Recognizing and preventing burnout - What to look out for and how to handle it.

Kim Erich
February 8, 2024

It is challenging to keep everything in balance, from your career to your personal life. Sometimes we simply can no longer manage it. However, if you just keep going, the stress keeps building up and you ignore your body's signals, you risk reaching your limit one day and being left with an empty battery. To avoid this stage, it is essential to protect our well-being. In this blog, we will discuss how to do that, how to recognize early burnout symptoms in yourself and others and we will elaborate on how to handle these symptoms and how to voice your concerns to someone with burnout symptoms. Curious about how to keep burnout at bay? Then take your time and keep reading!

Incomprehension in Burn-out and Diagnosing Burn-out:

An (incipient) burnout expresses itself differently in each individual, making it a challenge to detect it at an early stage. Perhaps the bags under the eyes give it away, but otherwise it will mainly be noticeable by behaviour. Since it is not immediately visible on the outside what is going on, a lack of understanding can arise from the environment. If someone mentions that they are tired, a common response from those around them is: "Then why don't you just go to sleep for an hour? Take a good nap!" However, burnout is more than simply being tired after a long day and is (unfortunately) not solved by just sleeping for an hour. It is a persistent feeling of exhaustion, emotional detachment and lack of motivation (Bianchi et al., 2015).
To diagnose Burnout, a formal diagnosis must be made by a medical professional. Healthcare providers look at the duration and impact of symptoms on your daily life before they can determine if you are actually experiencing burnout (American Psychological Association, 2013).

The three main symptoms that characterize burnout are (Mayo Clinic, 2018; Schears, 2017):

1. Emotional Exhaustion:

This symptom refers to loss of energy and inability to cope with the demands of daily life. This can result in increasing irritability, frustration and cynicism.

2. Depersonalization:

Depersonalization is a symptom in which a person feels disconnected from their work, colleagues, personal life and even themselves. It is characterized by a sense of unreality, also described as 'the feeling of not really being there'. Depersonalization is often accompanied by a reduced ability to experience emotions and the idea of watching one's life from a distance (van Dam, 2016).

3. Reduced Personal Performance:

This symptom involves a decrease in self-esteem and competence, even when a person is objectively performing just fine. Performance no longer provides satisfaction and work seems to have lost its meaning. Being proud of what has been achieved makes room for doubts and insecurity.

Prevention of Burnout:

The good news is that burnout is preventable with the right strategies. Here are some effective ways to protect yourself from developing burnout:

1. Prioritize Self-Care:

Make self-care an essential part of your daily routine. Make sure you set aside enough time for activities that bring you pleasure and relaxation. These include exercising, reading, spending time with loved ones and practicing mindfulness. Reserve specific moments of relaxation, such as enjoying the sun or immersing yourself in a good book, and plan them intentionally in your schedule. By including self-care in your schedule, you increase the likelihood that you will actually take time for relaxation.

2. Set Clear Boundaries:

Create clear boundaries between work and personal life. Avoid constantly checking emails and other work-related matters in your free time. Once your work day ends, feel free to put up the "do not disturb" sign until the next morning! Learning to say no is very important, especially if you already have an overflowing schedule. It helps with managing stress. Keep in mind that guarding your boundaries benefits not only yourself, but also those around you. If you say yes now, you are at risk of having to say no much more often later on. It is in everyone's best interest that you do not get overworked.

3. Effective Time Management:

Managing time efficiently can reduce the pressure of a full agenda. Divide tasks into manageable pieces. A tool you can use to prioritize is Covey's Time Management Matrix. It is described in Stephen R. Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This matrix divides tasks into four quadrants based on urgency and importance to focus on what is truly important. In addition, schedule regular short breaks to recharge. These are not urgent, but very important!

The Covey Time Management Matrix

4. Build a Supportive Network:

A strong support network can mitigate the effects of stress. Surround yourself with friends, family and colleagues who offer emotional support and understanding.

Recognizing Burnout in Others:

Recognizing burnout symptoms in others requires observation and empathy. Be aware of signs such as increasing absenteeism, decreased productivity, frequent fatigue and changes in behaviour or attitude. These may include irritability, perfectionism, and lack of concentration. These behavioural changes may also be accompanied by physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches and muscle aches, as well as sleep problems. In addition, colleagues who are experiencing burnout symptoms may withdraw from social interactions, lose interest in work, and experience a feeling of social isolation. Identifying these symptoms can help provide early support and prevent burnout.

Expressing concerns about burnout symptoms: how do you do it?

When you suspect that someone close to you is struggling with burnout symptoms, it is important to start a conversation. However, this situation requires empathy and open communication. It is important to be patient, as this can be a sensitive topic. Choose the right time and place carefully, be honest and sincere about your concerns and avoid judgments. Using "I" statements can help express your concerns in a respectful way. Also respect that the person may not want to talk or accept help immediately. Let them know that you are available for (emotional) support when they are ready. Most importantly, show that you care about their well-being and are willing to help where possible.

Recognizing Burnout in Yourself and Overcoming It:

Being self-aware is essential in order to recognize burnout in yourself. Pay attention to changes in your mood, energy levels and motivation. If you notice a persistent feeling of exhaustion and detachment, it's time to take action. We explain the steps you can take when you recognize burnout symptoms in yourself:

1. Acknowledgment and Acceptance:

Acknowledge that you are dealing with burnout (symptoms) and accept that something needs to change, possibly with guidance from a professional. Ignoring or denying the problem will only prolong your recovery time.

2. Rest and Reconsideration:

Distance yourself from situations and people that cause stress and prioritize rest. Use this time to reflect on your current situation. In doing so, take a good look at where the stress and exhaustion are coming from. What would have to change to eliminate the stress?

3. Seek Professional Help:

If the symptoms are seriously affecting your mental and emotional well-being and you can't quite figure it out yourself (which is perfectly normal), don't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide guidance and coping strategies specific to your needs.


Fortunately, these above approaches can make a valuable contribution to burnout prevention. Identifying symptoms at an early stage, both in yourself and others, remains essential to preventing burnout. It is therefore very important to realize that burnout goes deeper than simply being tired. So let's pay more attention to ourselves and each other from time to time. After all, prevention is still better than cure!

Written by
Kim Erich

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