Workplace Stress and Burnout

Mar 24, 2020 | Aussie Nurse

My days off work were just fabulous, I could breathe and felt recharged. But when the days off were over and I had to return back to work, I would get in the car and slowly my hands clenched the steering wheel tighter and tighter, the grip got overwhelming. I had to tell myself its only for 8 hours, yeah (sigh) only 8 hours and then the day is over!!


Workplace Stressors-

World Health Organisation (WHO) defines stress as “the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.” (2019).

It is being acknowledged that work (and even schools) are great influences that can effect us, some stress can be productive and motivating as it can drive us in the workplace. But stress at high levels that is persistent may impact both mental and physical health.

The most common causes of workplace stress are the quality of relationships we have with our co-workers/managers, also factors such as demand/clarity of the role can contribute to the occupational stressors.

It is important that we feel healthy, safe and valued at work, especially within the environment and people we work with.

Definition of Burn out –

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to  one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” (WHO, 2020).

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water

– Benjamin Franklin

Psychologists define the 12 stages of Burn Out as-

  1. Excessive drive/ambition
  2. Pushing yourself to work harder
  3. Neglecting your own needs
  4. Displacement of conflict
  5. No time for non work-related needs
  6. Denial
  7. Withdrawal
  8. Behavioural changes
  9. Depersonalisation
  10. Inner emptiness or anxiety
  11. Depression
  12. Mental or physical collapse

Signs of Burn out-

  • Occupational stressors can effect anyone, some signs are-
  • Dulled emotions
  • Feeling disengaged
  • Lack of motivation
  • Looking to escape
  • Procrastination
  • Constant exhaustion

Symptoms of burn out include:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Tension headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems 
  • Palpitations
  • Sleep problems 
  • Low energy & fatigue 
  • Poor eating habits 


WHO’s definition makes a distinction that occupational stressors can effect our wellbeing and allows for emphasis on the importance to bring awareness and attention to the prevalence of burn out as it is common. Having an increased awareness of burn out allows a person to recognise and seek professional help.

Here are some ideas for reducing stressors within your life –

  • Identify & live your –  “Why”
  • Sleep is the absent need in our lives
  • Have people around you that enrich your Life
  • Adopt healthy habits- staying active, healthy nutrition & keep hydrated
  • Use life hacks – managing social media, productivity habits, health habits, etc 
  • Sometimes saying NO- is ok 

These strategies allow you to take back some control and allow you to focus on what is important to you.


Healthy workplaces establish within us a sense of purpose, provides social networks, supports, gives opportunities to grow/develop and helps us achieve – all are important contributing factors to our wellbeing.

With workplaces with high levels of wellbeing, the benefits are- 

  • Performing better at work 
  • Job satisfaction
  • Fewer sick days
  • Less presenteeism (being at work but not able to work at capacity) and
  • Reduced staff turnover

Stress and Burnout as a Nurse

Both stress and burnout are extremely personal but in a workplace such as healthcare there are so many different moving parts, added to this within the role of a nurse there are so many unforeseen things happening in any workday. 

The elevated stressors places constant demands on nurses, regularly I have witnessed when nurses are attending to patients and they present themselves in a manner of caring and compassion, whilst muting their own emotions.  

These emotions that are felt, may not be recognised for a very long time and may be leading to burn out but it is difficult to be aware of the warning signs. When burn out is recognised it is important to not walk alone, the aim of seeking support from other health professionals is important to improve wellbeing and to find strategies for a positive and healthy you, in a way that works in a meaningful way that resonates with yourself.

In positive psychology, Wellbeing is a heightened state that’s beyond just feeling happy or having good health. It’s a condition of flourishing, where we thrive in many aspects of our lives (Black Dog Institute 2020).



Workplaces are large and the constant pressures can lead to a feeling of not always being valued, lets not underestimate the amount of energy and time a person places at work. Having healthy work environments has positives for both an employee and employer.

Taking care of your wellbeing is important, the emotional and physical impact can cause serious health consequences effecting every facet of life from home, work, family, pets, finances, etc. Sometimes the most power is in giving yourself permission to take time for yourself and putting your emotional and mental health first, whilst putting meaning back into what is important for you- one step at a time.

Support Resources –

  •   Lifeline- 13 11 14 –
  •   Nurse & Midwife Support- 1800 667 877 –


Additional Resources- 


(Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash)

Self Care is how you take your power back

– Lalah Delia

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