6 signs of burnout (and what you can do about it)

Occupational burnout was first described in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” Sound familiar? That’s not surprising. By its very nature, medicine’s high-stress and demanding workload has put the healthcare sector at elevated risk of burnout. Add COVID-19 into the mix and things ramp up even more. If you think you might be suffering burnout, please know there are many resources to help you get through this extraordinary time. For a solid look of the subject, including podcast suggestions and in-depth articles head over to this Canadian Medical Association tab. 

To learn about some general warning signs associated with burnout and the stress of COVID-19, read on.

Mental Health Issues

You may find yourself feeling anxious and stressed about everything in your life, or depressed and despondent, unable to manage the details that keep life running smoothly.

How to Cope:

Talk therapy is only a call away and it’s completely confidental. During COVID-19, members of the Canadian Psychological Association are donating psych services to healthcare workers. If you’d like to talk to someone, this is a good place to start. You’ll find a list of participating Ontario psychologists here.

For tips specific to coping with the additional stress of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pulled together a comprehensive guide that’s worth reading:

Closer to home, psychiatrist Dr. Joshua Rosenblat from the University of Toronto shares 8 recommendations you can use everyday to boost mental wellness. He explores a wide array of subjects from how to reduce catastrophic thought patterns to the benefits of practicing periods of daily silence. You can find his article here: Tips for maintaining mental health hygiene during a pandemic

For additional reading material, BounceBack Ontario (a free skill-building program managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association) has assembled a tip sheet that helps tackle COVID-related anxiety and worry. You can download it here: 10 things you can do right now to reduce anxiety, stress, worry related to COVID-19

If you’d like to explore a few apps, here are a few solid ones to try:

Woebot is a chat-based app that uses CBT principles and artificial intelligence to address many mental health challenges, from generalized anxiety and depression to specific conditions like postpartum depression, adult and adolescent depression, and substance abuse.

Wysa uses artificial intelligence to provide CBT and daily check-ins. Also, there is an option to connect directly with a trained therapist.

Physical Health Issues

Burnout can also manifest itself in physical ailments including headaches, gastrointestinal problems and hypertension. So, now is not the time to ignore your health, no matter how busy you are.

How to Cope:

Make an appointment with your physician. If you need to find a doctor, email us paro@paroteam.ca and we can help you find a match.

The CanMEDS Physcian Health Guide: A Practical Handbook for Physician Health and Well-Being reminds us that “all patients self-diagnose, including physician patients.” In doing so, you could risk delaying the care you need or underplay the seriousness of what you’re dealing with. Don’t be that person. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can get on with your life.

Inner Emptiness

You may feel numb inside and apathetic towards the things that once sparked joy or brought satisfaction. In an attempt to overcome this, said Freudenberger, you may turn to activities including alcohol, drugs or disordered eating. If you find yourself in this place, there is a wide array of top-notch resources to tap into.

How to Cope:

CAMH offers addiction support specifically for healthcare workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including psychotherapy and psychiatric services.

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), run by UHN, provides resources, referrals and support to those affected by eating disorders. Their toll-free helpline and instant chat service are available daily during COVID-19.

During the best of times, on-the-go residents may find it hard to eat nutritiously. COVID-19 makes that even more of a challenge. If you need nutritious food ideas, head over to Unlockfood.ca, a site run by The Dieticians of Canada website and check out their suggestions for Quick And Easy Meals.

Neglecting Needs

In the midst of burnout, you may feel a loss of motivation that directly impacts your self-care routine – you stop working out, eating properly or interacting with friends.

How to Cope:

Your local Resident Wellness Office located in your university’s postgraduate medical education (PGME) office has resources that can put you in touch with the right people who will help you deal with your concerns. Plus, it is kept confidential.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed an excellent guide called Building self-care into your daily or weekly routine can greatly improve resilience and prevent burnout. It offers a resource list as well as a worksheet to help you create a self-care plan. Get started by downloading the PDF.

More of an app person? The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends checking out the following meditation tools that will allow you to take control of your health and wellness.

Breathe 2 Relax 




Cynical/Critical/Negative Thoughts

In his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, Freudenberger categorized these thoughts as the Nonfeeling State of Burnout. If you find yourself caught up in this cycle of pessimism, chances are it’s affecting your work and professional relationships.

How to Cope:

You need to keep the lines of communication open with your co-workers. The oft-used pandemic phrase “we’re in this together” is particularly apt for residents. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS) can help you identify workplace stressors linked to disease outbreaks and strategies to help you stay focused and productive in a one-page guide called: Sustaining the well-being of healthcare personnel during coronavirus and other infectious disease outbreaks


Not unexpectedly, both physical and emotional fatigue make the list of burnout symptoms. Where once you couldn’t wait to get to work, now you can barely drag yourself out of bed. You have no energy and are starting to tune out your world.

How to Cope:

Make sleep a priority. Laying awake at night, worrying about tomorrow or thinking about events from today, is common, especially right now! That being said, there are useful, simple and evidence-based techniques that you can use to set yourself up for successful sleep. Check out The Sleep Foundation site for great tips that you can easily incorporate into your daily life.

Also, there are also a number of apps that can help you get a solid slumber. Sleepio is an evidence-based digital sleep improvement program, featuring Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. The app includes a six-session program at different cost levels.

Calm is an app relies on guided meditation to help you fall, and stay, asleep, by focusing on quieting your brain and relaxing your body.