It’s a morning like all the others.
The alarm shrieks, splitting your skull in two.
You fumble for the snooze button. Seemingly seconds later the alarm blares again.
“All right, all right!” you whimper. You drag yourself out of bed, exhausted by the effort of putting one foot in front of the other. Plucking clothes randomly from your closet, you pull them on without really seeing them.
In the kitchen you down the first cup of what will become an entire pot of coffee.
Weird, though, the caffeine doesn’t juice you up as much as it used to. Maybe you should change roasts.
While you’re slumped over your cup, your friend’s words float into your consciousness. “You’re showing signs of burnout,” she said. “You used to be so funny, but you never laugh anymore. You bit my head off the other day when I said something you didn’t like.”
She paused. Took a deep breath. “You look like death warmed over. I’m worried about you. I read an article about signs of burnout, and you’ve got almost all of them.”
You know she’s right.
But right now you’re too freaking busy to do anything about it. “Maybe later,” you tell yourself as you prod yourself to get into high gear for your day.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is what happens when you go flat out under constant stress for a long time, succumbing to pressure to do more…more…more.
You push yourself past your limits, not just once in awhile but all the time.
You gulp endless cups of coffee and energy drinks, leaving you so wired by the end of the day you automatically reach for the sweet treats that bring comfort along with the inevitable blood sugar crash that lets you fall asleep.
At least for a little while.
Until you jolt awake and lay there watching the numbers on the clock march by before falling into a broken sleep minutes before the alarm yells at you.
You convince yourself you’re fine. This is just temporary. Oh sure, you get raging headaches. Your heart sometimes flutters in this odd way. And you catch every bug going around the office.
But really, you’re healthy.
But let’s face it.
You’re burned out.
Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion combined with cynicism along with feeling detached from important people and activities. Like a failure.
You get burned out when you experience physical, mental, or emotional stress over a prolonged period of time.
“I’m Not Burned Out, I Just Need A Day Off” And Other Myths
Maybe people who care about you are telling you to slow down. They’re worried about your well-being.
And you brush them off. “Nothing a good day off can’t fix!” you declare.
A day off that you never take.
Well, maybe a vacation is a better idea. Yes, after a vacation, your burnout will be gone.
The trouble is, while time off is nice, it doesn’t cure anything. Within a couple of weeks, you’ll be galloping full speed back down the burnout path, heading for a crash.
And deep down you’ll feel ashamed, because you believe only weak people get burned out. If you were stronger, you’d be able to keep up. To help everyone.
Not true! Being burned out doesn’t mean you’re weak and can’t handle stress. It means you’re human, not superhuman.
You May Be Heading Toward Burnout Without Even Knowing It
A few years ago, I hosted my first ever tele-summit to help women get free from fibromyalgia. I had already healed myself from fibromyalgia and wanted to help others do the same.
Despite having a wonderful team to support me, I kept myself insanely busy.
A few weeks before the start date of my tele-summit, I began to feel both mentally and physically fatigued. However, I still had a lot to get done, so instead of listening to my body and adjusting my tele-summit schedule or getting more support, I pushed myself even harder.
I stopped working out. I was no longer eating healthy food. The stress impacted my sleep, too. And to top it all off, I let go of my spiritual practice.
Yet still I didn’t quite realize I was flaming out. Although exhausted, I delivered on the tele-summit and all of my commitments to my speakers and participants, convinced I made it through on sheer adrenaline.
I had held burnout off as long as I could. After the tele-summit, I was completely drained – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unable to function anymore, I succumbed to the burnout symptoms that had been hounding me.
I spent days in bed curled up in my pajamas. It was agony for a type-A person like me to feel so numb and depleted.
Even after I was able to get up, I split my time between the bed and the couch. I would sleep and watch TV, having no desire to do anything else. It was as if my life was smothered in a thick grey blanket. I was scared. I wondered… will it always be this way?
But I took the first step. And then another. And another.
I brought myself back from burnout.
While you might be tempted to go flat out like I did, if you go down this route you too may pay a heavy price before you’re even fully aware of it. Burnout doesn’t happen suddenly. You don’t wake up one morning and bingo! Burnout.
Its nature is more subtle, sneaking up on you over time, which makes it much harder to recognize. However, our bodies and minds give us warnings. When you know what to look for, you can recognize burnout before it’s too late.
The Difference Between Stress And Burnout
“I’m just a little stressed,” you tell yourself, “No big deal.”
However, the difference between stress and burnout is simply a matter of degree. The earlier you recognize the signs of what’s going on with you, the better you’ll be able to avoid burnout – as long as you take action to alleviate the symptoms as soon as you’re aware of them.
16 Signs You’re Headed To Burnout
Though the list below might seem daunting, don’t worry! I’ll be sharing resources to support you with each of these symptoms. (Be sure to sign up for my email list on this page so you get notification as soon as each is available.)
Even if you have only one of these symptoms, it’s time to get support. And if you have all 16, it’s your body’s way of telling you to heed the call to change. Take the 16 Signs Quiz to rate yourself on each of the signs.
Here are the telltale signs you’re headed down the burnout road.
- Feeling fatigued – In the early stages, you lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted; utterly drained and depleted.
- Having a hard time sleeping – In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.
- Experiencing forgetfulness and impaired concentration and attention – Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done. Everything starts to pile up, leaving you to push yourself even harder in a vicious circle.
- Experiencing obvious physical symptoms – These may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and headaches.
- Getting sick more often – Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related health problems.
- Loss of appetite – In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may completely lose your appetite. Your weight begins to drop.
- Anxiety – Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes with your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.
- Depression – In the early stages, you feel mildly sad, occasionally hopeless, and experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped, severely depressed, and think the world would be better off without you.
- Feelings of apathy and hopelessness – You have a general sense that nothing is going right or nothing matters. As the symptoms worsen, these feelings may become immobilizing, making you wonder, “What’s the point?”.
- Increased irritability – Irritability often stems from feeling ineffective, unimportant, and useless. You experience an increasing sense that you’re not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did. In the early stages, this can interfere in personal and professional relationships. At its worst, it can destroy relationships and careers.
- Anger – At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the later stages, you lash out at others, getting into serious arguments at home and in the workplace.
- Experiencing a loss of enjoyment – At first, loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or, conversely, being eager to leave. Without intervention, loss of enjoyment may extend to all areas of your life, including the time you spend with family and friends.
- Pessimism – At first, this may present itself as negative self-talk or moving from a glass half-full to a glass half-empty attitude. At its worst, this can move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members, along with a feeling that you can’t count on anyone.
- Isolation – In the early stages, this may seem like mild resistance to socializing (i.e., not wanting to go out to lunch or closing your door occasionally to keep others out). In the latter stages, you may become angry when someone speaks to you, or you may come in early or leave late to avoid interactions.
- Detachment – This is a general sense of feeling disconnected from others or from your environment. It can also take the form of the isolating behaviors described previously, and result in removing yourself emotionally and physically from your job and other responsibilities. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or come in late often.
- Lack of productivity and poor performance – Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which often results in incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list. It may seem that as hard as you try, you can’t climb out from under the pile.
Rate yourself now! Take the 16 Signs Quiz.
You’ve Got To Turn Around The Burnout
Now that you know you’re on the burnout path, you’ve got to turn it around.
Each day that you push yourself deeper into burnout, you put yourself at risk of:
- Severe depression
- Escapist behaviors such as excessive drinking
- Hopelessness about your life or work
- Health issues such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, or heart palpitations. (Make sure that you see a physician about these!)
- Panic attacks
Any one of these issues can derail your life. Because chronic burnout often comes with several of these warning signs, you significantly increase your risk of long-term damage to your physical or mental health unless you take action toward burnout recovery.
What Will Help With Burnout
If you recognize you’re burned out, don’t despair.
There are steps you can take to overcome burnout and bring yourself back to wellness. I know, because I’ve been there. Here’s what will help you recover from burnout:
- Put your focus and energy toward moving beyond burnout. Write or sketch your vision of your life once you’ve regained your ease and sense of well-being.
- Make your physical health a top priority. Eat nourishing food. Exercise, even something as simple as going for a walk.
- Re-engage with your preferred spiritual practice.
- Take time each day to check in with yourself. Ask, how am I feeling? What’s good in my life? What do I appreciate?
- Work with a therapist, counselor, or coach.
Life Beyond Burnout
You may feel like you’re too deep into burnout to bring yourself back.
You’re not. You just need to take the first step, now that you know how to start to recover from burnout.
I know what awaits you after you ease yourself back to wellness.
You’ll feel lighter.
You’ll wake up refreshed; with energy and clarity and a renewed sense of purpose about your life.
Your family will celebrate the return of your laughter.
Life will be bursting with promise.
Most of all, you’ll fall in love with yourself.
And burnout will become a distant memory.
If you’re struggling with any of these signs of burnout, don’t go it alone! I invite you to schedule your free Break Free From Burnout consultation with me.
In this 60-minute consultation you’ll:
- Get simple and practical tips for how to break free from your burnout symptoms
- Create a clear and compelling vision of the burnout-free life you want
- Tap into greater energy and inspiration
- Explore how having a partner on your journey will provide a shortcut to all that you desire.
Great article. Couldn’t be write much better!
Thank you, Harrell! I appreciate your feedback.
I burn out every few days . Have good days then totally crash all my joints hurt its like I can’t live a normal life. My body must be lacking something.
I do have kidney problems and pain.
Ann, I’m so sorry to hear of your difficulties. The first thing I recommend is that you get a complete medical exam and deal with any health issues. At the same time, I would suggest that you be kind to yourself and get plenty of rest. If you still experience burnout after taking these actions, feel free to reach out to me for next steps. I wish you the best.