Job burnout is a phenomenon that happens without discrimination. Everyone is at risk and certainly there were many cases of burnout before the pandemic. But since the start of COVID, you may have found that your life has really gotten off course. Whether it was because you had to work from home and have lost any resemblance of work-life balance, because others in your company have quit and you’re now having to do the job of two or even three people, or because of the uncertainty that is now ever present, burnout is a reality.

It’s no surprise, then, that more than half the workforce is experiencing burnout and millions have quit their jobs. It is an epidemic in the midst of a pandemic. 

And, it is no wonder if your performance has declined given that some of the prominent symptoms of burnout include exhaustion and brain fog. 

So if you’ve crashed and burned, there are three things you need to take away from this experience:

  1. What led you to burn out in the first place
  2. What you need to recover
  3. How to avoid a recurrence of burnout from happening

But before we dive in, let’s answer the question: 

What is Burnout?

Burnout is the product of chronic stress. Occupational burnout is what happens when you have a build up of stress over time. This can include internal and external factors. Examples of internal stressors include perfectionistic tendencies, a desire to please others, or a need to perform. External factors that lead to workplace burnout can include a toxic work environment, unrealistic demands, or racism. 

Over time, the accumulated stress manifests in a variety of symptoms. According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the three main burnout symptoms include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. What this boils down to is that you perceive your conditions to be stressful. This is mentally and emotionally exhausting. You lose faith that it will change, which makes you cynical, and because of your reduced ability to focus coupled with your negative attitude, your performance declines. 

That said, burnout goes a lot deeper than this. If you’ve experienced severe burnout, you know that the symptoms can be extreme. They vary widely but there are cases of adrenal fatigue, hives, anxiety, hair loss, autoimmune disorders of every kind, and even suicide. As you can see, burnout can manifest mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is no joke.  

What Leads to Burnout

Burnout, as mentioned, is something that happens when you’ve accumulated stress over time. But what stresses one person out may be very different from what stresses others out. That’s why it’s crucial for you to understand what’s impacted you so you can navigate your work and life in a new way. 

There are two misconceptions when it comes to burnout. The first is that people often misattribute what’s led them to burn out. All too often, people are quick to point to external factors like their job, boss, career, or industry. They want a quick solution and jumping ship may feel like the form of self-preservation. 

But what if there were other contributing factors that you haven’t considered? 

As a psychologist, I’ve spent the last 20 years delving into people’s minds, so I know a bit about common thought errors and misattributions. And when I set out to write my book, The 7E Solution to Burnout: Transforming High Achievers from Exhausted to Extraordinary, I also spent years researching burnout. 

When you consider these two areas, you can start to put the puzzle pieces together. 

That’s how I came to create the PEP™ Model, which takes into consideration the three most dominant components that contribute to burnout: your Programming, Environment, and Personality. 

Your programming consists of:

  1. Adverse Childhood Experiences: As the name suggests, these are negative experience you had in childhood that have shaped who you’ve become. These include but are not limited to substance abuse, mental illness, divorce, abuse, and neglect. If, for instance, you grew up with a parent that was an alcoholic, it’s likely affected your sense of self, others, and the world. In essence, it’s contributed to your belief structure.
  2. Limiting Beliefs: Because your brain is not fully developed in childhood, it stands to reason that you attempted to make sense of your adverse experiences, but may not have come up with an accurate or helpful interpretation. Over time, these ideas can become ingrained as beliefs that follow you around through adulthood. They hold you back or make you overcompensate for your perceived inadequacies. 
  3. Overcompensation: When you were growing up, your circumstances conditioned you to think and behave in a certain way. If you were neglected by your parent, you might have adopted the notion that you need to perform in order to gain attention. Now as an adult, you’re performance driven, always seeking the approval of others. 
  4. Coping: When you experience adversity in childhood, you learn how to respond to chronic stress. Perhaps food becomes a sense of comfort anytime you need soothing. If you determined that everything you do must be perfect and you mess up, you might beat yourself up for your mistakes. There are established patterns that likely come into play in adulthood as you’re now trying to navigate the stressful territory of your work. 
  5. Emotions: Similarly, you can fall into emotional patterns in response to adversity. You might get depressed, anxious, or resentful any time the demands placed on you exceed your perceived ability to cope. 
  6. Religion: Even if you didn’t have any adversity as a child, if you are raised with religion, you were conditioned to think a certain way. These teachings may be contributing to your fears, guilt, or people-pleasing tendencies. 

Your programming sets the stage for how you show up to work, but you are then further challenged by your environment. 

Environmental contributors to burnout include:

  1. The Work Culture: When you work in an environment that does not align with your values, that has unrealistic expectations of you, or that pushes your boundaries, you are much more likely to burn out. 
  2. Others’ Personalities: Even if you have an extremely high Emotional Intelligence quotient, dealing with certain people can be taxing. In particular, engaging with narcissists who have no empathy and look to create drama can quickly erode any reserves you may have. Navigating this terrain can be tricky and often traumatic. 
  3. Social Determinants or Life Stressors: From time to time, we all experience illness, death, racism, or other factors that make it challenging to manage the responsibilities we carry. 

Finally, it is your personality that determines how you engage in your work. 

 The 3 burnout personality profiles are:

  1. The Thinker: This is someone who experiences a lot of negative self-talk, is filled with anxiety, and who beats themselves up for their pitfalls. This is, in part, because they don’t like taking risks. They like to plan things out, play it safe, and control their environment. They get stuck in analysis paralysis and this, along with perfectionism, makes them inefficient. Their mind is what ultimately leads them to burn out. 
  2. The Feeler: These are people who get out of balance due to their people-pleasing tendencies. The lack of boundaries coupled with their desire to please means they are looking for how to help everyone else while neglecting their own needs. They are easily overwhelmed by all of the emotions they experience and they’re not sure how to manage. They quickly run out of reserves and burn out because they aren’t taking care to recharge their batteries. 
  3. The Doer: These are your overachievers who are in a go-go-go state of mind, always looking to do more. They don’t like taking it slow because their self-worth is wrapped up in their productivity. They typically work without breaks, don’t take their vacations, and even when they do, they want to accomplish a lot on their getaways that they come back to work still depleted. Guilt keeps them in the hustle with the thought, “I should be doing something.” 

Each of these is a form of self-sabotage. The Thinker’s mind is filled with negative thoughts that erode confidence. They are more likely to experience imposter syndrome and catastrophize about the future rather than focus on the evidence in front of them or on what’s most likely.

The Feeler erodes their energy by putting themselves last. It’s their belief that states they are unimportant that drives their behavior and has them focused on what other people think rather than on how they feel. They say, “I’ll exercise if there’s time” rather than “I make time for exercise.”

The Doer goes into overdrive, working many more hours than makes sense given the research that clearly states how productivity declines after 55 hours of work in any given week. Their version of work-life balance is being able to show other people they can do it all. They miss the mark by focusing on quantity rather than quality.

As you might imagine, when you consider your programming, your environment, and your personality, you can see that burnout is multifactorial and seemingly more complex than you initially thought.

How to Recover from Burnout

The second misconception about burnout relates to what you focus on in order to recover. It stands to reason that if you don’t fully understand what’s led you to burn out, that you might rely on a generic tip, like taking time off from work, to recover. The problem with this approach is that you likely will come back from your vacation and engage in your work and life in the exact same way. It’s why people burn out over and over again. 

But what if you could map out exactly what’s brought you to this place of burnout? What if you could take the guesswork out of your burnout recovery and focused on solutions that address the root cause instead of just the symptoms? Chances are you’d understand yourself more, learn new ways of coping, and prevent burnout in the future.

To get you started, here are 3 steps you need to take to ensure you cover all the bases:

Step 1: Find out whether you’re indeed burned out. 

Step 2: If you discover that you’ve burned out, uncover what’s led you to burn out in the first place. This is where the PEP™ Model comes into play.

Step 3: Focus on recovery efforts that are suitable to your version of burnout. 

Overcoming Burnout

You’re probably wondering how to overcome burnout at this point. To get you started, I put together a Burnout Checklist. Download it here to find out how burnout is impacting you. 

When you download the checklist, you’ll also get additional bonus materials. You’ll receive daily video lessons via email that help you have a successful mindset when managing stress. 

If you’re chronically stressed, the easiest thing to do is identify circumstances that contribute to how you feel. But your circumstances alone don’t operate in a vacuum. It’s what you do with your circumstances that counts. Perhaps you’ve determined that you’re burned out because you’re juggling work and family obligations. But so are many other people. The question then is why are you out of balance when other people aren’t. What are you doing that is tipping the scale in one area of your life? 

To that effect, I included a bonus video to help you learn how to change your feelings without changing your circumstances. This is an empowering approach to help you take back control over your mind. 

If part of the reason you’re not engaging in self-care is because you don’t have enough time, you’ll learn the truth about what’s behind your excuses.

We go into a bit more depth related to the burnout symptoms to look out for so you know if and when you’re burning out. 

And finally, you’ll learn how your beliefs contribute to your burnout. 

The more you understand the truth behind your burnout, the better equipped you’ll be to contend with the stress of your work.

Want to decode your burnout? Click here to learn more.


Dr. Sharon Grossman, AKA the Burnout Doc, is a clinically trained psychologist and subject matter expert in burnout and mental health. Associations and Fortune 500 companies hire her to be their closing keynote speaker, to help their members and executives crack the code on burnout, and create custom-tailored solutions for recovery.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Sharon has been helping high achievers who are struggling with anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout go from exhausted to extraordinary by better understanding how their brain works and how they can design and run their programming on purpose to live the kind of life they want to live. She is the author of several books on burnout and mindset and host of the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Through her speaking, training, and coaching, she helps organizations keep their top talent.