Burnout results from chronic stress that is not managed well
Burnout results from chronic stress that is not managed well
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As the middle of 2024 approaches, most of us are experiencing higher levels of stress than at the start of the working year. Surprisingly, even those who work from home are not exempt from continuous stress, leading to burnout.

“Burnout can stem from various sources, including high job demands, lack of control over work, unclear job expectations, and a lack of support or recognition,” says Melissa Lainn, an integrative nutrition health coach, meditation practitioner and founder of Melissa Lainn Wellness. “Personal factors, such as perfectionism and a strong need to achieve, can also contribute to burnout,” she adds.

The condition is widespread: per US statistics, 89% of workers have experienced burnout within the past year, 67% felt that stress and burnout at work increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and 40% of employees left their jobs because of burnout.

While statistics in SA are thin on the ground, experts agree that anecdotal evidence shows South Africans are similarly strained. In 2023, a Sadag study found that one-third of South African employees are suffering from burnout.

Signs of burnout

The telltale symptoms that you’re burnt out include feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, experiencing mood swings and feeling overwhelmed and on the edge.

“Physically, you might experience chronic fatigue, headaches or digestive issues to name a few,” explains Lainn. “Mentally, you might feel cynical or detached from work, have difficulty concentrating, or feel a lack of accomplishment despite your efforts. I always tell my clients that their natural 'weakest link' will be amplified when they have burnout: some people get migraines and some people have digestive issues; others get anxiety or depression, bursts of anger or are chronically ill with the flu. And these symptoms stay no matter the effort you put into ‘fixing’ them, as the root of their issue is deeper — it’s burnout.” 

Without taking the necessary steps to mitigate burnout, other medical conditions can arise. “Burnout is associated with several physical and mental health conditions, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, weakened immune system, depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders,” says Lainn. Additionally, burnout can precede conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Steps to burnout recovery

“Recovery from burnout often involves a multifaceted approach,” explains Lainn. In some cases, burnout is so severe that a holiday or time off from work simply isn’t enough.

“Recovery from burnout is a gradual process, and the time frame can vary widely depending on individual circumstances. Some experts suggest that it can take anywhere from 3-5 years to fully recover from burnout, although improvements in symptoms can be seen earlier with proper care and support,” Lainn adds.

See a professional

Seeing a therapist will be helpful in taking stock of the things that have lead to burnout and will provide tools to deconstruct those aspects while building new, healthier ways of living and coping with work stress. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can be powerful tools to boost mood and reduce stress. 

Seek support

You’ll need a good support system to get through burnout. If your workplace has a wellness programme, use it. Try using services that allow you to get healthy meals delivered to you, or lean on loved ones for help. 

Speak up

Speak to your employer or line manager about options to manage your workload. Push out deadlines that are not urgent. If you don’t get adequate support at your workplace, it might be worthwhile to look at other job options once you feel up to it.

Get more sleep

The restorative power of sleep cannot be understated. “It appears to be vitally important that sleep is better during the recovery phase of burnout. Poor sleep has been linked to slower recovery and an increased risk of not working up to two years after burnout,” says Dr Alison Bentley, sleep expert and medical doctor at the Restonic Ezintsha Sleep Clinic in Parktown, Johannesburg. 


In one Australian study, participants who completed four weeks of exercise had “greater positive wellbeing and personal accomplishment and concomitantly less psychological distress, perceived stress and emotional exhaustion”. If you can’t see yourself finishing a whole 5km run, try a gentle walk instead. Every bit helps. 

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