Burnout, a relatively new phenomenon, is impacting students and professionals across the globe. But what exactly is burnout? (Image source: Insamer)

By Chelsea Shepherd | @Chelsea15183902

Burnout, the emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress, is becoming all too common and severely affecting our mental health.

It commonly occurs in people who experience high stress in environments like the workplace, schools and universities.

President of the Australian Psychological Society, Tamara Cavenett, said that between 5 and 7 per cent of the Australian workforce suffers from burnout.

“The science on burnout is growing, and it’s an area of increased interest to psychologists and researchers.”

Burnout and stress often go hand in hand, but there are a few noticeable differences.

“Stress can be characterized by over-engagement, or doing too much, whereas burnout often leads to disengagement, or not doing enough,” Ms Cavenett said.

“When you’re dealing with burnout, you may feel hopeless about your situation and you may have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The overarching feeling is a lack of energy, motivation and purpose, and feeling like it won’t change.”

Ms Cavenett said although burnout is a tough condition, there are ways people can manage it before reaching breaking point.

“With burnout, the best way to treat it is to prevent it by understanding and managing your stress levels,” she said.

“Recovery from burnout depends on the type you are experiencing and the ability to change the situation. People can often be tempted to google advice, which can be oversimplified such as to take time away, relax and detach from work. However, for some people this may increase anxiety and negative emotional states.”

“It’s important to seek professional help if you recognise the symptoms,” Ms Cavenett said.

“Preventing burnout requires you to focus on stress management, self-care, and understanding that there is a difference between stress and burnout.

Looking after the fundamental building blocks of good health such as sleep, nutrition, exercise and rest can be vital tools for preventing burnout and managing stress.” she said.

I first came across the term burnout when I was at my peak of exhaustion.

Over summer, particularly during the lead up to Christmas, I was working 40 hours a week in a busy North Adelaide pub/cafe dealing with rather needy and rude clients.

I’d spend over eight hours a day on my feet, running around a fairly large establishment.

I started work at 6:45am and finished at 4:30pm leaving me little to no time to catch up with friends, exercise or do any hobbies.

I would drive home from work in tears because I was so physically and mentally drained and I dreaded work every single day.

My quality of life was very grim, and I got to the point where I would cry when my alarm would go off every morning at 5am.

When I recognised how exhausted my body was, I chose to seek professional help.

Soon after, I quit my job and started working fewer hours at a smaller café. My work-life balance significantly increased.

Burnout is such a depleting condition that has a more profound effect on your body than you realise. Help is out there if you need it.

Beyond Blue, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Headspace are all great resources to seek out if you need help.

If left untreated, burnout may contribute to other mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, not to mention the physical illnesses that can occur from burnout.

According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated burnout can lead to type 2 diabetes, alcohol and drug misuse, heart disease and high blood pressure.

The key to preventing burnout is to recognise the signs and take action. Whether it is taking some time off, taking care of yourself, or seeking professional help, there’s a way to manage it before it’s too late.