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What is Burnout?

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

At times it can seem as if the world is on a continuous cycle of expectations, deadlines, appointments, or responsibilities. After the many events of early 2020 with a new normal to navigate, becoming burnt out from work, school, or even emotions is more prevalent now than ever.

Burnout is considered a long-term psychological syndrome that can be experienced when mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion has occurred from an overload in one’s life (Maslach, 1997).

According to Cushman and West (2006), there are five main factors that may cause burnout:

  • Assignment overload-too many things going on for school, work, or just life

  • Outside influences-peers, cowo

rkers, family, or circumstances adding stress

  • Lack of personal motivation-not having the energy to be productive

  • Mental and physical health-baseline mental and emotional health has a huge impact

  • Instructor attitude and behavior-applicable for school or workforce

Enduring burnout for an extended period of time can lead to negative self-thoughts and thoughts of others, which doesn’t encourage a positive work environment (Gonzalez-Ramirez et al., 2021). Contrary to some beliefs, burnout is not temporary; it may take 3-5 years to fully recover from the effects of burnout. Though each person has their own life stressors, some impact an entire population, such as the COVID pandemic. With work situations,

there were more blurred lines between when work started and stopped while working online at home. Students navigated school online and this “drastic change in student learning environments and the course delivery likely impacted students’ ability to thrive academically” (Hagedorn et al., 2021). Burnout doesn’t

just affect the individual, but the people in their immediate social circle and beyond. Symptoms of burnout may include feelings of extended exhaustion, anxiety, detachment, low energy or focus, or overall physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

How to Combat Burnout

Clear stressors like COVID have hurt mental health through burnout; the next part of the puzzle is identifying how to combat this obstacle through resilience. As previously discussed, burnout is certainly an obstacle to resilience, a very prominent issue for many people post-2020, and a mental, emotional, and physical state that is not easily overcome. One element that comes alongside resilience to increase its effectiveness is empathy.

A recent study of medical college students by Wu (2022) drew a direct relationship between empathy and resilience impacting burnout, specifically cognitive and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to comprehend and identify another person’s emotions while emotional empathy is the concept of being emotionally impacted by another’s feelings. To gauge resilience, Wu (2022) incorporated the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale alongside the Basic Empathy Scale to determine the students’ levels and how each impacted burnout. Research from this study concluded that empathy positively impacts a student’s resilience. When students were able to recognize and comprehend not only their own emotions but also the emotions of those around them, they were more capable of perceiving what they needed to avoid burnout or improve their overall well-being. This self-awareness greatly impacted a student’s resilience in how they navigated a traumatic event or difficult situation.

Practical Steps

Here are some practical tips for reducing feelings of burnout:

  • Be conscious of your own emotions as well as how others’ emotions impact you both positively and negatively

  • Acknowledge the small, daily accomplishments

  • Track progress with yourself or an accountability partner to see your growth

  • Social support is very important-surround yourself with people who care about you and want to see you succeed

If you are experiencing burnout, recognize that the way to healing is a process, and certainly attainable with conscious effort and support from others.


Cushman, S., & West, R. (2006). Precursors to College Student Burnout: Developing a Typology of Understanding. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 7(1), 23–31.

González-Ramírez, J., Mulqueen, K., Zealand, R., Silverstein, S., Reina, C., BuShell, S., & Ladda, S. (2020). Emergency Online Learning: College Students’ Perceptions during the COVID-19 Crisis (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. 3831526).

Hagedorn, R. L., Wattick, R. A., & Olfert, M. D. (2022). "My Entire World Stopped": College Students' Psychosocial and Academic Frustrations during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Applied research in quality of life, 17(2), 1069–1090.

Maslach, C. (2007). Burnout in health professionals. In S. Ayers, A. Baum, C. McManus, S. Newman, K. Wallston, J. Weinman, et al. (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health, and Medicine (pp. 427-430). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511543579.094

Wu, Ma, X., Liu, Y., Qi, Q., Guo, Z., Li, S., Yu, L., Long, Q., Chen, Y., Teng, Z., Li, X., & Zeng, Y. (2022). Empathy alleviates the learning burnout of medical college students by enhancing resilience. BMC Medical Education, 22(1), 1–481.

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