Many people do not know what burnout truly is or whether they have it. Burnout is a condition that results from long-term chronic stress, resulting in physical and mental exhaustion. Long work hours can lead to this state, but prolonged working conditions without breaks can also cause it.

In burnout, the individual lacks enthusiasm for work and feels exhausted. They have a strong sense of cynicism and detachment from the workplace. These individuals do not think that they can achieve their goals or cope with their job responsibilities. Also, burnout is associated with increased risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drug use.

The burnout phase of constant over-activity is when the body’s resources are completely exhausted and cannot function anymore. It goes into protection mode by slowing its activity to recover. Very much like blind people using echolocation to tell where walls/objects are around them, burnout sufferers use their minds to ‘see’ through information. Those suffering from burnout use data or facts they’ve learned in the past to answer problems in the present. The past response can be the default response when mental energies are waning. Now, what happens if coping strategies learned in the past are not the most productive?

It is important to acknowledge past experiences—specifically traumatic events in early childhood and adolescence. So many people “brush their problems under the rug” and don’t deal with them. The truth is, these problems often show up down the road, and especially when one is stressed. Coping strategies learned previously, which might be maladaptive, can become the default reason for stressors.

Burnout often goes hand-in-hand with secondary traumatic stress disorder (or compassion fatigue); burnout further exacerbates symptoms of secondary traumatic stress as well as PTSD symptoms. In burnout, victims are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame burnout; sufferers typically lack emotions towards those around them. This lack of empathy can cause those with burnout to make rash decisions.

Burnout has been linked with heart disease because of the hormonal changes experienced under stress, such as cortisol secretion. These hormones can cause long-term damage and increase one’s risk for developing cardiovascular issues like hypertension or even a stroke! The problem here may stem from society itself- glorifying competition at all costs while ignoring its detrimental effects on mental health, including feelings of inadequacy if they’re not achieving success quickly enough. Burnout can result from the loss of collaboration, where each team members do their fair share of the work. Unfortunately, too many times, we see the work falling heavily on the shoulders of one individual. And that overly responsible individual is often burnt out.

Then, there is the issue of proper exercise, which I like to call movement. So many people are sedentary, which adds to the deterioration of their physical and mental health. How often do you exercise? Are you exercising at least five times a week? Exercises release endorphins, or feel-good hormones, that are energizing. It’s worth it to burn those calories! Stress can also be controlled by eating well and sleeping enough. It would help if you also practiced something that makes you happy every day, whether taking a bubble bath or playing ball with your dog.

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to how food can impact mood and brain health! Think about your dinner last night, or breakfast this morning: were they high in omega-3s? Did they have any grains/gluten that might make brain inflammation worse?”

A significant part of keeping up with today’s lifestyle is ensuring our brains get enough nutrients not to feel tired all day long (or even stressed). Our bodies need fuel for a constant activity like thinking fast responses during emergencies while also managing every bodily function – including sleep cycles where “garbage” gets recycled out through sweat glands on heated surfaces/temperatures.

All the information presented above definitely is relevant. I have a unique, whole-person approach to burnout. Yes, the long work hours are a large part of the problem, but I believe the problem started long before the individual started working. I think that our view on life-our beliefs and identity are a result of our childhood experience. If we grew up in an environment where personal comfort and safety were disregarded, and one had to prove their self-work, this experience might set someone up for burnout.

Early childhood can be the most pivotal time in one’s life. To ensure the growth of our society’s future, we must recognize problems. Then, we need the courage to address them before they get worse. The discovery process starts with paying attention to what happens early on during the development stages of children. We need to look at our relationships with others, not just our coworkers. Experiencing adversities like extreme poverty, abuse, loneliness, and rejection might affect the brain’s structure. Constant stress affects the sensitive, developing brain architecture. The stress response, and the body’s response to it, can permanently set up an individual for higher levels of stress response system over many years. Science has shown that providing stable, responsive nurturing environments, from birth onward, will prevent/even reverse these damaging effects where there is adequate support available.

The burnout experience and its risk factors for it starts in infancy. Early childhood years are why healthy adulthood begins in the early childhood experience. Burnout in the workplace is just the tip of the iceberg as the problem goes much deeper. People wonder why burnout has become so prevalent, but answers are below the surface if only people are willing to look. Burnout can be prevented or even reversed by increasing awareness and dealing with the problems many people do not want to talk about.


  • Dr. Tomi Mitchell

    M.D | Leadership Coach| Wellness & Productivity Coach

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell Holistic Wellness Strategies

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell, MD, empowers executives, lawyers, doctors, business owners, and other leaders to eliminate burnout and increase workplace productivity and relationships.  She uses her three-step framework, Embrace, Evaluate & Energize, to empower her clients to have clarity. 

    As a public speaker and trainer, she brings energy to the crowd, captures their attention, and gives them clear, actionable steps to apply immediately to their life. Dr. Tomi Mitchell believes in getting to the root causes of life's challenges, instead of taking a temporary BandAid approach to life. She is a writer, with a book coming out in Summer 2023. She is also the host of The Mental Health & Wellness Show.  To learn more about her framework, check out the following link: Learn More.