A burnout is your body’s response to constant attacks of stressors over the course of a long period of time. The effects of the condition are often left to accumulate by sufferers, until the damage on their mental and physical health can no longer be ignored.

According to data from early 2017 most cases of burnout have been reported by the younger generation in the workforce. About 24% of responders aged 19 to 29, have admitted to being a victim of a burnout, from an average of 14% of the US population.

Burnouts are progressively becoming more and more common and it is safe to say they are a disorder of our generation.

Still, there are many popular misconceptions about it circling around.

Misconception #1: Burnouts happen suddenly.

‘I have always been a hard worker. Everything was fine. And then one day I just could not get out of bed.’ – All victims sound very similar when they are describing the culmination of their condition.

While the realization may come suddenly to victims, that they cannot keep up with the lifestyle of all-work-no-play, the condition develops over time. Sufferers very often pile on too many tasks on their plate because they are overachievers that believe they are unstoppable.

The early signs of a burnout are there. They are just ignored until it becomes impossible NOT to make a significant change.

Misconception #2: Burnouts can ONLY be brought on by your job.

False. A burnout can happen anytime you are dedicating time and effort to a cause you consider important.

Following your professional goals obviously qualifies, however, burnouts could happen to young parents, students preparing for important exams, and others.

(Since work-related burnout continue to be the most common case, those will still be the focus of this article.)

Misconception #3: All you need to do to cure a burnout is to JUST slow down.

It is not as easy as that. A burnout is a result of a complex system of repetitive behaviors, perceptions and thought processes that are intrinsic to the personality of the victim.

Taking on too many responsibilities, having little regard for leisure activities and quality rest, not being able to feel fulfilled with any achievements outside of their career. These and other personality traits make it difficult for a sufferer to change their behaviors even if they feel a burnout coming on.

Misconception #4: A burnout is not a serious condition.

‘Yes, sometimes I get tired, too. But I gather myself and go to work!’ – you will often hear that comment from the average layman.

To fight off a burnout, a sufferer’s therapy often involves challenging concepts they have had all their lives – the concepts of success and failure, of what constitutes wellbeing and how to practice self-care.

It takes a deep dive in a person’s overview on life to recover. Many people need to take a significant step away from a career they have worked very hard to build. A burnout is a serious condition and the aftermath is notable.

Misconception #5: A burnout is only in your head.

It is not. A burnout is mainly associated with heavy psychological discomfort – complete lack of motivation, emotional exhaustion, despair and depression.

However, since it is usually accompanied by high levels of stress over a long period of time, some measurable physical symptoms do manifest:

High levels of blood sugar, high level of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, prolonged headaches, bruxism, insomnia and heart palpitations are all symptoms of burnout.


As you already know, once you are set on the tracks towards a burnout it is very difficult to reverse.

That is why it is crucial that you recognize the early signs and work hard to gradually strip your lifestyle of all self-destructive behaviors and thoughts.

Those 11 signs should be red flags to you:

Sign #1. You cannot shut down your work brain

This sign is a no-brainer. It is probably the first thing you associate with the term ‘burnout’. Have in mind though, that it is the most popular sign of a burnout precisely because it is most common.

Victims report being ultimately unable to stop thinking about work-related topics. They catch themselves trying to figure out how to solve problems that occurred at the workplace even if they are actively trying to rest and relax.

William Bauer, a managing director of a family business for handcrafted leather in New York, USA, confesses:

‘In all fairness, I was raised with the idea that working when others are resting is our competitive edge…Personal and professional time have not just been blurred, they have become inseparable. Unfortunately, it was only when I was rapidly approaching the abyss of burnout … did I come to recognize how counterproductive it had become.’

Bauer says it is a friendly reminder that saves him from diving back into the abyss on a daily basis – ‘entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint’.

You are probably safe if you find yourself preoccupied with thoughts about your job only when you are going through a particularly tough time professionally. If you are finishing a big project, if your employer is not doing well financially, if you feel like you are close to a promotion and are trying to perform your best.

It is a bad sign if you do not have a legitimate reason to focus on work so excessively. It is common that sufferers are constantly waiting for ‘just this one thing to pass’. Think about it – are you having ups and downs or is it downs only? Is there always something that puts you under stress? It is a big red flag if you are unable to relax even during vacation, during your yoga class, and activities with friends. Pay attention if your close ones tell you you are working too much.

Sign #2. You are juggling procrastination and overtime

You find yourself in a vicious cycle of putting off your tasks for too long then rushing to complete them at the end of the day.

When the deadline approaches and you feel the pressure of the situation you overcompensate by working excessively hard to completing your tasks in time.

You have lost your passion to work through your low priority To-Dos.

If you are a smoker, you are going out for a cigarette more often. If you are a talker, you are you are hanging around the water cooler for longer. If you are a social butterfly you are constantly checking your Facebook, Instagram and other social media on your smartphone. You are posting more, counting your likes shares and followers, which you hadn’t done before.

And then the guilt of the time you lost hits you like a brick. You rush through your assignments chased by the heavy weight of self-blame. Even when you are done your performance is way worse than before. That makes the bad feeling linger outside of work.

You are probably safe if you are having issues with your energy caused by external factors. You are on a diet and your low blood sugar leaves you exhausted in the mornings. Or let’s say your attention is preoccupied by issues in your relationship or the diminished health of a loved one. In these cases it is not your lost passion that is to blame for your need of distraction.

It is a bad sign if your personal life is going perfectly well and you cannot find any cause for your low energy other than you are ‘so over it’.

Sign #3. Urgent tasks are losing their importance

Not only do low priority tasks take you all the time in the world. Urgent tasks don’t seem to matter anymore.

You feel a great deal of apathy – whether it is a mundane assignment or people’s lives are actually on the line, you just can’t bring yourself to care.

You are probably safe if you have never believed this urgency. You feel it is just your direct manager’s way of rushing you towards an unreachable, unreasonable time goal. And you are realizing there is no need to overwork yourself to submit to their hustle.

It is a bad sign if on a logical level you realize your role in a project is crucial, however, even if you try, you cannot bring yourself to give it your all, all the while being completely conscious of the dissonance.

Sign #4. You are becoming cynical

You have been selfless for a long time. You feel you have been slaving away for peanuts and now it seems like you are suddenly detached from anyone and anything in your organization. You are questioning everyone’s motives and incentives.

Researchers from UCLA point out procrastination, apathy and cynicism are all tell-tale signs of Stage 2 Burnout which means your body and your psyche have turned in a mode of conservation of energy and emotion.

You are probably safe if there are changes in your organization that have caused your transformation of perspective.

It is a bad sign if this transition has solely come over you because of your internal thought processes and observations. Chances are the thought has crossed your mind that ‘they are not paying you enough for this’.

Sign #5. You feel generally unhappy on your workplace

It is business as usual in the office, however, you are feeling more and more exhausted, unsatisfied and hopeless.

The harder you think, the more difficult it is to come up with the exact moment your work turned from your dream job to your personalized nine-to-five prison.

According to Mayo Clinic major factors contributing to your unhappiness at your workplace are lack of control to influence your assignments and workflow, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics.

All of those factors accumulate and affect you over time and are difficult to identify.

You are probably safe if your general bad mood manifests out of the office as well. That would mean you are safe from the ‘burnout’ diagnosis. Try to do some sports, to gather some sunlight and dedicate some time to relaxing activities. Those are easy natural ways to fight off depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If your bad mood is not affected in a significant way, seek help from a professional.

It is a bad sign if the main stressors for your condition come from your job. You find that the aforementioned waves of despair hit you the hardest when you are at your workplace. What is more, any efforts to distract yourself fail because you can’t shut down your work brain.

Sign #6. You used to be a perfectionist

You used to plan, execute, and look over your work with the greatest care. Recently you feel like you could not be bothered to do more than the bare Minimum.

You are probably safe if the audience of your work has changed significantly. For example if you used to create business proposals for end customers, while nowadays your work is proofread by an assistant. The change is then caused by the fact you need to concentrate on more important tasks.

It is a bad sign if your position and responsibilities have not changed in the slightest. It is just your effort that is disappearing. Pay special attention if your supervisor and your colleagues are trying to give you constructive criticism that you have met with cynicism.

Sign #7. You are doubting your value.

Your self esteem has always been attached to the recognized level of your work performance. Your main source of self value has always been job accomplishments.

Any criticism or failure is internalized and perceived as a personal failure regardless of the level of control you would have on the outcome.

A research published in the US National Library of Medicine discovered that ‘Performance-based self-esteem was the strongest predictor of burnout over time, followed by private life stressors.’

Interestingly, ‘Women experienced more work stress than did men. Men had stronger associations between work stressors and burnout, while women had stronger associations between performance-based self-esteem and burnout.’

You are probably safe if there is a legitimate reason to be thinking over your results at this particular moment. Is a performance evaluation coming soon? When it passes, what are the factors that affect your self esteem?

It is a bad sign if your reevaluating your part comes with feelings of anger, impatience, and resentment towards the people who’s job it is to follow up on your performance – your boss, your colleagues or your customers.

Sign #8. You are resentful towards your team members

You have been working so hard for so long. You have neglected your personal life, your friends. You have sacrificed your personal time and maybe your personal goals.

You kept brushing it off when people told you to slow down, even when you were feeling they might be right. You have been the one to drag your team forward through thick and thin.

Then one day all of a sudden you are starting to notice you are the only one who cares that much. It is the starting point of you holding resentment towards your colleagues, your boss, your organization and even your customers.

Another study published by the US National Library of Medicine discovers that a burnouter can be very toxic in a team: ‘People who are experiencing burnout can have a negative impact on their colleagues, both by causing greater personal conflict and by disrupting job tasks.

Thus, burnout can be “contagious” and perpetuate itself through social interactions on the job’.

You are probably safe if your expectations for your colleagues to work as hard as you are realistic. If you have a legitimate proof someone is slacking while others do all the work.

It is a bad sign if your expectations towards your colleagues are unrealistic. If everyone is working hard already, you should not expect them to overwork themselves as you do.

Sign #9. You do not actually want to complete your agenda

You are NOT interested to reach your targets. You do NOT identify with the goals of your organization. You find the ultimate goals of your position to be pointless.

You are probably safe if your frustration is manifesting due to a lack of information or understanding – if the dissonance between your personal truth and the company values is brought upon you because of your cynicism. Do deeper research and try to figure out how your work contributes to the organization and how the organization contributes to society. It could very well be different from what you see on the company website. Dig deeper.

It is a bad sign if you can’t bring yourself to align yourself with the company values. Think of it this way: If you alone, as a person, could have the same effect to society as your company has, would you continue its work, and will it make you happy?

Sign #10. You are neglectful towards your needs and your health

You are exhausted and you are feeling great pressure to continue putting in effort even though you have lost your passion for the values and ultimate goals of your organization. You have been doubting your value for a long time and it is taking a toll on your self-esteem.

You neglect caring for yourself. You start piling up on junk food and you are probably gaining weight. You might be drinking more often or looking for recreational drugs. You might be missing out on sleep. You might be putting off your regular doctor’s appointment.

You are probably safe if it is temporary. Once you realize you are neglecting your physical and mental health, you grab yourself by the bootstraps and power through the difficulties without the crutch of bad habits.

It is a bad sign if you can’t seem to stop even when people close to you express their concerns. You don’t seem to be able to find a healthy outlet.

Sign #11. You are mainly driven by fear of failure and not by strive for success

With most victims of burnout the treatment includes challenging the notions for failure and success. The reason burnouters pile so much on their plate is they are terrified of failure.

You are probably safe if you have a clear, measurable, achievable idea of what success looks like for you. Can you write it down on a small piece of paper? Read it back to yourself. Will that be enough for you?

It is a bad sign if you are constantly changing your concept of ultimate happiness. Multiple burnout victims actually burn out at what started as their dream job. Because it was not enough of a success for them to have it and fulfill it. They were terrified of losing it and therefore obsessed over it to the point of hating it.


The most important way to fight a coming burnout is to not allow yourself to engage in behaviors that cannot be sustained long term. Avoid going to the extreme. There are some steps you can take to try and restore normality.

Step #1 Start taking care of yourself

Since a lot of the symptoms of a burnout match symptoms for depression you can try some natural remedies to up your mood:

  • Spend a healthy amount of time in the sun – it will help you deal with any possible vitamin D deficiency, which is commonly associated with depression.
  • Do sports – that will naturally boost your endorphin levels.
  • Meditation will help you deal with stress and improve your decision making process.

Step #2 Work during working hours only

Arrive at your workplace early and prepare yourself mentally for spending a fixed amount of hours. After work shut down your work phone, do not look at your emails and do not take calls.

If you are an emergency contact, feel free to discuss with your colleagues and your supervisor a change of workflow if that is possible. Make sure your brain is occupied with anything else during your free time, even if you consider it nonsense in the beginning.

Step #3 Plan your weekly tasks and targets ahead of time

Spend up to an hour every weekend to plan your week ahead. Create a realistic plan for the entire work week. Make sure you are satisfied with the amount of tasks you are about to tick off. Leave some space for urgent business.

What you are doing is you are deciding in advance how much work is enough. You will therefore not be tempted to pile on more assignments to your plate.


If you are feeling a burnout is coming soon, start your fight against it immediately. Follow steps 1 to 3 above. If you start to feel a difference, congratulations, you have avoided a head-on collision with the dangerous creature, called Burnout.

If the symptoms are not alleviating fast enough, make sure you seek therapy.

You might have a lot of work to do, but it will be worth it.

11 Signs You're Headed for a Burnout

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