Home page Psychology blog Self-Development Self-Discipline Protecting yourself from burnout

Protecting yourself from burnout

10.01.2020 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

“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 now. 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 it to stay sane, we cannot let everything get us. But this is not what I want. I want to love my job, I want to welcome patients. Why do I feel do 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. However, doctors are not the only ones at risk. Any person can have a burnout and lose interest to their job.

How do we distinguish this emotional burnout? Can we handle it by ourselves? Is there any preventive treatment 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. 3 steps to fight professional burnout
  13. When to call for help

What is “Emotional burnout syndrome”?

Emotional burnout syndrome

Emotional or professional burnout syndrome is a state in which a person experiences emotional, motivational or physical drain. A person with this syndrome constantly feels tired, has indifferent or even negative attitude towards their job or colleagues, may feel worthless and useless, 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… 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 one hour. Within 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 does not bring satisfaction any longer.

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

Let’s solve the problems of apathy and stress

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Causes of burnout

We already have a detailed article about the causes of professional burnout. There you can also read about 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 2 groups: internal causes and external ones. [2]

The external causes include:

·   overtime, both voluntary and compulsory, forced multitasking;

·   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 sick leaves and can face reduced vacation time etc.).

Internal causes include:

·   perfectionism and 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. If you feel constant stress, it is a good idea to take preventive measures for emotional burnout—we will talk about them soon.

There is one more important thing to say: one person 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 other workers. This can lead to constant overtime and the feeling of being undervalued for working long and hard but being payed little. Such mindset can easily lead to emotional drain.

Symptoms of burnout

Symptoms of burnout

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

1.    Emotional drain is usually followed by reduced emotional background, indifference, apathy, sense of fatigue.

2.    Depersonalization can be seen through the deformation of interpersonal relationships. People experiencing it develop negative disposition, become 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 suppressed, but it can later burst out in form of tantrums, gushes of anger, conflicts.

3.    Reduction of achievements is underestimation of one’s own professional skills and achievements, sense of incompetence and uselessness, reduction of work value.

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

There are a lot of tests for professional burnout, but they are, in general, quite voluminous. Here we offer a check-list of burnout symptoms, [4] that can help you draw preliminary conclusions about having 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 good sleep and resting do not bring relief.
·  I often think about my work in my off-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 raise.
·  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 worse, I lack attention and organization.
·  I have started eating worse, I care about myself less, I often drink alcohol to relax.
·  I feel that my health has worsened, I am often sick and have problems with blood pressure and heart rate.

If you have answered “yes, mostly yes” to more than 4 statements, we recommend you to pay more attention to your emotional state. Most likely, you are experiencing emotional drain to some extent. For 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 the same state of exhaustion. [6] Regardless of the symptoms, we can and should fight this emotional burnout. Psychologists have been working with such state for quite a while and have achieved good results. One of the most effective treatments comes from behavioral therapy, for example, 7Spsy behavior modification technique.

Professional burnout in various fields

As already stated above, each and every person can encounter burnout syndrome. However, the more you deal with other people at work, the more the risk of collapsing under emotional stress, resulting in burnout. That is why this 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, distant attitude, indifference and cynicism is an occupational hazard that appears as a defense mechanism.

Professional burnout of medical workers

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

Professional burnout of teachers

Teachers experience professional burnout almost as often, due to the fact that they work with people as well. The causes are almost the same as for medical workers: responsibility for other people’s lives, duty to establish effective communication with multiple different people, workload and overtime, low pay etc.

Emotional burnout of parents

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 result, monotone work, lack of support and high level of responsibility.

Consequences of professional burnout

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

Financial losses

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

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

Work problems

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

Health problems, depression, anxiety

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

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

3 steps to fight professional burnout

steps to fight professional burnout

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

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

Step 2. Think how you can neutralize stress factors. In some cases, only changing employment can help, but of course, this is not something everyone can 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 other people’s responsibilities.

“I think there are 2 types of burnout: burnout from boredom and burnout from exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from excess workload and unreasonable expectations from work. Boredom appears when work becomes tiresome and uninteresting. People with exhaustion should learn to take rests, while those with boredom should learn to work interestingly, search possibility for development, 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 on what you’re 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 fade away. Preventing is better than treating. Set your priorities and define things that are truly important for you. Learn to work efficiently, foster your drive for professional growth. It will help you see the benefit of your efforts, improve your mental satisfaction from work, 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 healthy food, do some favorite sports, find time for hobbies and entertainment. Please note that complex approach is the key. After all, we do not end up in this state 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 doing sports or mute your phone, and also change all factors that enable burnout.

In most cases proper balance of 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

At any step you might need specialized support. For example, you might need it to figure out the cause of stress, determine the level of emotional burnout, to find an efficient way to fight it or to put your work process on the right track and develop 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 in order to improve your state depending on your individual situation. Our 7Spsy technique is a registered method of behavioral therapy based on works of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc.

Let’s solve the problems of apathy and stress

Make for consultation WATCH VIDEO

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

One of the most suitable programs is the program for managing emotions. You will find balance between your work and personal life, start to feel satisfied with work, build work processes in a way that 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 some other place. You can follow it when you are comfortable. Consultations with 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.


1. E`mocional`noe vy`goranie — mexanizm psixologicheskoj zashhity` (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/sindrom-emotsionalnogo-vygoraniya-i-programma-ego-preodoleniya-v-sfere-pomogayuschih-professiy).

2. Vneshnie i vnutrennie prichiny` vy`goraniya (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29026930).

3. Tryoxfaktornaya model` vy`goraniya K. Maklach (https://elibrary.ru/item.asp?id=26458359).

4. Diagnostika vy`goraniya K. Maklach (https://nsportal.ru/vuz/psikhologicheskie-nauki/library/2017/06/14/metodika-diagnostika-professionalnogo-vygoraniya-k).

5. Posledstviya vy`goraniya, sposoby` izbavleniya (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642?pg=2).

6. Maniakal`naya oderzhimost` rabotoj kak priznak vy`goraniya (https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-10-302).

7. Vy`goranie u vrachej (https://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(17)30790-5/abstract).

8. Vy`goranie u roditelej detej s osobennostyami razvitiya (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19941542).

9. Zatraty` zdravooxraneniya (https://hbr.org/2017/04/employee-burnout-is-a-problem-with-the-company-not-the-person).

10. Svyaz` depressii i vy`goraniya (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25451438).

11. Suicid sredi avstrijskix vrachej (https://www.cfin.ru/management/people/motivation/burn-out.shtml).