh. If you can't find anything to laugh about, try laughter yoga.

  • Forget trying to read a book, you won't be able to get past the first page. Forget doing your taxes, spreadsheets or anything that requires mental arithmetic or concentration - your brain will send you a 404 error message as it is currently in the process of rebooting.

I've found that after six weeks or so (yes more than a short vacation) 'switched off' from what has caused the burnout, I was able to get back to work feeling mentally refreshed and my creativity had returned.

How do you prevent habitual mental burnout occurring?

Transformational change is required. Meaning; you need to implement and maintain changes that alter the conditions that were causing the burnout.

You must recognise what created the problem

in order to fix it.

You will need to change your working conditions and possibly your working environment to remove the stressors that cause you to burnout.

  • Renegotiate your working conditions

  • Keep sensible working hours

  • Set clear boundaries of what you can reasonably achieve and Delegate what you can't

  • Switch off devices, phone and email outside of office hours

  • Reduce screen time and subconscious information overload like social media

  • Take up meditation

  • Engage in vigorous exercise to get you out of your mind and into the body

  • Journal and write down ideas and thoughts to get them out of your head

  • Ensure your working conditions are ergonomic and reduce eye strain

  • Maybe even change jobs

I want to leave you with this:

Burnout is real and it happens to the best of us, it's a direct result of the society that we have created - but it doesn't have to be that way.

You can change your life for the better.

I know, because I did.

For more on the other types of burnout see my blog page at

for help with burnout:

  • For 24/7 mental health and crisis support call Lifeline on 13 11 14

  • For the latest research on Burnout visit Black Dog institute

  • For crisis, trauma or depression support Quest for life has a retreat centre and programs. Located in the southern highlands of Sydney

* The World Health Organisation has this to say about 'Burnout'

28 MAY 2019 - Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

visit to learn more about how Life Coaching can help create the life that you really want to Live!

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