Prelude to Ashes: Five Signs You’re on the Brink of Burnout

“Burnout occurs when your body and mind can no longer keep up with the tasks you demand of them. Don’t try to force yourself to do the impossible. Delegate time for important tasks, but always be sure to leave time for relaxation and reflection.” – Del Suggs, American author and leadership development speaker.

In our high-stress business world, burnout is always a danger. After overloading on work, life may lose its luster. Things you once enjoyed are becoming dull. You start to wonder if your work matters. You can barely get out of bed in the morning. You’re not just exhausted; you can’t get unexhausted.

Stress isn’t the mind-killer most people think it is. It’s strain—unrelieved stress—that gets to you. It breaks you emotionally and physically, putting you so deep in a hole of burnout it’s hard to escape. It seems things will never go back to the way they were. Like most bad experiences, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Watch for these five symptoms of burnout, so you can avoid them:

  1. You can’t stop thinking about work. No matter what you do or where you are, you’re stressing about work. This isn’t just workaholism; it’s the kind of thinking that gives you ulcers, because you’re always worried something will go wrong. You can’t even visit with friends or try to have fun without it eating at you. You lose sleep over it. If this happens to you, the cure is simple but hard—and it only cures the symptom, not the disease. Set up impenetrable barriers between your free time and work time. Turn off your work-related electronics. Make yourself as inaccessible as your job allows when taking personal time and breaks. In time, you may learn to drive these thoughts back and focus on what you’re doing right now.

  2. You no longer enjoy your favorite things. If you’re a Sudoku enthusiast or love to watch The Flash and they both suddenly seem like too much trouble, especially given what work’s throwing at you, watch out. If your favorite things no longer seem fun, your burnout circuit-breaker may have tripped. Back off a little, give it some thought, and allow yourself to enjoy your hobbies again.

  3. You can’t catch up. You’re always overwhelmed. There’s too much day-to-day work to do. You don’t dare to take a break, because if you do, you’ll be swamped, snowed under, buried, overwhelmed. All that work is pressing down on you. It’s time to seek some serious help, whether that’s talking to your supervisor about pulling something off your plate, hiring a temp or outsourcing, finding a way to afford an assistant, or just delegating more work to other people.

  4. You get sick often, for no apparent reason. A common symptom of impending burnout is repeated minor illnesses of uncertain origin. If you get a lot of stomachaches, headaches, nausea attacks, or just feel ill and don’t know why, you may be on the brink of burnout. This may be your subconscious mind’s way of telling you to slow down and stay out of the office for a day or two. Maybe it’s just strain dragging you down. Either way, if you ignore it, it’s likely to get worse. Stop long enough to put it into its proper perspective, and you may realize it’s a burnout clue. Then you can arrange your life to pull you back from the edge.

  5. You’re emotionally fragile and snap at everyone. Nothing feels like it’s going right, so you’re angry a lot. You temper gets the best of you when dealing with family and other people you care about. Confusion has you irritated, and you feel like if one more thing goes wrong, you might have a nervous breakdown. Anxiety makes you feel like breaking out into tears over nothing. This doesn’t mean you’re about to burn out—but in combination with the above clues and others, it’s a shoo-in. Find a way to cool off. Rest, meditate, see a psychiatrist for evaluation, or try some tai chi or yoga if that appeals to you.

Almost everyone has suffered burnout at some point. Sometimes the requirements of your job, or what you perceive as its shortcomings, have killed its joy for you. If you recognize any of these five factors in yourself, stop and do everything you can to cure them. It may not work; you may end up having to find a new job. If you feel you have no choice but to remain in a situation where you’re overwhelmed or burned out, remember that you help no one, especially your family, if you end up sick or have no energy to give to them.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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  1. Paula Davis Laack is also a fantastic resource and speaks to the Law profession with it’s high burnout.

  2. Jack Delivuk says:

    Thomas Watson of IBM said, “Work expands to fill the time allotted,” meaning the more time you allow for the job, the more it will take. The ancient solution to burn out still works, “Honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do ALL (100%) of your work.” As a college student, I became convicted that I should take Sundays off from school work. What happened to my grades? Initially, they stayed the same. My health improved and after a while, my grades did also. When I obeyed God’s command for a day of rest, I was more successful, healthier, and enjoyed worshiping Jesus.