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  • Writer's pictureClaudette Malone

Are you burned out? – 9 urgent signs that you need to take action

Burnout is exhaustion from prolonged stress that impacts our mind, emotions and physical health. Our always-on culture simply isn’t working anymore. Burnout is more than just a feeling: in fact, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recognises it as an official syndrome stemming from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.

While WHO defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon for the purposes of their International Classification of Disease (ICD), many others recognise that burnout can come from home, family, and social settings just as easily when it feels like there’s no time for self-care and no progress being made. *And many stay-at-home parents would argue that home life is a full-time occupation!

So let’s take a look at how this translates into real-life (indulge me if you will)…how fully charged is your phone right now? How fully charged are you? Too many of us are more aware of the state of our phone batteries than the state of our own depletion.

When our smartphones enter the red zone we begin searching for a place to plug them in, and if we get that “Low Battery 10% power remaining” notification, our concern veers into panic: our lifeline to the world may be cut off! But what do we do when we find ourselves in the red zone of depletion? Our body sends us little notifications, but we seem to just brush them aside. Often we push right through to the point of exhaustion, making ourselves extremely vulnerable to burnout. Why can’t we care for ourselves with at least the same care and consideration we give our phones and take time out of our busy days to recharge?

If you think self-care is self-indulgent consider that the greatest gift you can give the people you love is your emotional wellbeing. Emotions are highly contagious, so if you’re stressed out, you will stress out everyone you come into contact with.

So what does burnout look like?

Sure we’ve all felt tired due to sleepless nights, working back-to-back shifts and hectic schedules but burnout takes it to another level…a level where a good night’s sleep is not going to recharge you!

It’s at this point, resting becomes your only option. However, that’s not the only thing you need. You also need to take time to consider how you got to this point in the first place.

1. What led you to burnout?

2. What in your current lifestyle is not sustainable? 3. What do you need to do differently? 4. What were the warning signs?

It’s really important to stop and take time to consider these questions, as changing your behaviours is essential to overcoming and preventing burnout in the future.

Let’s zero in and focus on exhaustion as it is a major contributing factor to burnout. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know how stressful and taxing it feels to be constantly running on empty. That’s why it’s so crucial to be able to recognise when we’re nearing that point, so we can work toward a solution and prevent hitting a point of no return.

Are you able to identify when you’ve reached the point of exhaustion in your own life? Here are some hidden, and often surprising, signs to look out for:

Minor setbacks are overwhelming

When you’ve reached the point of exhaustion when everything you touch falls apart, including physical things like kitchen utensils and less tangible things, like your child’s after-school schedule, then you know you’re beyond tired – eight hours of sleep is not going to help. The good news is that you can get through it, not by ‘powering through,’ but by taking some real time to unplug and reset.

Small tasks are hard to focus on

You also know you’ve reached the point of exhaustion when you cannot focus or function. Nothing makes sense and even small tasks seem overwhelming. When this happens, shut off your computer, and your phone. If you can, try to push everything aside until the next day or two, after you’ve had a chance to clear your mind.”

Random physical symptoms appear

Have you ever had an anxiety attack? Often this can happen when we’re burnt out, exhausted and overwhelmed. You’ve probably ignored all of the warning signs: irritability, fatigue, lack of interest in anything, digestive issues, body pain, acne — you name it. You gloss over it, have words with yourself and then keep going even harder. Anxiety attacks are a frightening wake-up and when you experience one, it’s time to shift your mindset, set boundaries and to listen to the warning signs instead of ignoring them.

Social interactions feel like a chore

Another thing you may notice when you’re overtired is that you start to get resentful about social appointments. Instead of looking forward to them, you crave being in your bed. You may find that you start to lose patience with the people you love. This is a sign that it’s time to reorganise your time and recreate space for ‘me’ time. Even if we give as little as 15 minutes a day, which is dedicated to ourselves, we won’t reach this point.

You feel anxious and apathetic

When you reach the point of exhaustion, you may find that you get incredibly anxious, and feel apathetic about life. You start to question your work, your abilities, your parenting capabilities, and you literally want to curl up in a ball and roll into a dark corner. This is when you need a mental health break. Switch off your devices and be with friends or family in nature. It’s a time for you to nurture yourself without the demands of social media and work. Personally, when it gets to this point, I know I need to take my shoes off and reconnect with the earth, grass, sand etc.

You become less aware of your body

Have you ever had it where you start to find bruises on your body but can’t quite remember how you got them? When we’re exhausted, we start bumping into things. We generally become more clumsy and completely unaware of our bodies. When you start noticing these patterns, it’s time to take a break and reflect.

You stop contributing to conversations

I know I’ve hit the wall of exhaustion when I don’t want to contribute to conversations with loved ones. Even if it’s venting about what’s causing me exhaustion, I find myself choosing to stay quiet because it requires effort to relay my feelings…more effort than I can afford to give. When we don’t have the physical or mental energy to do that, this is a screaming sign that we need to re-center.

You lose patience with others — and yourself

Okay, so hands up, you’ve been so exhausted that you lose your patience easily while communicating with your kids or your spouse. This is a sign you really should be paying attention to. Sometimes you may find that although you’ve been busy all day, you still feel less accomplished. This then leads to feelings of being good enough, and then this can spiral into a struggle with low self-worth.

Whether burnout comes from work or home, the resolution is the same. We recognise the exhaustion signs that creep in to our daily live, we improve the support we get, we do better self-care, and manage our demands better.

I’m going to take a recharge break now and head off to my favourite Zumba class, as I know that those Latin tunes and the lovely people I see are one of my all-time favourite anxiety-burning recharge activities.

How do you recharge?

Photo credit: Sydney Sims |


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