10 Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC



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One serious consequence of not taking care of yourself is burnout. Almost everyone is susceptible to burnout, but most especially people who have high standards for themselves and who tend to think they’re the only ones who can do it, and do it right. Whatever "it" is. It happens to high-powered career people as well as stay-at-home parents. Let’s look at some of the signs and symptoms of burnout.


* Insomnia – If you’re having some stress in your life and normally sleep well, sleep disturbances such as insomnia can be one of the first signs of burnout. If you are experiencing any new problems sleeping, try to identify the culprit before it leads to worse problems. In addition, you may want to limit your caffeine intake to the morning only and/or cut it out entirely.


* Exhaustion – This can be mainly due to the lack of sleep you’re experiencing, but not always. Some people experience exhaustion because of being over-stressed. Their body simply shuts down and wants to sleep during stressful times. If you’re experiencing anything like this, ensure that you get a complete physical to rule out other issues; but if your life is a little out of whack right now, that might be why you’re exhausted. Try to figure out ways to get back on track. Get extra rest when you can.


* Forgetfulness – If you’re trying to do too many things and have a lot of "irons in the fire", it may become impossible to remember it all - even with a well-planned calendar at your fingertips. If you or others are starting to notice you are forgetting things a lot, get a physical to rule out other issues, but also look at your lifestyle to figure out how you can cut down on stress. Sometimes being overstressed can affect your memory. Take extra care to have your lists in place and find a routine-put your keys in the same place every day, put your purse/briefcase in the same place, etc.


* Inability to Concentrate – People who are suffering from burnout often report an inability to concentrate or focus on anything. Their mind feels as if it’s flittering around. They find that they need to read the same thing repeatedly to try to get it. They can’t just sit down and get work done because their mind won’t let them. If this is a problem for you, again seek medical help, but also look at your lifestyle.


* Getting Sick – People who are suffering burnout often find that they are sick more often. Their immunity is down and they seem to catch everything that is going around. This happens because your body is tired and is probably attacking itself to force you to rest. Pay attention to your body’s signals. It will start with gentle signals and then knock you down if you don’t listen.


* Anxiety – An uptick in anxious feelings can also occur. Sometimes this manifests itself so intensely that the person thinks they’re experiencing a heart attack. They’ll experience a "butterflies in the stomach" feeling or even chest pains and heart palpitations, which can be a full-blown panic attack.


* Problems with Food – Some people who are suffering burnout end up with no appetite, while others seem to have the opposite problem where they overeat to suppress their emotions using food as a drug. If you notice that you’re off when it comes to food, try to correct that with meal planning.


* Depression – Many people who are suffering from burnout first start noticing it due to feelings of depression. Sometimes depression manifests itself as sleepiness, or just not enjoying the normal things you used to enjoy. This can end up dangerous, so if you’re experiencing this it’s best to seek help from a professional.


* Increased Irritability – Sometimes when people are suffering from burnout, they get irritable. One reason is tiredness, but another is that burnout can manifest itself a little bit like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in that you feel disconnected and when someone interrupts you, or things aren’t going as planned, even minor things can set you off. If you start realizing you’re overreacting to things, try to step back.


* Detachment – Other people find themselves detaching from society more and more. This is far different from just wanting and needing alone time. This is because they keep doing all the things that are making them stressed out, but they’re not fully there mentally.


A final problem is that burnout starts to affect work performance. It’s not unusual to get reports of poor performance and lowered productivity for people who are sufficiently burned out. What’s worse is that they feel as if they’re always doing and always working with no downtime, yet nothing is getting done. Seek professional help if needed.