December 20, 2023

What is burnout and how to prevent it?

By Dialogue

If you’re experiencing burnout or have early symptoms of burnout, there are things you can do to regain your balance and feel positive again. Here’s how empathy can help.

Studies show that most Canadians – a whopping 78% – have experienced some form of burnout. And 35% say they’re currently experiencing burnout. 

A wide range of factors can contribute to burnout. This includes a heavy workload, lack of recognition at work and difficulty balancing work and personal life.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It’s caused by long term stress. It happens when we feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the demands of our day-to-day.

Recognize the signs of burnout

Most of us have days when we feel tired, overloaded or unappreciated. But if you feel like this most of the time, you may be burned out.

Being empathetic can make it easier to recognize signs of distress not only in others, but in ourselves as well.

Burnout happens over time and can creep up on you. The signs and symptoms worsen as time goes on. Think of the early symptoms as red flags. That something is wrong and it’s time to take action. Now’s the time to reduce stress and prioritize self-care.

Here are common indicators of stress and burnout:

Physical signs and symptoms

Emotional signs and symptoms

Behavioural signs and symptoms

Feeling tired and drained most of the time. Feeling helpless, trapped and defeating. Isolating from others.
Lowered immunity resulting in frequent illnesses. Feeling alone in the world. Procrastinating.

Frequent headaches.

Sense of failure and self-doubt. Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.

Change in appetite or sleep habits.

Loss of motivation and a negative outlook. Withdrawing from responsibilities.


Decreased satisfaction.

Taking frustration out on others.

How to prevent burnout with empathy?

Empathy is an important part of emotional intelligence and can be an incredible way of lowering stress. Research shows that expressing empathy calms us.

When you engage with people empathetically, you look to understand people’s needs and points of view. In turn you feel genuine concern for their well-being.

Here are two ways you can use empathy at work to prevent burnout:

1. Show empathy towards others

Build friendships. While some people believe you shouldn’t be friends with co-workers, it turns our that real connections at work matter a lot. Research shows that friendships at work result in enhanced innovation, feelings of psychological safety and compassion.

Value people for who they are. It can be easy to let biases and stereotypes get in the way of our ability to connect and understand others. But by using empathy, you can better understand your coworkers, their backgrounds and perspectives. This will help you build relationships and promote trust. So get curious, ask questions and listen with an open mind.

2. Empathy towards oneself

Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is a positive attitude we can have towards ourselves. An important part of self-compassion means treating yourself like you would a friend. 

For example, perhaps you’re stressed and being too hard on yourself because you didn’t meet your own expectations. In these times, acknowledge how you feel and that others would feel similarly in the situation. Be kind and forgiving to yourself. This shift in mindset will help strengthen your resiliency and make challenging situations easier to manage. 

Don’t overwork. When there’s a lot of pressure at work, we may be tempted to work extra hours. But overworking usually just makes things worse because we are adding to our stress. So instead of working, find ways to renew and energize yourself when you’re stressed. Things like exercise, spending time with loved ones and getting more sleep.

Dealing with burnout

Do recognize the warning signs or are you already experiencing burnout? Continuing on as you have been will only cause more emotional and physical stress. Now’s the time to take a pause and learn how you can help yourself overcome burnout and feel well again.

1. Practice self-care

Self-care mean different things to different people. For some, it might mean taking time off from work, booking a massage or going for a walk. But an important element of self-care is acknowledging mental health issues and actively working on stress management.

Wondering how you’re doing?

Reflect on these 5 statements from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Well-being Index to check in on yourself.

2. Exercise

Not only is exercise good for our physical health, but it can give us an emotional boost.

Tight for time? You can break up your exercise throughout the day. For example, you can go for three 10-minute walks during the day.

3. Keep track of your stressors

To manage stress, we need to understand what’s causing it. Every time your stress level increases, write it down. What situation are you in? How did you react? Take notes about your environment, the circumstances, and the people you’re with. This will help you identify stressful patterns in your daily life, so you can begin addressing them. 

4. Set boundaries and stick to them

Being kind to yourself means respecting your limits. Everyone’s level of tolerance to stress is different. Some people might feel overwhelmed by tight deadlines, while others thrive. Notice when it’s time to minimize your workload, cut back on overtime, or create distance with certain people. 

5. Speak to your manager 

Talking about stress is hard for everyone. But once you figure out what is causing your stress, it might be time to reach out to someone who can help. Here are three questions to answer before starting a conversation with your employer:

  • Which aspects of your job are making you feel anxious or stressed?
  • What effect is this stress having on your overall health, well-being, and productivity?
  • How could you start alleviating your stress?

Remember, the responsibility to heal from stress isn’t solely on you. But coming up with ideas to spark a meaningful conversation can help outline achievable solutions.

Speak to a specialist

Even if you feel like your stress and anxiety are under control, talking to a professional can help. They can help you identify causes and navigate any life challenges that are contributing to burnout. They can also help you explore coping techniques to better manage daily stress.


This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.

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