Burnout: How to recognise it. How to cope with it

Dr Muiris Houston: The first step is to talk to a person you trust. The next is to see your GP

Take time out of your routine to fully assess the situation

Take time out of your routine to fully assess the situation


This is part of series on the subject of burnout which continues next week in The Irish Times and on irishtimes.com. We would like to hear from readers who have suffered burnout. What is your experience?  Email us at magazine@irishtimes.com with ‘Burnout’ in the subject line, and include your name, a contact number and your story in less than 300 words. 

If you feel you are suffering from burnout, the following steps may help.

1. Assess your feelings

Take time out of your routine to fully assess the situation.

Sit down with a person you trust (a close friend or family member) and explain how you are feeling.

Share with them what you know about burnout. Ask: do I fit this picture?

Explain in more detail what you think are your “toxic stressors” and paint a picture of your imagined but fearful scenario, and of any catastrophic outcome this is going to lead to.

Listen to your confidante’s response to your interpretation of events.

Consider how accurate your interpretation and assumptions about the future are, in the light of their interpretation of your story.

2. Talk to a doctor

Make an appointment to see your GP. Explain why you think you might be suffering from burnout. Listen to their advice, especially any suggestions as to how you might change your lifestyle. Perhaps you need to cut down your caffeine and alcohol consumption?

Are you “chained” to your smartphone? Do you check it first thing in the morning? Do you keep it or an iPad in the bedroom at night?

Simply removing technology from the bedroom can significantly improve your sleep. And it may make you feel less frazzled and give you the mental energy to tackle the spiral of toxic stress you feel.

3. Consider further help

Ask your doctor for a referral to an experienced cognitive behavioural therapist. You will likely need to invest some time and energy in learning techniques to challenge your negative thinking and emotions.

There are aspects of CBT that are especially useful in tackling burnout, and it is helpful to be guided through these techniques until you are able to use them on your own.

4. Get better slowly

Burnout doesn’t develop over night and tackling it involves more than a click of a switch. It requires a certain amount of homework from you under the guidance of your therapist.

But the investment of time and energy is well worth the effort. You will gain a new range of techniques that will not only make it unlikely that you will fall victim to toxic stress in the future but will give you the means to tackle any recurrence promptly and effectively.

5. If it’s more serious

Because burnout can involve significant levels of depression and anxiety, some people may experience suicidal thoughts. In the unlikely event of this happening, contact your doctor or ring the Samaritans immediately.

The symptoms and negative feelings of burnout are eminently treatable and will resolve with professional help.

The Samaritans 24-hour helpline is 116 123.