The voice of burnout is not YOUR voice. Burnout will say you aren’t cut out for it, that you don’t enjoy it, that you aren’t good at it. Don’t make career decisions while you are burned out. Switch employers, cut down hours, get a side gig selling slotted spoons on eBay, do what you need to do to equal out your stress and your support resources.

Burnout doesn’t look like what we were trained to think burnout looks like, and it isn’t caused by the things were were raised to think cause it.

It’s no surprize that a culture that prizes “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps,” even as it become increasingly socioeconomically impossible to do so, has a model for burnout that blames employees for their expereinces of burnout. The more modern neuroscience studies burnout, however, the more we find the cultural narrative about burnout and its causes is mostly myth.

This short article, Burnout and the Brain by Alexandra Michel, is my favorite resource to recommend for reading about burnout. Main takeaway: burnout isn’t weakness, incompatibility with the field, or even a simple response to stress: burnout is what happens when we are exposed to more stress than we are given resources to cope with. A portion of these needed resources are self-care, but it’s more about professional resources: good supervision/management, time and space to process our work at work, and time off to recharge.


Agencies and organizations often put the burden on staff via instructions to “self care,” but evidence suggests this is an occupational health problem. Organizations can reduce employee burnout by increasing support resources.

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For vision impaired readers, the text of this sketchnote reads:

Burnout and the Brain. Summary of an article by Alexandra Michel.

What is Burnout? Burnout is chronic psychosocial stress.

In 1974 Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout”

Burnout can cause a crisis in a person’s sense of professional competency.

burnout affects the body and the brain, on a physical level.

Stress is a workplace safety issue. Burnout can destroy ambition, idealism, and sense of worth.

Takeaways: burnout won’t look like what we expect. Burnout will tell us “I’m bad at this” and “I don’t even like this or care” and this can cause people to abandon a career instead of seeking rest and support.

Stress doesn’t cause burnout, stress + inadequate support resources cause burnout. If the demands of a job outweigh the resources a person has (or is provided) to cope, then burnout is likely.

Symptoms of burnout include
loss of motivation, growing emotional depletion, cynicism, and depletion, fatigue. (Often, these symptoms get misdiagnosed as depression.)

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