Signs you might be suffering from burnout

We live in a ‘hustle’ culture where we work hard and play hard. 

Particularly since the pandemic, many of us are jumping at the chance to participate in all our favourite activities that we missed out on. But we all have our limits. 

When we don’t allow ourselves enough rest or experience prolonged periods of stress, we might find ourselves burning out. Just like a candle, we can only keep a fire going for so long before we run out of fuel and resources.

What is Burnout?

Mental Health UK sums up burnout as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. This may be a result of long-term stress at work or an instance where you’ve been in a physically or emotionally draining role or situation for a long time. We’re going to be looking at some of the signs you might be burnt out, and how you can get on the road to recovery.

Physical and emotional exhaustion

When you’re under stress, your adrenaline starts kicking in; otherwise known as your “fight or flight” response. It’s quite common to feel tired after your adrenaline rush wears off. During this rush, your heart rate may have increased and now your body is trying to recover. This feeling is sometimes known as ‘adrenal fatigue’ and is most commonly associated with prolonged periods of stress. 

Burnout can often cause changes in mood. You may find yourself feeling more irritable, on edge or even snappy with people around you. Alternatively, you may be increasingly dissatisfied with your working life or feel more cynical about life in general. In some instances, you might reach a point of feeling emotionally numb. This can be caused by changes to the amygdala – the part of our brain that regulates our emotions – because of prolonged exposure to stress. 

These physical and emotional symptoms are very common in those experiencing burnout, and they don’t usually appear overnight. It’s a good idea to check in with yourself, a friend or a trusted colleague on a regular basis, as they may notice changes in your behaviour before you do.

Impacted cognitive function

What do we mean by cognitive function? This refers to several things our brains need to do – problem-solving, decision making, recall and attention. 

When we’re burnt out, our ability to do all of these things can be seriously impacted. You may find yourself struggling to make the most basic of decisions, wondering “which socks do I want to wear today?” or “Do I want a cup of tea or coffee?” 

You can see how this impacted cognitive function would make a significant difference to your ability to work. What may have once been basic everyday tasks can suddenly start to feel extremely overwhelming and tiring. You may experience difficulty concentrating and find that you forget things more easily. After a period, you may feel totally consumed by your to-do list and responsibilities – thinking about them might encroach on your personal life, and even keep you up at night. 

We all experience dips in productivity at work, but when working starts to become a  daily struggle, this may be a sign that you’re burnt out.

Not feeling like yourself

‘Not feeling like yourself’ is a very broad statement. Here are some of the things to specifically look out for – whether in yourself or in loved ones – that may be signs and symptoms that indicate burnout.

Loss of motivation or joy in hobbies

Have you started to notice you’re not getting as much joy from the things you love doing? Maybe you feel like it’s too much effort to take part in the first place? As well as being symptomatic of low mood and even depression, this loss of motivation or enjoyment could be a sign of burnout. 

You might feel as though your brain has no capacity for anything other than getting through the day.

Detaching or disconnecting yourself from friends and family

Withdrawing from the people you love is a common sign that you’re exhausted. The thought of being around even the closest of friends and family may feel like too much. Think about it, if your cognitive function isn’t running at 100%, chances are making conversation could feel like too big of a task. 

When was the last time you checked in with your loved ones? It’s likely that they’ll want to hear from you.

Learned helplessness

‘Learned helplessness’ is a psychological phenomenon that someone might experience after a prolonged period of high stress. It’s characterised by a feeling that you cannot escape a situation, even if there are escape routes available to you. 

For example, if you’re having trouble with your computer at work. you’ll think to yourself, ‘well I could take it to the IT department, but they probably won’t be able to fix it, so what’s the point?’

This learned helplessness is common in those experiencing burnout because they often can’t see their way out of their current situation. For instance, you might feel like you can’t afford to leave your stressful job e.t.c

Low self-esteem

Do you find that you’re  regularly beating yourself up over things? Your appearance, your performance, the way you are with your friends? Do you feel like nothing you do will ever be good enough?

These feelings may be an indicator that your self-esteem is running on empty, which can be an accumulative effect of all the other burnout symptoms. Your cognitive function impacts your work performance. You feel bad about not doing as well at work, exhausted and want to stay at home away from other people or feeling like a bad friend because you haven’t seen anyone for a while. 

It’s easy to see how this cycle can begin. It’s also easy to see how difficult it can be to spot this cycle in yourself.

Steps for treating and preventing burnout

It’s important to say that there’s no ‘quick fix’ for burnout. It takes time to address things that are contributing to your stress, and how they impact your life.

If you’re concerned about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, you should always seek the help of a professional. If in doubt, you can find  your local urgent mental health care line through the NHS.

Here are some steps you can take to start making positive changes:

Identify your triggers

Sometimes the best thing to do is get everything out of your head and onto paper. Write down all the things  in your life that are causing you to feel this way. From here, you can look objectively at what you can do in the short term, and what’s going to take a bit more time. 

It may be that you decide to take action by looking for therapy to support you through this.

Diet, exercise, sleep

Following a healthy lifestyle sounds simple on paper, but when you’re in a state of overwhelm, even going back to basics can feel like a lot. Try to break things down to one step at a time. 

You’ll probably find that these steps have a knock-on effect. When you start doing more regular exercise, your sleep quality is likely to improve. When you start eating a more balanced diet, you’ll hopefully have more energy and want to move a bit more. 

Remember, recovering from burnout can be more of a marathon than a sprint. One thing at a time.


There’s enormous power in learning to say ‘no’. We often thunder towards burnout because we can’t prioritise time for ourselves to rest and regroup. Putting boundaries in place and communicating them in a healthy way will help you to protect your own mental wellbeing. Whether these are personal or professional boundaries, they should help you to create a more healthy way of going through life in the future.  

Ed can Help you to overcome burnout and regain control of your wellbeing. Just a 20 minute session on our app can help untangle troublesome thought patterns. 
Get started today with your free trial on IOS or Android.