Are you experiencing burnout?

How to recognise the signs of burnout and what to do about it. Doctors have been found to have higher rates of burnout and are at greater risk of depression. Even the dream job after too many hours can lead to us feeling tired.

Human beings need rest and change. But first….what are the signs that you’re burning out?

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

Medicine is a high stakes job with a heavy workload, so doctors and medical students are especially at risk of burnout.

65-75% of Australian doctors are reported to be burnt out. It’s an issue that we can’t ignore.

Signs of burnout

  • Distancing yourself from your job – you can start to feel jaded, cynical and even numb
  • Physically – symptoms of being physically unwell, such as chronic fatigue, illness, stomach pain, headaches, and loss of appetite
  • Emotional exhaustion – your energy levels feel like they are constantly drained
  • Mental capability – you may have difficulty concentrating, reduced short term memory, difficulty caring for yourself and others
  • Social isolation – you may want to isolate yourself from your friends, family and co-workers

External risk factors for burnout

  • Unreasonable workload
  • Moral injury – occurs in response to acting or witnessing behaviours that go against an individual’s values and moral beliefs
  • Low level of support
  • Long work hours
  • Unfair time pressure
  • Mistreatment by employers and/or fellow employees

Internal risk factors for burnout

  • Porous personal boundaries
  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • High personal expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Suppressing own needs

The dangers of burnout

Research has shown that people who experience chronic burnout have up to 35% higher risk of early mortality (under the age of 45)[1]. They are 3 x more likely to experience future depression and coronary heart disease [2]. They also have an increased risk of developing diabetes, by a whopping 200% [3].

Not only is burnout hard to live through, it also has real life consequences for a person’s health. The effects being both physical and emotional.

Ways to prevent burnout

Prevention is so important. How can we protect ourselves from burnout?

It’s essential to note here that burnout is a systemic issue, however people make up systems. If as an individual we can heal from burnout, we have greater capacity to contribute to these changes for the better.

External protective factors from burnout

  • Autonomy and control at work
  • Effective leadership
  • Support from managers and seniors
  • Scheduling flexibility
  • Teamwork
  • Diverse role
  • Safe working hours

Internal protective factors from burnout

  • Self-compassion
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-care – this includes sleep, nutrition, and movement
  • Life experience
  • Strong boundary setting
  • Higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence

And on a social network level, our social activities & support network play a key part in protecting us from burnout and helping us heal.

How to heal from chronic burnout

So what do we do about it?

There are multiple resources citing that self-care is essential in healing from burnout. Things such as meditation, exercise, healthy diet, and sleeping well are all protective factors.

Another key way to heal is through asking for help.

Let your employer know, speak to your loved ones about it, find a good GP and counsellor.

Be kind to yourself.


Summary of resources

DRS4DRS – 1300 374 377 – 24 hrs/7 days – an emergency hotline for doctors, confidential and quality advice

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 – 24 hrs/7 days

Lifeline – 13 11 14 – 24 hrs/7 days


1. Ahola, K., Vaananen, A., Koskinen, A., Kouvonen, A., & Shirom, A. (2010). Burnout as a predictor of all-cause mortality among industrial employees: A 10-year prospective register-linkage study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 69, 51-57.

2. Melamed, S., Shirom, A., Toker, S., Berlliner, S., & Shapira, I. (2006). Burnout and risk of cardiovascular disease: Evidence, possible causal paths, and promising research directions. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 327-353.

3. Melanmed, S., Shirom, A., Toker, S., & Shapira, I. (2006). Burnout and risk of type 2 diabetes: A prospective study of apparently healthy employed persons. Psychosomatic Medicine, 68, 863-869.

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