top of page
Image by Kinga Howard

What is Burnout?

So what is burnout out? The word was first coined by the psychoanalyst, Herbert Freudenberger, to describe the consequences of severe work-related stress. Freudenberger was working round the clock and putting in gruelling hours at the addiction clinic where he worked. One day he was unable to get out of bed and missed his flight. He recorded his thoughts and later, replaying the tape, was stunned by his exhaustion and the anger he felt. He compared notes with other staff in the clinic and was struck by how many similarities there were between the clinic's burnout staff and the addicts at his clinic. This gave him the idea to appropriate the slang term 'burnout' `(it then referred to addicts challenged by extensive drug use.)


Fast forwarding to today, burnout is not recognised as a distinct mental disorder. According to the World Health Organisation, it is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress and characterised by:

  • mental and emotional exhaustion,

  • feelings of negativity or cynicism towards work, and 

  • feeling distanced from work.


It can be accompanied by many other symptoms including:  

  • overwhelm.

  • crippling fatigue,

  • pointlessness,

  • disassociation,

  • sweating,

  • brain fog,

  • depression,

  • insomnia,

  • anxiety,

  • panic attacks and

  • migraines are just some of the symptoms.


Who is most at Risk

It everybody equally at risk from burnout? It appears not. Gender, culture, disposition, profession and our personal choices all play a part.

Running Race Featuring an Elderly Man Coming First

Does age make a difference to burnout? 

Age doesn't seem to make a difference but the culture we grew up in does. Different generation have had a very different experience. The highest risk of burnout is experienced by adults in their 20s and 30's are struggling more than their predecessors with burnout - and they are often seen as the 'burnout generation' This may initially appear puzzling. It does seem to be connected to the culture we were brought up in. In previous generations a gritty office culture was the norm - bullying, sexism, and racism commonplace. This worker cohort ever complained about their lot as it is all they knew. Feeling lukewarm about a job and career prospects was also pretty common. Nobody commented about that either. One stoically went to work to pay the mortgage and pay the bills.


Social media changed the goal posts. The Millennials came together for the first time to share their views on the rights and wrong of society and the workplace. It gave voice to those disempowered enabling them to stand up for their rights and to expect better. Millennials are fierce idealists - like their boomer parents - driven to change society's wrongs. They want to respond passionately not stoically - a key differentiating factor from the preceding generation. Also they were sold a dream. Celebitism was there for everyone. If you don't become mega rich you are the problem. Nobody prepared them about the state of the world  - from financial turbulence, cultural dissonance, increased conflict and instability, changing world leaders and economic powers, the eco crisis as well as the march of technology expected to take many professional jobs. This presented them with an existential crisis and star

The zoomer generation are different again. They have grown up with technology. Like the millennials, they may be ill-prepared to face the crisis ahead, but they are not idealists and many have not bought into 'the dream.' They are cynical, often nihilistic. So they will hit the burnout wall faster as they have nothing to strive for. Their response is more likely to be to disengage or move away from the system to navigate their own ship. They have embedded resilience that they have inherited from their Gen X parents. They just need to learn how to harness it...

A robot looking part female
Business Meeting

Does gender impact burnout?

Research shows that women are 11% more likely to suffer from burnout than men. Also that they more likely to suffer from mental or physical exhaustion whilst men tend to distance themselves and withdraw, preferring depersonalisation burnout. 

Are lawyers at risk of burnout?

We all know that mental health works and the medical profession suffer from burnout. What about lawyers. Are they more likely to succumb to this mental health crisis?  The charity, Law Care, thinks so. It was the first to undertake research into this area. Between 2020-2021 they surveyed more than 1,700 UK legal professionals in the UK gaining 'robust evidence' and finally concluding that the legal profession is stressed, tired, anxious, at high risk of burnout. More than a quarter of participants (28%) were required to be available to clients 24/7 and 22% had said they felt “unable to cope,” whilst 6% admitted having suicidal thoughts. Realm Recruit Stress at Work survey in 2023 found key factors were an unmanageable caseload (57%), a poor work/life balance (42%) and poor management (39%). 

Business Meeting

Don't treat your independent mindset as a negative, see it is a mental health gift in disguise. Independent thinking can increase your resistance and better survive a turbulent future

Woman in White Blouse
Zen Buddha Decor

Four top tips to manage burnout

Ease back pressure little by little


Talk to someone

Although it may feel that you are all alone and overwhelmed, sit if you can reach out and talk about how you feel with someone you can trust. Taking fears out of your head and sharing the burden will help you relieve pressure and put things into perspective.



Pay more attention to your life style. Choosing, to rehydrate with water is better than caffeine or alcohol, which increase your adrenaline and cortisol levels making you more anxious and jittery. Get outside - even a walk round the block to get as well as sunlight and vitamin D. This will help calm balance your amygdala - the brain's fear centre.


Start a stress journal

A journal is another way that you can empty your head and express how you feel. This can help you feel calmer and more in control. It is also good to keep a note of your symptoms and grade them. You can also become more aware if your mental health is deteriorating. 


See a burnout therapist

Should you notice that stress is consistently creeping up or you are more disengaged than engaged at work, make sure to inform your GP how you feel. Perhaps it is time to make an appointment to see a burnout therapist or counsellor and to work through it as a team.

Image by Marco Kaufmann

Research shows that comparing those who succumb to burnout to those who bounce back, how we choose to respond to on-going work stressors and challenges is a  key differentiator. Research also show that CBT can help people make better choices that enable them to manage or recover from burnout.

bottom of page