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Burnout Defined

On May 25, 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) which many look to for guidance on health trends updated its guidance on ‘burnout’.

Specifically, the WHO updated it’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) handbook for recognized medical conditions.

Burnout is defined in ICD-11 as follows:

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

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism cynicism  related to one’s job; and
  3. reduced professional efficacy.


The WHO refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context.  But does it only happen at work? [i]

Burn-out is not an event. It is an insidious syndrome that creeps up on you as you’re living your busy life.

Let’s simplify the three dimensions so we can expand on what you might have missed in your own health that could be early signs:

Prohab’s three aspects of burnout:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Degraded cognitive function

Signs of physical exhaustion:

Chronic fatigue. In the early stages, you may be lacking energy and feel tired most days. Stimulants like caffeine, sugar and refined grains are irresistible. In the latter stages, you feel physically exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel you are dragging yourself through the day.

Insomnia. Initially, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep a couple of times a week. Later, insomnia may turn into a nightly ordeal. You are exhausted, but you can’t sleep.

Body symptoms. Physical symptoms can include back and joint pain, old injuries re-surfacing, chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, and headaches (all of which should be medically assessed to rule out anything sinister).

Regular or persistent illness. As the immune system becomes weakened, you become more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related problems.

Gut troubles: These can present as mysterious food sensitivities, reflux, heartburn, digestive discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and irritable bowel. Ever have to get the bathroom urgently? That is not normal.

Signs of emotional exhaustion:

Anxiety. Mild symptoms of tension, worry, and concern can progress to daily stress and fear that interferes with your work and personal life.

You are tetchy. Irritability and bad-tempered moments can become more frequent, which can interfere with family and work relationships. Let it go on for some time, and it can destroy relationships and careers.

Anger. A bit of mild irritability progresses to angry outbursts and severe arguments at home and at work. (Warning: If you feel violent then it’s time to seek immediate professional help)

No fun. At first, loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave. As this develops, the ‘no fun’ policy extends to all areas of your life, affecting family and work.

Your best friends notice you are pretty heavy to be around.

Apathy. You don’t even care about burnout.

Disconnection. A general feeling of detachment from others or your environment. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or regularly come in late. You are not comfortable at big social gatherings. Netflix boxset, please.

The pessimist’s voice. Negative self-talk gets louder and has a negative attitude. Later, the internally negative self-talk gets externalized into trust issues with personal and professional relationships being affected.

Signs of reduced cognitive function:

Poor output. Even though you are working hard and putting serious effort into it, you are not getting things done. Projects seem impossible to complete and very complicated.

Forgetfulness and lack of attention. Initially being easily distracted and forgetting small things can progress to where you can’t get any work done, and you feel snowed under.

Decision Making. One wrong decision becomes two, and then suddenly you begin to doubt your ability to see the right way forward.


At Prohab we believe every person brings a unique set of genetics, childhood illnesses, different gut bacteria, previous injuries or current social and work challenges. A billion piece jigsaw.

Completing this jigsaw is very hard with random middle bits. Corners and edges are much more helpful.

A combination of the latest functional health data and face-to-face listening and learning, helps us find those corners and edges and allows us to move forward with certainty.

Whether you want avoid burnout or come back from it we can help.

Are you ready?

Start with or Resilience Indicator.