What It Means to Burn Out

You have probably heard people use the phrase “burn out” during their conversations about their occupation and hectic personal life. It symbolizes emotional and physical exhaustion. Burnout is a typical symptom of aging and living under the stress and anxiety stemming from responsibility. Nowadays, even adolescents can experience the silent scream of being burnt out

The Norwegian Expressionist Artist Edvard Munch visualized an expression similar to that of the burn out psychological state in his famous painting titled “The Scream”. The painting projects a figure standing in trembling anxiety and hearing an infinite scream going through nature, while his friends walked on

The Scream by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch

Burnout as a term is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to feeling tired, yet it’s more complicated than just having one bad day. Burnout is a serious syndrome, first recognized by the psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, and it can impact the life of the person suffering from it greatly. Burnout is both a mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that anyone can experience, but some professions are more prone to it such as: physicians, nurses and social workers that might intensify when dealing with terminally-ill patients and their family members

Every day individuals can also experience burnout because of excessive demand, the Hospice Egypt team readily sees caretakers of terminally-ill patients experience burnout. This article is to explore the facets of being burnt out, what the burn out cycle is and what the different coping mechanisms are



Highly empathetic

Highly sensitive



Hard worker

An individual that has high susceptibility to becoming burnt out may have the previous facets. This shows that with these characteristics they are more prone to suffer from anxiety and stress compared to others. Generally, if these individuals go through burnout they will exhibit different symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, negative attitude and feelings towards people, social withdrawal and avoidance and ultimately reduced work commitment and efficiency

Burnout is a process as a result of ongoing stress and there is a way to allocate at which part of the process the individual lies. The different symptoms differ according to where the person lies in the burnout cycle. But what is the burnout cycle? The burnout cycle was first described by Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North in 1992. It is a 12 phase cycle and based on where you lie on the cycle you can develop coping mechanisms to deal with the burnout syndrome


The compulsion to prove oneself: working hard to be recognized by others

Working harder: working to prove that they are irreplaceable

Neglecting their own needs: neglecting oneself, personal life and family to get work done. Thus, turning into a workaholic. Eating and sleeping less in the process

Displacement of conflicts and needs: knowing something is wrong but refusing to notice the emerging psychosomatic symptoms such as: headaches, muscle pain, insomnia, nausea, loss of appetite

Revision of values: changes in social values and dismissing their basic needs and their social circles

Denial of problems: intolerance of social interactions, being aggressive, cynical and constantly blaming others

Withdrawal: isolating oneself from social environment and strictly sticking to work

Obvious behavioural changes: behavioural changes such as turning from energetic and empathetic to shy and apathetic

Depersonalisation: no longer perceiving or engaging with his own feelings or with feelings of others

Inner emptiness: feeling insufficient and powerless and responding to it through overeating, exaggerated emotions or excessive working

Depression: cognitive symptoms of depression such as decrease in appetite, mood, sleep and sex drive

Burnout syndrome: desiring to escape current situation and might have suicidal thoughts

If a person is in between the phases 1 – 6 it is reversible. Beyond that, it might be recommended to receive professional support or change the current occupation or workplace


Ultimately, the person should first recognize that they are within the cycle. Self reflection and awareness are the starting points to finding solutions. A visual expression of that can be seen in the famous painting titled “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by the German artist Caspar David Friedrich. It is said to show a figure self reflecting and gazing into the murkiness of the fog

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by German artist Caspar David Friedrich

Past the self-reflection, many strategies and coping mechanisms have been developed to help a person recover from being burnt out. These are some coping strategies that are simple to apply yet can make a great difference


Find relief during work through

Talking to colleagues you trust or mentors and expressing emotions

Taking a deep breath before acting. Reinterpreting the situation

Perception Steering: Finding the time to leave the work desk and going for a walk to change the scenery or taking a vacation

Relaxing through letting cold water run over your wrists or meditating privately


Reorientation of obstacles through seeking professional support and guidance

Including sports in your life

In the end, burnout happens to those who have high moral and work ethics, those idealistic and compassionate individuals. So maybe it is important to always remember that it is alright to make mistakes and not be perfect. As well as, accepting that everyone goes through obstacles and seeking help when needed. Professions with high susceptibility to burnout such as some healthcare professionals and those working with terminally-ill patients need to learn to find ways to relax despite of the stressors

If you are a caretaker of a terminally-ill patient and are currently going through burnout, read more about the different mobile hospice services provided by the Hospice Egypt team through visiting our website and contact us for support