12 Burnout Red Flags and what to do if you recognise them

3 minute read.

Burnout has sadly become a more common feature of working life. It manifests at all ages and phases, but particularly in high-pressure work environments, and particularly for working parents and people who are working hard to establish and ‘prove themselves’ in a new role, career or life-phase. Put simply, burnout is acute stress that takes us to the point of exhaustion: it may be physical, mental, or a mix of both – also sometimes referred to as nervous exhaustion. Our tolerance to stress and thereby threshold for burnout differs between people, and will vary for an individual. Workplace stress can also be compounded by personal and life stress. Career transition and upheaval often impacts us personally and financially, whilst personal change can have a knock-on effect on our work life.

It is common for people – especially in high pressure roles – to exist at the boundaries of burnout without consciously recognising or making the connection between the various physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Here’s a summary of the key ‘red flag’ indicators to help you assess your experience.

12 Burnout Red Flags:

  1. You feel constantly exhausted yet struggle to rest, relax or sleep. ‘Tired but Wired’ is a key burnout symptom.
  2. The pace of life seems relentless; you cannot think of constructive ways to de-load.
  3. Physically, your body feels drained of all energy
  4. You neglect your own physical wellbeing; it feels like too much of an overhead
  5. Colleagues and loved ones express concern at how worn out you look.
  6. Your appetite is out of whack: you may over-eat or lack appetite and barely eat.
  7. You are constantly catching viruses and struggle to shift them.
  8. You suffer random aches and pains you haven’t noticed before. Existing health problems flare up noticeably.
  9. You feel desperately overwhelmed yet struggle to reach out to anyone for help or support. If asked, you try to mask your experience.
  10. You rely heavily on caffeine, tobacco and/or other stimulants in an attempt to ‘power through’.
  11. You turn to depressants like alcohol to numb or shut down the feelings of overwhelm.
  12. You privately fantasise about ditching everything and escaping the pressure, perhaps in more extreme ways.

This is one area where I get seriously directive with people. If you have been experiencing several of these symptoms in parallel over a prolonged period of time (i.e. anything more than a couple of weeks), then you must stop and seek both medical advice and practical support.

By continuing, you are seriously endangering your physical and mental health in the short and long term. So, you need to stop, or at the very least, slow right down.

It will be tough as a key feature of burnout is a fundamental belief – or more accurately, delusion – that we have to keep going. We tend to suppress or ignore the symptoms and even become quite afraid of what will happen if we stop. This is what takes people to the point of crisis, of physical or mental breakdown.

If you need further advice or support then I can help. I’ve been there myself and brought myself back from the brink. So I know where you are and I can guide you through it if needed.

The process of recovering from burnout is a gradual one. It will not happen overnight. But the first step is to stop or slow down and, to seek help. No-one will judge you. And no-one will thank or respect you for continuing to run yourself into the ground.

We are each responsible for our own physical and mental wellbeing. No-one else will do it for us. It is our responsibility to recognise when we need to stop and give ourselves time to recover.

Medical professionals and people at work have seen this before. You are not the first and you will not be the last. But you are worthy of care, compassion, help and support. It is out there. It needs to start with the care you show yourself.

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