Burnout: How To Avoid Or Overcome It And Stay Motivated

Michelle Velan, Founder at Wondersource

According to Forbes, over half (52%) of survey respondents are experiencing burnout in 2021—up from the 43% who said the same in Indeed’s pre-Covid-19 survey. Fifty-three percent of Millennials were already burned out pre-pandemic, and they remain the most affected population, with 59% experiencing it today.

The World Health Organisation refers to burnout as “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” in the organization’s International Classification of Diseases diagnostic manual.

The three symptoms included in the list are:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings negative towards one’s career

  • reduced professional productivity

Having personally experienced burnout and meeting many people who have as well, I’ve seen first hand how it can impact people’s mental and physical health in the short-term. Moreover, we know from Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn’s research that chronic stress can lead to diseases down the line. It’s no longer acceptable to ignore these warning signs from our body.

At Wondersource we are focused on increasing awareness around health issues where conventional medicine’s limitations come in. According to Dr. Berzin, “conventional medicine does not effectively address the fact that most individuals’ health is determined by three things: day-to-day behavior; access to health-defining resources like unprocessed food and regular exercise; and how lifestyle choices affect the body, about which education levels are shockingly low amongst all socioeconomic demographics.

Second, conventional medicine is overly reliant on drugs that suppress symptoms but do not address the underlying cause of disease. Your insomnia, for example, isn’t due to an Ambien deficiency, but a conventional doctor doesn’t have the time, the resources or the training to educate you and support you in addressing the multifactorial reasons you can’t sleep, so you’re given a drug like Ambien, which is addictive and has multiple problematic side effects.”

One of the biggest problems when it comes to many health issues, burnout included, is that there’s a lack of understanding of what it is and people feel ashamed for needing help. Take burnout, some don’t recognise it as a medical condition, others refer to it as adrenal fatigue and others refer to it as HPA axis dysfunction. According to Parsley Health physician Rachael Gonzalez, M.D., adrenal fatigue is not a clinically appropriate diagnosis . She believes the name and concept of “adrenal fatigue” oversimplifies what’s actually occurring in the body when it’s exposed to chronic stress. Instead, she suggests we should be using the term HPA axis dysfunction.

Whether we refer to it as burnout or possibly more accurately as HPA axis dysfunction, it doesn’t help that many work environments don’t support slowing down and individuals personally put pressure on themselves to keep going. On top of this, when we’re experiencing the symptoms associated with burnout, we tend not to think at our best or in ways that support ourselves, making the situation even worse. For example, we may say yes to an extra commitment over the weekend which doesn’t serve us and end up feeling even more drained whereas if we were in a better state of mind, we would be more likely to know that we would be better off not attending and kindly decline.

So what is burnout?

According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenal fatigue is a lay term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, like body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, digestive problems, fatigue, body aches, unexplained weight loss, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, loss of body hair and skin discolouration.

In my personal experience, I first realised that something was wrong when I felt uncharacteristically irritable and negative. The tipping point was when I noticed that my body felt exhausted but when I lay down at night, I struggled to fall asleep. Something felt clearly off and I was aware that I needed support and yet, I wasn’t sure what to do or who to turn to. My wonderful doctor tried to help and suggested that I reduce my stress levels, but other than increasing my daily meditation time and going for more walks, nothing changed. So, I started researching to find out what was going on and someone who could help me. I initially set out to uncover if I had raised inflammation levels (a symptom of chronic stress with many potential consequences), and through the process I uncovered functional medicine, which is aimed at getting to the root cause of health issues. My functional medicine practitioner, recommended some tests and we determined that my cortisol levels were depleted and I had what we referred to as adrenal fatigue.

With her ongoing support, we were able to go to the root of the problem, speed up recovery and heal my body. What really stuck with me about that whole experience was that as someone who has always been interested and invested in my mental and physical wellbeing, I was doing things that I thought were “healthy” and supporting my wellbeing like intermittent fasting and HIIT classes, when in fact they were making me feel worse. While they may be good for others or even for myself at different points in life, they weren’t helping me at that time. Following some tests my functional medicine practitioner saw what was actually going on in my body, which enabled her to make a personalised protocol for me to follow. It included adjustments to my diet and lifestyle, and taking particular supplements. Within about two months of implementing her recommendations, I started to feel much better. Happier, compassionate, more present and connected to my intuition.

Ever since, I am mindful of incorporating rest, walks in nature, journaling, meditation, and talking to either a coach or some sort of support, into my routine as much as possible and I have 1-2 sessions with my functional medicine practitioner every year.

Often, people think or hope that one day of rest will make it better. “I’ll cancel my pilates on Sunday so I can rest for a few hours in the afternoon and I’ll be good to go on Monday” but that is just not the case. Or they worry that either taking time away from work and investing in self-care makes them “weak” or that it’s just not possible given all their commitments.

Unfortunately, left untreated, the physical and mental effects of burnout can lead to extreme irritability, cynicism, anxiety, depression, distraction and fatigue that can affect one’s health, happiness, job performance, work and personal relationships.

Furthermore, when stress is high, as many of us have experienced, it becomes harder to regulate emotions like sadness, anger, and guilt, which can result in panic attacks, anger outbursts, and substance use.

It’s time to change the misbelief that burnout is “nothing serious” and uncommon and update the incorrect assumption that those who have it don’t need support. We want to remove the stigma that surrounds burnout and also help to draw attention to how common it really is.

Through my own experience, research and speaking to others who’ve gone through it, I realised that burnout is usually a result of various things, like not setting health boundaries or prioritising sleep and pushing yourself too much. Thankfully, having a more balanced approach to life tends to help with this.

Here are some evidence based tips for avoiding burnout:

1. Look for the good. Whether it’s job stress, financial stress, physical stress, relationship stress – there are no limits to the challenges we all face. Obstacles are a given in life. However, while it’s far from easy, we do get to choose how we process and react to these challenges. Train yourself to look for the good in situations (this is not the same as repressing or avoiding negative emotions) and you will perform better and have less stress. There is always something good you can take from a situation. Something didn’t go your way, maybe it’s an opportunity to practice more humility or to double down on believing in yourself.

2. Eat healthy food. We are built to withstand a lot. However, eating a lot of sugar and highly processed foods will deplete us and can lead us to feel ill. In fact, studies show our diet impacts how we feel and how we perform. For example, gluten and low fiber have been linked to anxiety and depression. Try making small improvements that will make a difference. More water, more whole foods, less processed foods and sugar is a great starting point.

3. Get enough sleep. This is probably the most important on the list. As you’ve probably experienced, without enough rest the body and the mind don’t perform well. Anxiety, depression and negative thinking are much more likely to occur without enough sleep. To avoid this, most of us need to prioritise sleep more in our lives and improve our evening rituals to get to bed earlier.

Here are some tips to improve your sleep: exercise, cut out caffeine after 2pm and minimise alcohol intake, spend time in nature, get off technology two hours before bed, wind down whether it’s meditating, reading a book or taking a hot bath, meditate or practice mindfulness.

4. Exercise. Studies show that one of the best ways to improve your overall health is to exercise. Exercise promotes wellbeing, happier moods, energy and mental clarity while lowering stress. If you’re feeling burned out, it’s best to focus on forms of exercise that are more restorative like yoga, pilates and long walks.

5. Get out in nature. Spending time in nature has numerous benefits. A recent study at Cornell, found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help people feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress. Whether it’s walking, gardening or skiing, combining exercise with nature is a great way to calm the mind, reduce stress and feel happier.

6. Set healthy boundaries. Learn to cherish yourself and listen to what your body needs to feel good. According to Psych Central, setting healthy boundaries might look like the following: you share personal information appropriately (not too much or not too little), you understand your personal needs and wants and know how to communicate them, you value your own opinions and you accept when others tell you “no”.

7. Journal. Take the time to write down and reflect on your feelings, worries, dreams, and fears. Journaling can be a great tool to reduce stress, develop self-awareness and gain courage. Sometimes in life we have to make choices to improve certain situations, but in order to do so, we first have to have awareness of what we want or what we feel and have the strength and self-belief to know that we can make the change. Journaling can help with all of that.

8. Act with personal integrity. If you know in your heart that you need to make a change, no matter how big or small, it’s important not to ignore it. Maybe you feel you can’t act on it yet, that’s ok. Instead, start journaling about a plan for how you will eventually. Or talk to a coach to formulate a plan. And question whether some of the beliefs you hold about making the change even resonate anymore. We often hold ideas in our head that no longer serve or resonate with us. For example, maybe you feel you can’t change careers, because you’ve already invested the time in this career, you have an established network, you make good money, and you won’t be able to do the same if you start again, but that’s just a belief (not a fact!) and not a very empowering one at that! For every belief that’s holding you back, you can find many concrete examples that support the contrary.

9. Spend time with supportive family and friends. While being compassionate for people who are suffering, if someone is continuously draining you, it’s best to cut these ties or at least reduce the amount of time you spend with them so you can make space for people that lift you up. Invest in relationships with colleagues, friends and family that exemplify the qualities that you value like good health, compassion and a good attitude.

10. Make time for yourself and schedule downtime. Commit to your wellbeing and schedule downtime. While it’s uncomfortable for many, it’s good for us to do nothing sometimes. Lie on your couch and listen to music. Take a 20-minute nap. Do meditation or deep-breathing exercises. At the end of the day rest is really important and time away tends to give people a more empowered perspective and a better ability to prioritise. It also clears the mind and as a result performance is enhanced. You end up working smarter, not harder. This is why our performance and work enjoyment tends to increase after a holiday.

11. Connect to your purpose. A study found that having purpose will affect your long term health. It found that if you experience meaning and purpose in your life, you’re more likely to be physically and mentally healthy. “We found presence of meaning was associated with better physical functioning and better mental functioning,” said study author Dr. Dilip Jeste. Moreover, “finding meaning in one’s life can help people stay healthy in later years.” You can find purpose in a variety of ways like in a hobby, helping a family member in need or a job you are passionate about.

It’s worth noting however that the research also found that if you search and struggle continuously to find a purpose, it may have a negative effect on your physical health. In short, if you don’t have a purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel more stress. If you feel you don’t have purpose, take the pressure off and try a more simple approach by finding meaning in particular situations by looking for the good.

12. Make changes that support the vision you have for your life. If you are not happy with certain areas of life, then make a change. Pick one area and start small. Take one baby step today towards making a change. Maybe you want to start your own blog. What’s one small thing you can commit to doing today to get started? Perhaps it’s thinking of a name or coming up with your five first topics. If you are willing to work and believe in yourself, change is possible.

13. Lower inflammation. Reduce sugar and processed foods intake. Introduce more anti inflammatory foods like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, blueberries, avocados and olives, olive oil and coconut oil, salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies, almonds and other nuts, dark chocolate

Spices: Turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, and green tea. Curcumin, a compound in the turmeric root, has potent antioxidant properties that help to lower inflammation in your body. It’s a mood-enhancer, too. In a randomized controlled trial, turmeric appeared to act as an effective option for depression, which can occur concurrently with adrenal fatigue.


The best way to avoid burnout is to add more wellbeing in your life and focus on the things you have control of. Start that daily walking routine, eat healthier (less sugar and processed food), get more sleep and incorporate more happy activities into your life like watching a tv show that always makes you laugh.

If you may already be suffering from burnout, a functional medicine practitioner can help you get to the root cause, and recommend a personalised plan so you can speed up recovery, heal and avoid more issues down the line. Email us to learn more at admin@wondersource.co.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash


Wondersource’s experts support our clients to better manage stress, live healthier lives and heal health issues like hormonal imbalances, leaky gut and burnout. Our goal is to reduce the stigma associated with getting help whether it be with your physical or mental health so people feel comfortable to seek expert support and as a result get to the root cause of health issues so they can live healthier lives and lower their disease risk.

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