Beat emotional burnout: mastering the art of balance and resilience

In today's fast-paced world, we're bombarded with stressors both at work and in our personal lives, leading some to endure a perpetual state of stress that ultimately culminates in emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Previously, burnout was known as a specific condition experienced by healthcare professionals and social workers. Today, it's becoming more common across various professions. The WHO has even included "burnout syndrome" in the International Classification of Diseases. It seems that avoiding fatigue and irritability is only possible if you don't work at all. The easiest way to check for signs of burnout is to use tests, such as the scientifically validated Maslach Burnout Inventory ($15) or the free and simpler British Medical Association questionnaire.

So, what exactly is emotional burnout?

It's when you work to the point of complete emotional and physical exhaustion, depleting all your resources.

Which professions are most at risk of emotional burnout?

Programmers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, artists, athletes, bloggers, and those in communication-heavy roles such as managers, team leads, educators, HR specialists and those in customer service.

What factors contribute to emotional burnout?

  • The uncertainty of being at the forefront of your field, where you're charting unknown paths. Whether you're a programmer shaping AI's future or a business owner leading new trends, the responsibility can be overwhelming.

  • The uncertainty about when, or if, your workload will ever lighten up. Entrepreneurs often think their workload will decrease as their businesses grow, but find themselves working just as hard. Creative projects or ventures may not have a clear end, leaving people unsure when or how to finish them.

  • When you give far more than you receive in return. Doctors, teachers and anyone whose work involves close contact with people and need for empathy are at risk. But it can also be about team leads and top managers—for example, you strive to be a good leader and support employees going through tough times. Or your business is social, and you often encounter emotionally heavy stories.

  • Another factor is excessive communication, which drains energy reserves. Likewise, having significant responsibility for others can make it hard to take a break when exhausted, making burnout worse.

  • High stakes, where each action feels like a make-or-break moment, can also fuel burnout, especially in competitive environments such as startup industries, TV and entertainment, crypto markets, etc.

  • Lastly, emotional burnout can arise from the pressure to present oneself in a way that doesn't align with one's true nature. And it's not just about doing something against your conscience: values are ideals and motivations that brought you to this work and go beyond simply earning money. If there's no connection to your values, you feel that the work is meaningless and you burn out.

Four stages of burnout

Idealism and Excessiveness

This stage is marked by high enthusiasm, energy and initiative. You're eager to take on as much as possible and excel at everything you do. You may appear as the model leader or employee, always ready to tackle new tasks with gusto. However, it's essential to assess how well you're balancing work and personal life. If you can disconnect from work thoughts, prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance, you're likely in a healthy phase. But if you're neglecting rest, relationships and hobbies, your idealism may lead to energy depletion and burnout.

Nik Ershov, Waverox founder:

«For me, the most dangerous and unexpected phase is the first one, because it's precisely at this moment you don't realize you've already fallen into the trap. It's like a frog sitting in water that's being gradually heated up; you're cool with the water getting warmer, but in reality, you're being boiled. (By the way, this popular frog metaphor is actually a myth, but it serves well to illustrate this situation!) You love your job, you have a splendid, incredibly interesting project, and you experience a ton of positive emotions, wanting things to get even better. You work and receive positive feedback, and the main thing is: everything succeeds. It's very hard to notice that something is wrong with you because you're simply absorbed. I've fallen into this trap several times in my life, and the last time I couldn't get out and burned out. It's precisely in this phase that routines for limiting work hours and the utmost ability to listen to oneself help. But more on that in the next article».


In this stage, your energy wanes, and enthusiasm starts to fade, although you may not fully acknowledge it yet. While you may still perform well at work, you're less engaged in new projects and ideas. Tasks that once excited you now feel overwhelming, and meeting deadlines becomes challenging. You may resort to unhealthy habits, like excessive caffeine consumption or working late hours, to maintain productivity levels. However, despite your efforts, you struggle to sustain the same high level of performance as before.

Loss of Purpose and Cynicism

As resources dwindle, your brain attempts to conserve energy by devaluing work and other previously meaningful activities. This stage is characterized by cynicism, where you adopt a detached attitude towards work and relationships. You may become more irritable, lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, and struggle to connect with colleagues and clients on a personal level. Your enthusiasm and passion for work diminish, and you may feel emotionally drained and disconnected from your surroundings.

Aversion and Depression

At this stage, you experience a strong aversion to work and may actively avoid tasks. Even simple actions like opening your laptop or attending meetings become challenging. You may feel physically and mentally exhausted, experiencing symptoms like nausea, lethargy, and difficulty concentrating. Tasks that were once manageable now seem overwhelming, and you may struggle to articulate your thoughts and needs effectively. Depression and feelings of hopelessness may accompany this stage as you grapple with burnout's debilitating effects.

The stages of burnout need to be understood, not only to recognize its signs in yourself in a timely manner. Different stages require different methods of recovery. At the stage of idealism and excessiveness, the body still has enough strength to be interested in new things and appreciate the present. All you need is to find time and space for it in your life. But if you are already at the stage of losing goals and experiencing cynicism, or of disgust and depression, you will need to significantly change your attitude towards work and leisure and develop new habits.

Reread the descriptions of the stages of burnout above. Which one seems similar to what is happening to you now? Remember the state you were in when you started working. Has the same enthusiasm been preserved? Do you have as much energy, or do you need to push yourself with stimulants? Do you have to force yourself to complete tasks that used to inspire you? Do you finish work with the thought "It will do"? Maybe you just want to lie down or cry when a new task comes up?

A team at the Department of Psychiatry from the University of Zaragoza in Spain listed fifteen different coping strategies used by people experiencing burnout. Seeking social support, deflating the situation with humor, better planning our workload, accepting our emotional and psychological struggle, focusing on solving the problem, and positively reinterpreting our challenges are all constructive coping mechanisms. On the other hand, drowning our emotions in alcohol, disengaging, venting, and denying the situation are not so helpful—and may negatively affect our colleagues.

More on the ways on how to deal with burnout—in our next article.