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What is BURNOUT?


  2. My experience

  3. Are you in the same boat? 
  4. What you should know
  5. What are you going to do about it?


 The state of being frustrated, fed up and just plain done. After studying or training and/or working for years to get where you are in a job or career, you find you've hit the wall, and whatever idealism and motivation you started with has gone. And you can no longer sustain the same effort you used to invest in your work. You are just too cynical and tired to keep trying. And it bleeds over into your attitude, view on life and happiness. So you feel like you've hit a dead end, and even if you changed jobs, you'd still lack the energy or motivation to make the most of it. You are too invested to just walk away from your workplace but sick of it


Photo by Cassidy Kelley on Unsplash

at the same time. You want to see change, but you don't feel capable of making it. Perhaps your expectations of your workplace are too high, but accepting lesser standards is a blow. Or you are too embroiled in workplace politics. Either way, eventually it becomes too much, and either you crack, or you stop caring altogether.

The World Health Organisation now recognises burnout as a syndrome from chronic workplace stress.  It isn't the result of being fatigued from working long hours, but the loss of meaning in your work that wages and promotions don't fix. It can come from constant unrealistically heavy workloads or time frames, a lack of workplace support, autonomy, or resonance with the goal you are working towards. It can be because you aren't challenged or valued enough, and no matter how much effort you put in the result is you end up mentally and physically depleted. You distance yourself mentally from your job, become apathetic or overly negative and cynical about it. You can become depressed and anxious,  and your job performance can begin to suffer. And are basically stuck in what seems to be a dead end. 

2. My experience

I worked hard to become a general nurse, and then an ICU nurse in the city. Being from a big "country" town meant that moving to the city was a huge ordeal for me. And once there, I always held the notion that once I left the city I would never go back. So I had to make the most of it while I was there. I used the opportunity to fund my ventures overseas, do nursing courses, get involved in workplace special interest groups to make changes and have a go at different roles in the unit. I found myself in a comfortably uncomfortable rut. I'd invested too much time, sweat, tears and energy in my career and in the effort to be able to work in the high acuity of a city ICU to just walk away. The concept of moving to the lower acuity unit of my home town, for the lifestyle change and slower pace felt some kind of backwards step or personal failure. But at the same time, I had reached a point where I had no aspirations or energy to step up into management or nursing education and was beginning to stagnate. I had long lost interest in the hectic pace and emotional demands or ICU and was no longer awed by the concept of ICU. I was fed up with the moral distress of all too frequent cases where the futility of life support was denying the dignity of the inevitable deaths of patients who were trying to die, but which we were prolonging due to the family medical illiteracy and medical politics. But where do you go from ICU nursing? From the point of view of acuity, knowledge, technology and skill, it is the pinnacle of acute clinical nursing.  Besides, I didn't even know if I could stick with nursing. It left me quite morose and at times, anxious.

The answer was obvious, although I was loath to admit it. It wasn't until a health condition blew my fatigue into constant exhaustion that I hit the breaking point. I ended up in the boss's office, a bit of a mess. She let me take time off, drop my hours, let me get my head straight. It took more time off, dropping my hours some more, but eventually, I accepted I was being a chicken and sticking to my comfort zone. I finally dumped the city apartment and based myself in my hometown. Currently, I still work at the city ICU, but just enough to live while conserving my energy to experience life and finish the writing course. And it has set me on the road to crawling back from burnout. And I am also back to simply enjoying caring for and interacting with patients, and leaving the workplace improvements for management to deal with...mostly.

3. Are you in the same boat?

Or somewhere along the journey to burnout?

You probably already know it, and don't want to admit it. I didn't.  But in regards to work, ask yourself?

  • Is it getting harder and harder to go to work? Rather than just getting up and walking into work, do you have to drag yourself in?

  • Do you dread the thought of going to work?

  • Have you been experiencing anxiety and depression?

  • Have you lost job satisfaction? Or your sense of accomplishment?

  • Are you feeling helpless, trapped or defeated?

  • Are you always mentally and physically exhausted?

  • Are you struggling to sleep?

  • Are you finding it hard to concentrate on your work?

  • Do you find your patience and tolerance for other workers, the conditions, and/or patients/customers/clients worn thin? And experiencing frequent conflict??

  • Do you struggle to find happy moments in the shift?

  • Do you always question what the point is of what you are doing?

  • Are you more critical and cynical about your workplace?

  • Are you just going through the motions without the care or motivation you once had?

  • Are you feeling empty, emotionless?

4. What you should know

If you answered yes to many of these, then chances are you burning out or burnt out already. And you should know:​​​​​

  • It isn't a weakness. The fact you got to this point is probably because you are conscientious and empathetic, and were pushing through it for so long that you hit the breaking point, whereas others who experienced it from your eyes would have just thrown the towel in early on.

  • There is more to your identity than your career.

  • If you don't believe me, you need to find a new way of thinking and valuing yourself.

  • It's hard to accept, but you have to know you are replaceable, no matter how long it might take to train your replacement, because no job should be a life sentence. Therefore you have every right to walk away if you need to.

  • At the same time, if your work is valued by your workplace, they should support the changes you need to make to overcome your burnout and find your job satisfaction again. Even if it is to move on to a new job. If they don't value your work, fuck them. It may be a big part of the reason you are feeling this way, and so it's time for a change.

  • A change is as good as a holiday—it's corny, but sometimes you need new surroundings, new faces. Maybe an actual holiday completely free from work, maybe in a change in your job role, or maybe a completely new workplace.


Whatever you decide to do, remember there is more to life than work.

5. What are you going to do about it?

I was stubborn and took my sweet time, so it was my health condition that gave me the kick in the arse I needed to make changes. Maybe that will be you?  The key is a healthy work/life balance, and to look after yourself because no one else can do it 24/7.

  • Prioritise sleep—rest your body, and with it your mind. Even if you can't sleep, just rest. 

  • Regular exercise—even just a brisk daily walk to reinvigorate your body, so your mind can follow.

  • Meet your commitments, so you stay engaged with the world.

  • Prioritise fun: movies, friends, going to the dog parks, playing video games with friends, reading, singing, dancing, driving out in the bush.

  • Mindfulness and meditation: it feels like work is fobbing you off when they tell you to do this, or talk to someone, but it can be helpful to clear your mind and let the buzz of the world go for a while until it becomes second nature.


Or maybe you need a helpful ear to talk about it. It may feel like you are being fobbed off, but sometimes you need someone else to tell you what you already know.

Talk to your family and friends, they may tell you to just get over it, which is unhelpful, but at least you have told them what you are going through, which will eventually sink in.

  • Talk to your GP about a psychology referral, (for Aussies you get so many appointments free with Medicare).

  • Talk to your boss about changing your role, workload or hours.​​ If the answer is unhelpful and there is no HR to assist, it might be time to move workplaces.


Or refer to some of these links:

​​Burnout Prevention and Treatment   A very comprehensive guide

Burnout is Officially Classified as ICD-11 Syndrome by Psychology Today 

How to Tell You Have Reached the Point of Burnout

Checkout my   "Burnout Narrative Piece"

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