What Exactly is ‘Burnout’?

How’s everyone doing? We are now over 9 months into this new reality which includes, masks, isolation, distance learning, working from home, and so much more. It’s been a long year for many. How are you doing?

Many people I’ve talked to recently are feeling burnout. Is this you?


What is burnout? Are you feeling detached? Exhausted? Irritable? Bored? Overwhelmed? Dissatisfied? These could all be signs of burnout.


I recently listened to Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, with guests Emily and Amelia Nagoski. In this podcast, they discuss the book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. They discuss the physiological experience of stress, what happens when we do not experience our emotions (surprise! It’s burnout) and how we can move from feeling stuck in our emotions to fully experiencing our feelings.


Here are my favorite takeaways from their discussion:

First, let’s talk about emotions. Emotions are stored in our bodies. The authors say “Emotions are an involuntary neurological event happening in your body that have a beginning, middle, and an end.”…“Emotions are tunnels, you have to go through them to get to the end. Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.” That exhaustion is usually what we call burnout.

They describe three main elements of burnout:
-Emotional exhaustion
-Decreased sense of accomplishment

Are any of these sounding familiar? I think these elements could be the theme of 2020 for most of us.


So now what? We’ve identified that we need to experience and move through an emotion or we are left with burnout. How on earth do we do this?? We need to signal to our bodies that we are safe. We need to complete the emotional cycle. According to Emily and Amelia Nagoski, there are a few primary ways we can do this:

-Physical activity
-Positive social interaction

These three elements signal to our bodies that they are safe to experience emotion and move through to completion. 

In addition they add that laughter, hugging until relaxed, crying, creative expression/imagination are other ways we can complete this cycle. Sometimes an emotion comes up that is too painful or too much to move through alone, and we need someone, a loved one, therapist, friend, family member, to help us move through the emotion. 

We are not always meant to do this work on our own.


I hope you can invite yourself to complete the cycle of emotion, experience your feelings to the fullest, and decrease burnout as we enter into the new year. 

Enjoy the full podcast below:


Blog By: Sara Pogue, MSW, LICSW
Photo Credit: Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels