5 Jul 2024

Dealing with Burnout: personal insights and recovery strategies.

Earlier this year, emails were not finding me well — at all. This led me to a deeper understanding of burnout, its causes, symptoms, and how to manage it.

I no longer felt like a “turbo-charged whirlwind of ideas” but rather a shadow of myself. Despite my dedication to my job and team, I couldn’t focus. I had trouble sleeping, had recurring nightmares, frequently got sick, and lost interest in almost everything (except for my dog). I often cried, especially in traffic, and intrusive thoughts were my constant companion. I felt rushed but never present, a common symptom of burnout.

The past year had been challenging, and recent events only added to the everyday stress. For about a month, I brushed off my symptoms until I realised I couldn’t continue doing so. I decided to talk to my team leader and find solutions.

Coincidentally, the next morning, he asked what was wrong, and I broke down in tears. Feeling seen and supported, we agreed I’d take time off until I recovered, with my team and position waiting for my return.

A few days later, I was indeed diagnosed with burnout. This article explores what it is, its causes, symptoms, and similar phenomena, along with some useful links.

If all of this is hitting a bit too close to home, take this 11-question quiz from The New York Times to assess your emotional well-being right away. Recognition is one of the first steps towards recovery from any mental health issue.

If you don't feel like reading any further because that's just one more thing adding to your endless to-do list, this explanation from Laurie Santos, a Yale Scientist and Professor, sheds some light on burnout in just 7 minutes.

Burnout, qu'est-ce?

Burnout goes beyond mere exhaustion or fatigue from intense activity, which can usually be alleviated with rest or relaxation.

The term "burnout" was coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to describe the impact of stress and high dedication in professions like healthcare and social work. In 2019, the World Health Organization defined it as a syndrome with symptoms such as:

  • Energy depletion or exhaustion

  • Increased mental distance or negativity towards one's job

  • Reduced professional efficacy

Burnout is often job-related, but chronic stress can stem from financial issues, relationship problems, and caregiving burdens. It is exacerbated by the endless stream of perfect lives on social media, along with climate disasters, humanitarian crises, and economic instability.

In fact, burnout isn't a personal failure but a physical reaction to pressure, much like breaking a leg. Would you fix that with a bandaid? No. Well, when it comes to burnout, face masks, productivity apps or a few days off won't cut it either. Truth be told, it is distressingly easy to apply an achievement mindset to the concept of rest and self-care itself, laying the blame and responsibility on those with burnout, implying they should do more to feel better. In fact, recovering from any mental illness is not a straight line but rather a process that takes time and effort with plenty of ups and downs.

In his 2015 book The Burnout Society, philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues that stress and exhaustion are chronic social and historical phenomena. Trends like Chinese youth pretending to be birds or dressing “gross” to go to work protest against extreme work hours, hyper-productivity, and the illusory freedom of modern civilization.

Feeling “Blah".

Remember the hopelessness and the information overload we collectively felt during the COVID-19 pandemic? Most of us were experiencing “Worry Burnout", and we didn't even know it. Similarly, oftentimes, those experiencing burnout only take it seriously when physical symptoms arise. Effectively, one of the good things this pandemic brought about was an increase in awareness and discussion around mental illness, which makes it easier to identify the nuances and specificities of our least positive feelings. For instance, I have discovered there are actually four different kinds of burnout and even a term for when you just can’t find your spark...you just feel “blah” or “meh”.

Four types of burnout.

  • Overload Burnout: Social media can make us believe we not only can but must excel at everything. This burnout occurs when you relentlessly push for success, often sacrificing your health and personal life. You are probably working excessively hard and becoming increasingly frantic in your efforts.

  • Understimulation Burnout: This burnout stems from boredom and feeling underappreciated at work. A lack of learning opportunities and professional growth can make you feel disconnected, cynical, and avoidant of responsibilities.

  • Neglect Burnout: This occurs when you feel overwhelmed and helpless, believing you're incompetent or unable to manage your responsibilities. Often linked to imposter syndrome, it involves doubting your abilities and accomplishments.

  • Habitual Burnout: This arises when physical and mental fatigue becomes chronic, leading to persistent sadness, behavioural changes, and even depression and suicidal thoughts.


The neglected middle child of mental health, languishing is a state of mental exhaustion that subtly undermines our self-worth, drive, and sense of purpose. Often mistaken for "the new normal" due to feelings of indifference, it is distinct from depression and its persistent sadness but still incapacitating. Those who languish often feel a lack of control over their lives, uncertain about their future aspirations, are immobilized by decisions, and experience errand paralysis. Without intervention, languishing can disrupt daily life and lead to more severe mental health issues and even increase the risk of premature death.

In Languishing, How to Feel Alive Again in a World That Tears Us Down, Corey Keyes, an American Psychologist, narrates experiencing "restless emptiness" and sheds some advice on how to bounce back from it and get into a state of Flourishing.

If you rather be listening to a podcast than reading a book or even this article, I found The Happiness Lab to be a great source of knowledge on this topic. Here are my top three episodes so far:


Three months have passed since my diagnosis, and I feel contrastingly better. All toxic positivity aside, and not to sound cheesy, I can see colours again. The whole team at Significa welcomed me back with warm hugs, and my leads presented me with a structured plan to ease me back into work again. I have clear tasks and goals to achieve at my own pace and rhythm, one day at a time.

I won't bore you with the details of my blooming recovery process, but I will share a few things that are working for me and that you definitely shouldn't wait around to be burned out to put into practice.

Are you thriving?

To improve your overall well-being, start by reflecting on how you're doing in various aspects of your life.

Drugs do work!

The Verve, the most popular British sad boyband of the 90's sang The Drugs Don’t Work, but I disagree. Of course, they were probably talking about other drugs there, but the point I want to make is that it's about time the stigma around psychological problems and mental-health-oriented medicine vanishes.

I'm pretty sure that if it weren't for my psychiatrist, the adjustment of antidepressants he prescribed and the therapy he advised, the bullet points below might have helped, but wouldn't suffice… You wouldn't go through a tooth removal recovery without some painkillers, would you?

The first few weeks I went on leave, I slept a lot. We often underestimate how vital sleep is. Prioritise sleeping! Having Headspace as a perk from Significa helped me heaps, as I was tired but couldn't stop counting sheep.

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As I started therapy, I understood it was important to reassess my priorities and goals. Burnout often signals that something in our lives is out of alignment with our values, so taking time to think about what's truly important to me gave me some perspective and allowed me to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

As I felt incredibly numb, it was important for me to rely on my community and nourish a sense of belonging. This meant walking dogs with friends, having a beer, or simply running errands together. This helped me feel safe and grounded… as did getting back to the basics.

Corny as it sounds, stopping to smell the roses does help one feel more in tune with oneself and reduce anxiety, even if only momentarily. Think of this as dipping your hands into a huge bucket of raw beans— it is merely a sensory experience that reminds you there is more to you than just what is going on in your head. Or travel somewhere, if you can! Even if the destination is only 30 minutes away. Change the scenario!

Stop and smell the roses!

Discover How to Do Nothing with Jenny Odell.

Get in a state of flow! On "Why you should bring love into the office", I explored what this state of deep concentration entails, and I found I was craving it! Each one of us finds it through different tasks: it may be getting a little project running, cleaning up the closet, taking care of plants…. it must be something that builds your confidence, your energy and your emotional strength while you think of nothing much else. For me, this was all of the above, plus building my personal website according to my realigned priorities and goals.

Last but not least… exercise! Yoga, pilates, and meditation helped me a bit, but I still felt I was running low on vibrant energy. I felt too zen after these practices. It turns out the key for me was intensive cardio — I Hate Jim, but I discovered cycling, re-discovered swimming, and made my peace with walking just for the sake of it.

If this article resonates with you, perhaps it is time to stop and understand what is going on. Recognising burnout and taking proactive steps toward recovery will lead you to a renewed sense of purpose and well-being. However, it can be hard and scary to grasp where to start. If you’d like to, reach out. For now, get up from your chair and dance. I promise it helps.

Ana Fernandes

Brand Manager

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While others struggle to keep up, Ana effortlessly leaps from one thing to the next in a turbo-charged, blazing fast, whirlwind of flaming ideas and effortless creativity. Well, you know, the Project Manager role was simply too dull for the likes of Ana. So abracadabra, don't blink or you'll miss her, the Brand Manager she is.

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