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  • Writer's pictureRay Salisbury

Beating Burnout

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

If you’re considering starting up your own business, there is the certainty that you’re gonna get real busy. There is also the possibility that you’re leaving the regular paid workforce for self-employment because your career is/was less than satisfactory. If you’re a high-achiever like me, you’ll need to pace yourself, and attain a healthy work-life balance. However, if you ignore the warning signs, and adopt the “I can do anything” mantra, you might end up like the guy in my story…

A bloke I know well hit the wall. For the sake of anonymity, let’s name him John. At the tender age of 21, he crashed and burned. It wasn’t a nervous breakdown, nor even a mental breakdown. In fact, this high achiever was still cheerful, and his life was busy—too busy. It was a physical breakdown, where John could hardly get out of bed. It took all his willpower to wash the dishes. Because, when you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care—let alone do something about your situation.

Rewind eight months. John had lost his graphic design job, so when he finally found another place of employment, he strived hard to please the boss, working long hours to meet tight deadlines. Meanwhile, he left the comforts of home to go flatting with three friends. However, their relationship deteriorated, and John was asked to leave. That’s two doses of rejection in as many months.

Layered over this outward battle with social alienation, John fought an inward battle to perform; to be perfect. Raised in a conservative church with unrealistic expectations of behaviour, he had grown into a dedicated and devout believer, intent on training for the mission-field. Studying Chinese in the evenings, and attending lessons every Saturday merely overloaded John’s already frantic schedule.

But the straw that broke this camel’s back came while at a weekend church camp. The saints were called to fast and pray, and this zealot responded with due diligence, absconding from food for several days. Sometime during the weekend, John’s health broke. His enthusiasm had long-since waned; now his depleted energy levels finally ran dry. Bed-ridden, he took time off work—too much time, in the end, so his new employer had to dismiss the young man.

Long story short, it took a full five years for this Kiwi guy to regain his physical energy. Meantime, his immune system had taken a serious hammering. Health issues such as these can really take a toll on one’s confidence and social development, not to mention financial status.

Definition of burnout:

Burnout is a state of prolonged stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands.

If you descend into the throes of full-fledged burnout, you cannot function effectively on a personal or professional level. But it doesn’t happen suddenly – it creeps up on you insidiously like a slow leak, so it’s hard to diagnose. However, if you know what to look for, you can recognise the signs before it’s too late.

Causes of burnout:

Dr. Christina Maslach is a pioneer in the research of burnout and a Professor of Psychology at the University of California. She suggests there can be a substantial mis-match between a person and their place of work:

  • Working too much

  • Working in an unjust environment

  • Working with little social support

  • Working with little control

  • Working within a conflict of values

  • Working for insufficient reward (whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback)

Researchers have consistently noticed instances of burnout in these fields: Mental health, teaching, social services, medicine and nursing, and law enforcement.

However, sometimes a stressful workplace is not the nail in the proverbial coffin. Particular personality traits (e.g. perfectionism, need to control, pessimism), lifestyles (e.g. isolation, lack of sleep), or one’s fundamental worldview can be deciding factors that lead to burnout.

Difference between stress & burnout:

It may be helpful to realise the difference from being overly stressed, and the condition of feeling burned out.


  • Characterized by overengagement

  • Emotions are overreactive

  • Produces urgency and hyperactivity

  • Loss of energy

  • Leads to anxiety disorders

  • Primary damage is physical

  • May kill you prematurely


  • Characterized by disengagement

  • Emotions are blunted

  • Produces helplessness and hopelessness

  • Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope

  • Leads to detachment and depression

  • Primary damage is emotional

  • May make life seem not worth living

Symptoms of burnout:

According to, common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Forgetfulness / loss of focus

  • Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, grinding of teeth, and/or headaches

  • Weakened immune system

  • Loss of appetite

  • Depression, anger or anxiety

Stages of burnout:

During the 1980s, popular Christian authors John and Paula Sanford produced an excellent series on possible spiritual causes of burnout. According to the Sanfords, a person can progress through three stages of burnout. If you don’t catch yourself in time, you can descend into Stage 3 Burnout; the recovery from this can last up to five years.

But if you take steps to get your life back into balance, you can prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.

Testing for burnout:

A more thorough analysis is the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a widely used measure of three specific aspects of the burnout syndrome: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment.

Click on the link below to test yourself using the MBI – an exhaustive 73-question survey.

Or if that’s too taxing (maybe you really ARE burnt out?) try this quickee:

A more accurate and articulate free test is found at

Are you burned out or just exhausted?

Before you resign, or resign yourself to a victim mentality, it’s important to differentiate between a temporary state of exhaustion and genuine, bonafide burnout. One of the best ways to check yourself out is to take a decent holiday. When it’s over, if you’re refreshed and re-energised, then you’ll be okay. If you’re still dreading going back to work, then you really should seek professional help.

Beating burnout:

Authors Melinda Smith, Jeanne and Robert Segal give the following advice to combat burnout:

  • Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least 15 minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.

  • Adopt healthy diet, exercise and sleep habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.

  • Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.

  • Take a break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.

  • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favourite hobby.

  • Learn how to manage stress.

In ‘High Octane Women’ , Sherrie Carter suggests the remedy to avoid burning out;

  • Take an inventory.

  • Make lifestyle changes.

  • Learn to say “no.”

  • Delegate as many things as possible.

  • Take breaks between big projects.

  • Control your devices, such as iPads, computers, and smart phones which can consume large amounts of time and energy.

  • Socialise outside your professional group.

  • Resist the urge to take work home.

  • Remember to reinforce yourself for trying rather than only for the end result.

  • Join a support group.

  • Rediscover your passion.

Not the end:

If you have sunken to the depths of Stage 3 burnout, all is not lost. Consider this a blessing in disguise, which can work wonders for your character, create more self-awareness, and re-evaluate your life’s goals and dreams.

The definition of grief is ‘the death of a dream.’ Take the time to grieve your losses, to heal, to recover. S.L.O.W. D.O.W.N.

Get professional help; someone with a listening ear – the last you need is Job’s Comforters telling you to ‘get yourself together’. Though few folk will understand what you’re going through, you must not isolate yourself. Resist the urge to withdraw from your friends or family – you need them now more than ever.

Trust me: there is light at the end of the tunnel – I know, I’ve been in that darkest of pits – my middle name is John.

© 2021 Ray Salisbury / Nelson, New Zealand /

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