Burnout at work


I hear this word used a lot today, not only in my health practice setting but more frequently in social settings. People feel burnout in their jobs, work, relationships, carer roles, or in life generally. This has been greatly exacerbated since the pandemic especially here in Victoria Australia where we experienced extended lockdowns.

In my work as a remedial massage therapist, I have observed over the last decade, that patients seem to have a chronic baseline of stress which they have normalised. What does this mean? It means they have become unaware that they are living in a state of chronic low-grade stress, or sympathetic nervous system overdrive.

With work, home, and lifestyle pressures this can lead to the condition called burnout.

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout is often caused by problems at work, but it can also affect other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships. Burnout is not the same as stress, as stress can be short-lived or tied to a specific goal, while burnout is a prolonged and pervasive feeling of hopelessness and emptiness.

 Burnout can have serious consequences for both individuals and organizations, such as increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, impaired health, and lower quality of life.

Consequences of burnout

Burnout, in some cases, may be associated with or worsened by other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, or substance abuse. Or, burnout may lead to these health issues. The feeling of being on an endless treadmill that is grinding you down to the point you have nothing to give emotionally and no energy for life is often reported by sufferers of burnout.

Long-term stress or burnout inevitably leads to a low energy state in the body; fatigue that isn’t reduced by a good night’s sleep. This is a state of sympathetic nervous system overdrive. When in this state cortisol levels in the body are raised beyond the normal profile of the body. Over time this leads to mitochondrial dysfunction in the body, which leads to low energy states in the body and brain. This affects our thinking, emotional state, and physical state.

Fatigue and low energy

If you are experiencing burnout you should always seek professional healthcare advice. I often have clients report that they have been told to get out and exercise or get into the gym to boost energy and reduce the stress and burnout load. This may be appropriate to a degree in the initial phase of burnout but is entirely inappropriate when in full burnout. This sort of exercise generally increases cortisol in the body and is a stressor. In a healthy individual this ‘stress’ would be a positive stressor in that it increases fitness and does help with stress. In someone who is burnout, it is depleting and generally adds to their stress load.

This relates to the concept of Working Out; hard physical exercise that depletes internal energy, and Working In; gentle exercise like Qigong and Tai Chi that builds internal energy. I discussed this topic in a previous blog post; ‘Why Qigong is so good for your joints’ under the subheading ‘Working In and Working Out’.

In severe burnout, the medical profession may prescribe medications, psychotherapy, and Cognitive behavioral therapy.

How Qigong Can Help You Overcome Burnout and Restore Your Energy

Qigong – ShiBaShi – Taiji Qigong

If you are feeling burned out, you may be wondering what you can do to cope and recover. While there are many strategies that can help, such as seeking professional help, setting healthy boundaries, practicing self-care, and finding meaning and purpose in your work or life, one of the most effective and enjoyable ways to reduce stress and restore your energy is to practice qigong.

Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that combines slow movements, breathing exercises, and mental focus to enhance the flow of qi (life force energy) throughout your body. Qi is the vital energy that sustains all living beings and connects them to the natural world. When qi flows smoothly and abundantly, you feel healthy, balanced, and energetic. When qi is blocked or depleted, you feel sick, stressed, and tired

Qigong can help you overcome burnout by:

  • Relaxing your body and mind. Qigong movements are gentle and graceful, designed to release tension from your muscles and joints. Qigong breathing exercises are deep and rhythmic, designed to calm your nervous system and lower your blood pressure. Qigong’s mental focus is clear and peaceful, designed to quiet your thoughts and emotions.
  • Balancing your yin and yang. Qigong can help you harmonize the two opposite forces of yin and yang that govern all aspects of life. Yin is the passive, receptive, feminine principle that represents rest, nourishment, and intuition. Yang is the active, creative, masculine principle that represents work, expression, and logic. Burnout often occurs when you have too much yang (work) and not enough yin (rest) in your life. Qigong can help you restore the balance between yin and yang by alternating between movement and stillness, inhalation and exhalation, expansion, and contraction
  • Boosting your immune system. Qigong can help you strengthen your immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells, which fight infections and diseases. Qigong can also help you improve your circulation by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to your organs and tissues. Qigong can also help you detoxify your body by enhancing the function of your lymphatic system, which removes waste products and toxins from your cells.
  • Enhancing your mood and motivation. Qigong can help you elevate your mood and motivation by releasing endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make you feel happy and energized. Qigong can also help you increase your self-esteem and confidence by improving your posture, balance, coordination, and flexibility. Qigong can also help you cultivate a positive attitude and outlook by fostering gratitude, compassion, joy, and peace.
  • Treating Burnout with Qigong and Mind-Body Therapy: This article discusses how Qigong and mind-body therapy can be used to treat burnout. The article also provides some tips and examples on how to practice qigong and mind-body therapy.

Systematic research with randomized control trials (RCTs) provides evidence of the positive effects of Qigong on a range of health indicators, such as high blood pressure, sleep quality, and general well-being 

Studies with RCTs have shown that practicing Qigong impacts the effects of stress and overactivation by decreasing stress levels, hypertension, depression, and anxiety, and improving the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, immune function, sleep quality, cognitive functioning, and stress appraisal. Four elements of Qigong appear to contribute to these positive effects, i.e., physical training, active relaxation, focused attention, and conscious breathing. Together, extensive empirical evidence suggests that Qigong provides an effective means for individual stress prevention that individuals can use to recover from stress and sustained activation, regain homeostasis and mind–body balance, and improve their physical and psychological well-being. Check out the study here:

Individual Stress Prevention through Qigong – PMC (nih.gov)


Qigong is a simple yet powerful practice that can help you overcome burnout and restore your energy. You can practice qigong anywhere and anytime, as long as you have some space to move and breathe. You don’t need any special equipment or clothing to practice Qigong. You only need a willingness to learn and a desire to heal.

Obviously, if you are suffering serious burnout, or are struggling with associated depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other health issues, you should immediately seek professional healthcare advice. Otherwise, try some Qigong and see what happens. Start small and build up your practice. You can start with 5-10 minutes a day initially and then build up to a substantial session as energy levels and motivation improve.

Yours in Qigong

Sifu Peter

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