What is burn out and how to manage when it happens?

Do you find you’re trying to engage people in the office and getting nothing back? Are your workers slow to respond to your e-mails, or forgetting that they received them? Do you struggle to connect with people at work or feel exhausted after an attempt at interaction. Are you getting nothing back in meetings. You might be feeling the results of burnt out employees.

Burn out is extremely common with in the workplace, these past two years it has become even more of a concern with the added emotional toll of COVID. Burn out is the consequence of a psychological gap between somebody’s current functioning and the expectations or responsibilities they have. Many things can impact a person’s current functioning or capacity and a person with burn out however may not always present as you would expect.

Some common symptoms are apathy, absences at work or arriving late, being slow to complete tasks and a low mood. Personality plays a major part here; more conscientious people may “hide” their burn out better than more “laid-back” people. In complete contrast however, somebody who previously was the office cheerleader may become moody or irritable.

Burn out looks different for everybody and it can lead to more tense interactions. It can be upsetting discovering that your employees are struggling. It can be easy to take it personally when receiving feedback that about pressures experienced by staff if the staff feel these are due to poor management. Your reaction in these interactions is important. If you (a team leader) are about to approach a staff member who appears to be falling behind, it is particularly important to prepare yourself for some negative feedback. Ideally, you want to approaching staff at a time that you feel able to listen without judgment or defensive responding. This will help to provide a culture of psychological safety, help your workers to feel supported and help to reduce the symptoms of burnout.

Burn out may be experienced on a personal level, however it needs to be addressed at an organisational/cultural level.

If you have concerns about experiencing burn out or would like further information how to foster a workplace culture, contact AXIS today.

COVID Health Belief Model

Picture this, you might not even have to, it might have already happened many times. Imagine you are speaking with a colleague about the current state of the world and our country’s response, and discover major differing beliefs and opinions around COVID precautions. 

You disagree with them. You notice feelings of annoyance, shock or frustration. How could they be so limited in their view? That awkward moment. The shock horror realising you’ve got very different beliefs regarding public health… when you thought they were like you.  

What is it about that moment that makes us feel so unnerved? 

 We all have our own bias and methods of coping when confronted with adversity, like a pandemic. The data suggests that those who fear COVID, and experience anxiety are more likely to have interpersonal conflict regarding the topic. Those who are concerned about COVID see a greater risk than others around them and can feel marginalised by the perceived complacency of others. The health belief model can explain this in theory. Put simply, the greater our perceived risk and susceptibility, the more we engage in health behaviours (like mask wearing and washing hands). Likewise, the higher the perceived benefits of engaging in a health behaviour (I.e. the belief that getting vaccinated can lead to more freedom) the more an individual will comply.  

In contrast, if the health behaviour is seen to be un-workable a person will be less likely to engage. A call to action by the government generally will not be entirely effective for people who perceive a lockdown to have a greater cost compared to the potential risk of a spread of COVID. Whereas those who see the spread of COVID as a bigger risk than the consequences of a lockdown, are more likely to comply and follow directives.  

So, what happens when two people with different needs are communicating about such a sore point 

We disagree, feel invalidated and we experience feelings that can be hard to process. The other person cannot see the risk we do, they cannot experience the same fear (theoretically, a small business owner doesn’t want a lockdown due to financial ruin, whereas an immunocompromised person might fear catching COVID and therefore complies to a lockdown).  

Importantly, we are unlikely to change anybody’s beliefs (that would require an adjustment of risk vs benefit). We can however be self-compassionate, normalise the frustration and set a healthy boundry around this topic. When we recognise that we have unmet need in this moment (feeling validated, heard and supported) we can self soothe to cope. This is likely going to be more helpful than attempting to radically change the beliefs of others.  


Servidio, R., Bartolo, M. G., Palermiti, A. L., & Costabile, A. (2021). Fear of COVID-19, depression, anxiety, and their association with Internet addiction disorder in a sample of Italian students. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 4, 100097. 

Murphy, K., Williamson, H., Sargeant, E., & McCarthy, M. (2020). Why people comply with COVID-19 social distancing restrictions: Self-interest or duty?. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 53(4), 477-496. 

Why do I have to wait months to see a psychologist?

We are currently facing a national mental health crisis. Over the past decade we as health professionals in Australia have been tirelessly chipping away at challenging the stigma surrounding accessing mental health services.

However, we are now inundated, which has illuminated a system that is not working to support people or mental health clinicians.

People are being told they must wait months to speak with a qualified mental health professional. A recent ABC article for example ran with the headline; Nine-month waiting list for psychologists in Queensland as doctors forced to ‘pull favours’ (link to full article at the bottom).

There are many factors at play here which are contributing to this unacceptable lag time. The increase in Medicare funded sessions has meant that people who are in therapy are not being discharged as quickly. This is great for some, but a challenge for others trying to book in.

There are also much needed pools of funding via NDIS that were not previously available, the criteria for a psychological injury at work has also changed allowing injured workers to access more support. Another contributing factor is that phasing out of one of the training pathways to becoming a psychologist has meant less options for people wanting to pursue a career as a psychologist

Many articles at the moment are about treatment burnout, I have a different perspective. We need to zoom out and look at the systems that aren’t working. As a psychologist who has recently taken a new position and building my client load, it is frustrating to think that there are people needing to be seen, but who don’t know I am available. The ethics around advertising as psychologists makes this challenging.

It seems another contributor is the lack of a user friendly, shared referral database for GP’s to quickly search for mental health professionals with availability. I stress the word “quickly”, as GP’s are obviously inundated at the moment which leaves it, in many cases up to the individual to source their own help.

There is also a responsibility of us, the mental health professionals, psychologists, counsellors etc. to lean on each other during this difficult time. It seems to be us trying to triage our waitlists and contact our colleagues for appropriate referral pathways.

We have the technology to deliver confidential, secure, safe telehealth services to those that need it, we just need the tools to connect people and I feel that is where we are letting our profession and those that have the courage to seek help down.

I’m hopeful that someone in a position to drive change may read this and be inspired to reply with some suggestions as to how we can fix this problem, but if not, I hope it has given you food for thought.

“Nine-month waiting list for psychologists in Queensland as doctors forced to ‘pull favours’


How to get a good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep can be an elusive thing. We all know how important sleep is, and that when we are struggling with our mental health it is commonly one of the first things to go.

So what do we do about that?

The answer is don’t panic. The more you worry and try to control your sleep, the more elusive it can be. Our brain is an amazing thing, it will take your anxiety around not sleeping and interpret that as a danger signal. This interpretation will make your sleep worse.

Sleep psychology takes a nurturing angle to foster better sleep. A good metaphor is the humble house plant. A house plant requires enough water, sunlight, good soil with the right acidity and a bit of TLC. Crucially however, if you give that plant too much water or sunlight it will become sick and… eventually die. You need to foster the right conditions for it to thrive and grow. In fact, rumour has it speaking to your plan nicely can help it grow!

Good sleep requires the right conditions too!

You should have a wind down routine the hour before bed, no caffeine or nicotine for at least 4 hours before bed. Do not use your bed for anything that is not sleeping or sex, or your sleep will not thrive. The brain needs a safe place to rest, and if your work laptop is on the bed it’s going to stay in work mode. Similarly cut out your screen time before bed, so your brain can build up some melatonin to help you feel sleepy.

We call this sleep hygiene in psychology, but really it is a method of nurturing your sleep to thrive. If are looking for more info see the attached hand out. Remember even plants thrive their best when they are nurtured, you are no different.



Knowing when to ask: are you okay?

Knowing when and how to ask if somebody is okay is not always straight forward. It can be so hard to start that conversation, especially when COVID seems to have affected everyone. We often hear people ask what even is “being okay” when the world seems to have slowed to a crawl and all we know is changing?

In saying this, showing your willingness to have such a conversation can be life changing for those around you, a small step to better the world. The R U OK? team has some amazing resources to know when and how to start a conversation, please do read them. This post however is about why human connection and support is so crucial to our wellness. Supporting others can be so much more than asking a question, it can also include building community and fostering safe spaces.

In a world where lockdowns and isolation are constantly required, connection can be the remedy for that hurt. We know humans are pack animals at heart, and that working in a team with a good culture makes even the hardest workdays achievable. Opening yourself up and helping others, while it can be very scary and confronting, can also benefit you. In a study where people chose whether to give support to somebody or not, those who did experienced greater wellbeing afterwards (i.e. increased positive affect/mood and a boost in self-esteem). This isn’t unexpected, it can feel good to do something for somebody else. Why it does feel good however has been under investigation for a while and is not entirely solved. What we do know is that giving support to others can make us feel more connected, our brain also releases “feel good” hormones like oxytocin; some have claimed may even help you live longer. Supporting your friends, family and co-workers is something that we all benefit from, even you. So why not read over the guides on how to ask “R U OK?” and arm yourself with a skill set to be there for others?

Guide to ask R U OK? In the workplace: https://www.ruok.org.au/work

Further Reading:

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine7(7), e1000316.

Inagaki, T. K. (2018). Neural mechanisms of the link between giving social support and health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1428(1), 33-50.

Inagaki, T. K., & Orehek, E. (2017). On the benefits of giving social support: When, why, and how support providers gain by caring for others. Current Directions in Psychological Science26(2), 109-113.

Weinstein, N., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). When helping helps: autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient. Journal of personality and social psychology98(2), 222.

Visit AXIS here: https://www.axisrehab.com.au/