Burnout and mental health

Burnout can result from too much stress at work, or stress that goes on too long. It can also impact people undertaking unpaid home or caring duties.

Burnout is a combination of feeling exhausted. Feeling negative about (or less connected to) the work or activity you're doing. And a feeling of reduced performance.

Understanding burnout and stress at work helps you to act sooner and protect your mental health.
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How does burnout feel?

People experience stress and burnout in different ways. But it’s useful to be aware of the common signs, especially if any have been happening to you for a while.

You might feel:
  • isolated and trapped

  • irritable
  • a lack of your usual energy or motivation
  • less satisfied with work
  • exhausted or drained
  • a sense of procrastination
  • disengaged from work you used to value
  • you’re not sleeping like you usually do
  • headaches and body pain.
You might even find it hard to function at all. This can have a big impact on your mental health and wellbeing. There are things you can do to help you manage.

Causes of burnout

Bullying, harassment and other poor workplace behaviours can cause significant work-related stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression and suicide.

  • Excessive or prolonged stressor related to workload, lack of support, unclear job expectations, and poor working conditions.
  • Mental health conditions can increase vulnerability to burnout, as normal levels of stress become overwhelming due to poor emotional health.
  • Burnout can also contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
  • Bullying, harassment and other poor workplace behaviours can cause significant work-related stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression and suicide.
No matter what kind of work you do, the risk of stress and burnout exists. That risk is greater if you work in a caring industry such as healthcare, emergency services or education.

What stress can feel like

You can experience stress at work in several different ways. The symptoms can be emotional, psychological and physical.

  • Irritable
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Worried
  • A sense of dread
  • Tense
  • Lonely
  • Racing thoughts
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • An inability to feel joy
  • Worsening of existing mental health issues
  • Concentration
  • Being around friends or family
  • Dependence on alcohol or other substances
  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • An upset stomach
  • Fatigue
  • Panic attacks

Ways to manage burnout

If you’re experiencing burnout, there are things you can do to support your mental health. There’s no one ‘right’ approach that works for everyone. So you should try to prioritise the things you think will work well for you.
  • Review your boundaries, including those relating to work-life balance. Then consider what steps you can take to achieve them.
  • Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling.
  • Be gentle on yourself.
  • Allow yourself enough time to relax, and enough time to sleep.
  • Practise basic self-care as part of your daily routine.
  • Prioritise your wellbeing

  • Cut extra hours

  • Take breaks

  • Leave work at work (make time for fun)

  • Review your boundaries

  • Consider flexible working arrangements

Reach out for support

Talking about what you're going through with other people might feel hard. It’s important to try. If you feel up to it, reach out to someone you trust, whether in person or by message.

You might also try chatting anonymously online with others who are going through a similar experience. 

Visit the Beyond Blue Forums.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, support is available that’s right for you. 

Learn how to get mental health support


Check your mental health

Everyone’s mental health journey is different. We all experience ups and downs, so it’s important to do regular check ins.

We have some simple tools to help you assess your mental health. You can choose the one that’s right for you and get the resources and support you may need.

Check your mental health


Learn more about mental health at work

Good work helps mental health and wellbeing. It can contribute to your daily activity. Your sense of purpose. Your income. And your social connection. But poor working conditions can harm your mental health. 

Learn more about work and your mental health. 

Around 1 in 2 people in Australia will struggle with their mental health during their life. If you’re recovering from or managing a mental health condition, work can play an important role.

Find ways to manage poor mental health at work

Supporting someone at work

If you're concerned someone you know is experiencing burnout, it’s worth talking to them about it.

Learn how to talk to someone you’re worried about at work

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Further resources​

The Essential Network (TEN) for healthcare workers

TEN is an e-health hub developed by Black Dog Institute for healthcare workers. It provides resources and support to help you manage burnout and maintain good mental health.

Find out more about TEN

National Emergency Worker Support Service

This service is free and confidential. It provides mental health support for all emergency service workers and volunteers. It was developed by the Black Dog Institute and UNSW Sydney.

Learn more about the National Emergency Worker Support Service

Educator wellbeing, Be You

A hub of resources that can help build and maintain educator wellbeing. These tools, fact sheets, guides and videos are for use by both individuals and learning communities.

Find resources on Be You’s Educator wellbeing page


NewAccess for Small Business Owners (NASBO)

NASBO is a guided self-help mental health coaching program. It’s free, confidential and convenient.

Learn more about NewAccess for Small Business Owners
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