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Overcoming burnout

Nearly everyone has experienced a bad day at work. However, experiencing a prolonged period of poor motivation and a lack of career satisfaction could indicate a more chronic, serious problem: burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a growing concern for many people. If you frequently feel like there’s not enough time in a day to get everything done, have trouble focusing, or feel like there’s no hope of ever getting ahead of your workload, you might be burnt out. 

Burnout is more than just stress. It’s a serious concern that can lead to both mental and physical health issues if it goes untreated. Professional burnout is defined1 as experiencing emotional, mental and physical exhaustion resulting from work-related stress. It can lead a worker to feel emotionally drained, poorly motivated and less productive.

Luckily, there are things you can do that may help you recover from burnout if it’s happening, and prevent yourself from becoming burnt out in the future.

What are the signs of burnout?

It’s normal to experience stress from time to time, at work and at home, and some level of stress can be healthy. It can motivate us to accomplish goals, leading to greater productivity and a sense of accomplishment. But burnout is different.  

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Symptoms of burnout can include:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty staying motivated
  • Feelings of cynicism or disillusionment around your job or relationships
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Altered sleep patterns (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Headaches
  • Digestive issues

Burnout has been mainly talked about in the context of work, but can arise from other sources of stress as well. 

New parents may feel burnt out by the responsibilities of childcare. Burnout can also happen to individuals who unexpectedly find themselves in a caregiving role – for example, if a relative or loved one is very sick. 

What can you do today to feel better?

While it might take longer to address the root cause of your burnout, there are things you can do right away to ease the feeling of being overwhelmed. 

At work 

  • Talk to your supervisor. They might not be aware of the challenges you’re facing, or the challenge might be more widespread that you realize. Your leader can help to address the problem, including potentially adjusting your workload, or share what the organization is doing to manage a more widespread, systemic problem.

  • Communicate with your teammates. It’s not uncommon for others in the same workplace to experience similar challenges. By sharing your experience and ensuring you stay solution-focused rather than focusing on the negative outcomes, you and your teammates can work together to find creative solutions. Additionally, taking the time to socialize with your co-workers may be helpful and boost your sense of belonging and confidence.

  • Work with your leader and team to ensure there are clear team guidelines regarding communication. Whether via email, text or any other method,  the “rules of engagement” should be shared and agreed to by all team members, because failure to adhere can impact everyone’s health and wellbeing.  For those still working from home, either as remote workers or as part of a hybrid work model, there is the challenge of not truly being away from the office. In this context, it's especially important for everyone to be empowered to make that break at the end of the shift or workday, shutting off communication, as well as taking vacation time that allows you to completely disconnect from work responsibilities.

At home 

  • Find short-term fixes for day-to-day tasks to give yourself time back in your day. Don’t have the time or energy to cook a full meal while juggling other responsibilities? If that’s the case, consider other options like ordering in, asking for help, or making something quick like a frozen pizza. 

  • Exercise: just a 30-minute brisk walk every day can really help lift your mood

  • Get enough sleep: most adults require 7-9 hours every night

Managing burnout in the long-term

How do you manage burnout when you’re in a situation that you can’t walk away from?

Prioritize real self-care
Regardless of what self-care looks like for you, making time for it during your day is an important way to keep yourself healthy and build mental resilience. 

Self-care can look like taking some time for yourself to do something you enjoy. It can also look like taking care of things that need to get done to maintain your personal well being – like booking that dentist appointment, filing your taxes, or picking up groceries. 

When we’re wrapped up in work, or caring for someone else, it’s easy to see self-care as less important. But really, it’s one of the most important tasks that you can devote time to.

Set healthy boundaries
Saying “no” can feel uncomfortable, but it’s an important skill to practice. Setting boundaries is a way to manage your time and resources. When you take on responsibilities within your limits, you’re better able to fulfill those responsibilities without overextending yourself. It’s good to remind yourself that you’re likely less productive when you take on too much. 

You can decide what healthy boundaries look like for you – it may take a bit of trial and error, but over time it will get easier. If someone asks you to do something that you just aren’t able to take on, practice ways to politely decline. 

Seek support
Having friends and allies can make a great difference in your ability to manage feelings of burnout. As much as possible, make time to connect with people that make you feel supported.

Find the right support for you 

Speaking with a psychologist or counselor may help navigate burnout. Mental health services are available in person at TELUS Health Care Centres in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. Additionally, TELUS Health Virtual Care, our virtual care service offered by employers for employees, offers health and wellbeing support, and may be available to you through your employer.

Written in consultation with Dr. Diane McIntosh, psychiatrist


  1. Career Burnout. CAMH. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2021, from