The cause of burnout

What causes burnout

It is not unusual that people experience burnout as a result of their job. Anyone who is exposed to prolonged stress can develop a sense that they are being undervalued and overworked and this can ultimately result in burnout. Burnout can hit us all, from the stay-at-home single mum who is trying to balance the responsibility of looking after two children, caring for her ill mother and maintaining a pristine household, to the hardworking city office worker who has not received a raise in three years or taken more than five days of holiday. However, burnout is not caused exclusively by too much responsibility, demands at home or stress at work. Recent research tells us that burnout can be brought on by additional factors including your view of the world, personality traits and your lifestyle. How you spend your downtime, the pressure you put on yourself and your view of yourself in the world can all have an impact on whether you experience burnout or not.

As suggested above, a number of factors could ultimately be the cause of your burnout. We can split these into three primary groups; work-related causes; personality traits; and lifestyle causes. Work related causes that could result in burnout include: working in high-pressure or chaotic work environments; experiencing a lack of reward or recognition of your work; facing demanding or unclear job expectations; believing that you have little or no control over your own work; and completing unchallenging or monotonous work responsibilities.  Personality traits that could contribute to burnout include: you having what is called a Type A or high-achieving personality; adopting a pessimistic view of the world, your place within it, and your own abilities; having perfectionistic predispositions and believing that nothing you do is ever good enough; and seeking out a sense of complete control that prevents you from delegating responsibilities to others. Lifestyle causes that could result in burnout include: not getting sufficient sleep; a lack of supportive or close relationships with others; dedicating most of your time to work and limiting the time you spend socialising or relaxing; taking on too many responsibilities and not seeking out support from others; and adopting a position in life where you are expected to hold too many roles for too many people.

In my earlier blog article Identifying burnout, I highlighted how burnout happens gradually, and that it can creep up on you without you even noticing it. If you are not paying attention to the warning signs, then you might already be on the road to experiencing burnout. At first, the signs and symptoms of burnout may appear subtle and they are therefore often ignored, but with time they will get worse and worse until it eventually feels unbearable. Early signs and symptoms of burnout are your bodies way of telling you that something is wrong and it’s putting up a red flag to help you identify that a change needs to occur. If you ignore these early warning signs, then you will eventually burn out, whilst if you pay attention to them and make changes then you can get out ahead of it and prevent a breakdown.

Below you will find some physical, emotional and behavioural signs and symptoms to look out for to prevent burnout:

Behavioural signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Excessive use of substances, alcohol, or food to deal with stress
  • Procrastinating by focusing on activities that do not need to be completed or spending a long time completing tasks
  • Withdrawing from others and living in increased isolation
  • Arriving late, leaving early or skipping work
  • Shying away from and removing yourself from responsibilities
  • Becoming easily annoyed and directing your frustration onto others

Emotional signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Feeling alone and detached from others and the world
  • Reduced motivation
  • Loss of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
  • Increased self-doubt and sense of failure
  • Adopting a negative outlook of your life and becoming increasingly cynical
  • Feeling defeated, trapped and helpless

Physical signs and symptoms found in burnout

  • Impaired or increased appetite and a change in your sleep habits
  • Regularly feeling sick and a noticeable deterioration in your immune system
  • Recurrent muscle aches, back pain and headaches
  • Reduced energy levels causing you to feel drained and tired most of the time

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Identifying burnout

Identifying burnout

You could be suffering from burnout if you feel helpless, completely worn out and disillusioned by stress. Recent government figures indicate that a total of 9.9 million working days were lost in 2014 due to stress and burnout, and that stress and burnout accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases. Stress and burnout was also the cause of 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. When burnout hits, it can be challenging to gather up energy to care because everything looks bleak and your problems will appear insurmountable. Burnout will lead you to feel unhappy and detached from your own life, and this can often result in a negative impact on your health and your relationships with others. The good news is that burnout does not need to represent a permanent state, but can instead be healed. By seeking professional support, making time to yourself and reassessing your priorities you have the ability to regain a healthy work-life balance.

What is burnout?
Burnout can be described as a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. People experience burnout when they have been exposed to prolonged or excessive stress, for instance by working in an emotionally and physically draining job for a long period of time. Burnout can also occur if you work hard and then fail to achieve the results that you expected or if your efforts at work are not recognised despite all your hard work and effort. Such experiences might cause you to feel deeply disillusioned, overwhelmed and unable to meet future demands. You might have originally felt enthusiastic and motivated when you first begun your job, but as the stress continues, you may start to lose interest and your motivation to keep going is reduced. Burnout causes your energy levels to drop and with that your productivity reduces. This change can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, resentful and cynical about your future, and you might eventually feel like you have given all that you can. In today’s society we are constantly under a lot of pressure, for instance by meeting work-related targets or juggling multiple roles as an employee, parent, partner, or multiple careers. It is not uncommon to have days when we feel overloaded or unappreciated, especially if the effort that we are putting in is not recognised, let alone rewarded. Understandably, on these days it can feel like a challenge to get out of bed and face our responsibilities. If you feel like this on most days you might, however, be suffering from burnout.

You might be facing burnout or be on the road to burnout if:

  • You feel that every day at work is a bad day
  • You feel hopeless about your work or your life at work
  •  You’re exhausted all the time
  • You find it hard to care about your home or work life and often feel hopeless
  • You think you spend most of your day completing tasks that feel completely overwhelming or mind-numbingly dull.
  • You lose your patience with others easily
  • Your responsibilities in life feel overwhelming and fill you with dread.
  • You have lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • You experience physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, sleeplessness or shortness of breath.
  • You engage more frequently in escapist behaviours, including excessive use of substances or other activities that provide a temporary relief.

Distinguishing between stress and burnout
Although burnout is often caused by experiencing relentless stress, it is important to understand that burnout is not the same as experiencing too much stress. When we are stressed it can often feel like there is too much of something, for instance by there being too many tasks, people or activities that are demanding too much of us psychologically and physically. However, when people are stressed they still have the ability to imagine their situation improving, for instance by regaining control of everything. In contrast to there being too much when people feel stressed, when people experience burnout it’s because there is not enough. Being burnt out brings with it a reduction in motivation, a sense of emptiness, and a lack of caring. People are usually aware that they are experiencing a lot of stress, whilst burnout can often sneak up on you without you noticing it. In contrast to stress, where people still can see the light at the end of the tunnel, people who face burnout are often devoid of hope, and they do not believe that positive changes can occur in relation to their situation.

Here are a few more points to help you identify whether you might be suffering from stress or burnout:


  • Results in reduced energy
  • Can result in anxiety disorders
  • Triggers hyperactivity and a sense of urgency
  • Causes overactive emotions
  • Can be defined by over-engagement
  • Severe physical symptoms and damage
  • Could result in premature death


  • Results in reduced motivation and hope
  • Can result in depression and detachment
  • Triggers hopelessness and helplessness
  • Causes blunted emotions
  • Can be defined by disengagement
  • Severe emotional symptoms and damage
  • Could result in in thoughts that life is not worth living

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

Dancing with the demon of Anxiety

Anxiety Pic

Are you suffering from anxiety? Well, you are not alone. Recent research tells us that anxiety is increasingly common amongst the British population, and national figures suggest that as many as 30% of the population are likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one time. These findings, alarming as they might be, are hardly surprising given the vast amount of literature on anxiety over the last 300 years. Anxiety is not a recent concept developed by psychiatry in the 21st century, but a sensation that people across the planet have experienced for a long time. If we look to the literature, then we will find that the Dutch philosopher Spinoza wrote about anxiety and dread already during the 17th century. Since then, prolific writers such as Kierkegaard and Freud have both dedicated whole books to the topic of anxiety.

As we can see, anxiety is not a new experience to us humans, but how do we understand it? The novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka has portrayed his own experience of anxiety in his literature saying: “the feeling of having in the middle of my body a ball of wool that quickly winds itself up, its innumerable threads pulling from the surface of my body to itself”. Reflecting on conversations with my own clients, they all in one way or the other seem to have described anxiety as a manifestation of inner turmoil. Freud has described anxiety as objectless and located in the future, and many of my own clients who present with anxiety regularly describe worries about future humiliation or ruination. My work has taught me that anxiety also has a tendency to surface when people already feel vulnerable. It’s almost like it is lurking and looking for a chink in their armour or an opening to attack their defences. Once it breaks through it’s like the floodgates have opened and the mind can start to race. My client’s often tell me that the voice in their head is exhausting, that they can’t stop it and that it is constant. They tell me that they feel out of control and that they worry about everything. The literature on anxiety teaches us that this experience might eventually die down for a period, however, unless the anxiety is dealt with through talking therapy, it often has a tendency to return.

Here are a few pointers on how therapy might be able to help:

  • Therapy provides a safe place to off-load your worries onto someone else who understands what you are going through
  • Therapy will teach you to challenge the voices in your head and help you develop tools to reduce your anxiety
  • Therapy offers a space where you can explore your anxiety objectively
  • Talking therapies can alter anxiety at its root by strengthening the neural pathways that counteract anxiety.
  • Therapy can be fun and it is scientifically proven that laughing is good for us
  • Therapy can provide a space to explore your dance with the demon of anxiety, as well as give you the confidence to send it packing.

If you think you are suffering from anxiety or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you manage anxiety differently, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here