15 Signals You’re Struggling With Burnout & Need A Break ASAP

Self, Health And Wellness

So you’ve been pushing and pushing, and doing and doing, until finally you just can’t take it anymore.  You are completely spent and there is no more energy in the tank.

How you got to this point is different for everyone.  It may have been non-stop work, late nights, being there for everyone else, trying to juggle kids and career.  The one common theme in it all though is most likely no boundaries – not being able to say ‘NO’ and trying to do and be it all.  

Let’s talk about what you may be feeling.  I’ll break it down into mood, physical effects and behaviour, and then I’ll share a few tips with you about what you can do about it.

1-Not feeling like yourself

Perhaps in the past you have been someone who could handle anything that was thrown at them, and yet now you are noticing yourself getting short with people and something just not feeling quite right.  Your thinking may not be so clear and you may be behaving differently and not liking what you see but not quite being able to put your finger on it.

2- Irritable

You may be snapping at your friends, partner or kids.  Finding yourself less patient, less tolerant and less understanding.  You may feel anger, frustration, and resentment, as well as overwhelmed and wanting to scream if someone asks one more thing of you.

3- Fuzzy Head

This encompasses not being able to concentrate, focus or think clearly.  It may present as people talking to you and you just staring through them, or feeling confused about fairly simple matters.  Think about the term being too tired to think.

4- Indecisive

You may be starting to doubt yourself and combined with not feeling yourself, the unclear thought patterns and irritability are most likely going to lead to you not being able to make decisions easily or willingly.  You may also notice a lack of wanting to omit to anything.

5- Headaches

Frequent headaches and maybe even migraines are a sign of burnout.  You may notice them despite a good nights sleep, being hydrated and having eaten enough.  They often linger for days, so may subside down to a dull head when you wake up, but then start again.

6- Back and neck pain

These are clear signs of tension in the body, and of course if you’ve been overdoing it in front of a computer for months on end, that isn’t going to help.  Chronic neck and back pain that persist despite no preceding injury will often result from burnout.

7- Irritable Bowel

When under high stress, our gastro-intestinal system goes topsy-turvy!  You may feel nausea, experience constipation, or diarrhoea.

8- Weight change

Depending on your metabolic type, I’m afraid the waistband is likely to suffer.  Clothes may feel tighter, or you find yourself happy about the opposite of losing a few pounds.  It usually doesn’t correlate which what or how much you are eating.

9- Heart palpitations and anxiety 

Your heart rate may suddenly increase even though you are not exercising, and despite being at rest, you may also feel breathless, sweaty, have pin and needle along your arms and legs.  It can advance beyond this into a full blown panic attack with struggling to breathe, hyperventilating, feeling dizzy and possibly even passing out.  The strange thing is you may not actually be feeling obviously anxious but these episodes can just present out of the blue.

10- Unsettled sleep patterns

Sleep is essential for our physical, mental and emotional recovery.  Unfortunately, when we continue to overdo it to the point of burnout, good quality sleep is elusive.  You may be going to bed exhausted, but unable to get to sleep.  You may fall asleep easily enough, but then wake in the middle of the night and find yourself unable to get back to sleep, or find yourself waking up very early.

11- Exhausted despite a lot of sleep

If you are lucky enough to have a good nights sleep but still find that you are shattered during the day and want to, or actually do sleep during the day, then this is a clear sign of burnout.  Usually the feeling of tiredness doesn’t match with what you have done that day or the day before, so you may question why exactly you feel so tired.  If needing to get up from the sofa to reach the remote control seems like effort, then beware!

12- High and low energy peaks

This is where you can be on a real high both in mood and in your level of productivity, when everything you put your mind to works like a dream.  You get so much done, you think clearly, you are quite literally on fire and superwoman!  Sadly, this is inconsistent, and often after a day like that when you have expended so much mental and physical energy, you then have a day where you feel exhausted and fuzzy -headed again.  The frustration of being forced to slow down is as depressing as your mood.

13- Poor eating habits – binge eating and caffeine overdoses

Caffeine overdoses spring to mind here, when you boost yourself up in the morning with several cups of coffee, or tea of course, and lets throw in some refined sugar just to add to the boost.  Snacking on unhealthy foods that give those short-term hits such as biscuits, sweets, chocolates, cakes, chips are common.  It all helps keep you going but in fact usually makes the situation worse, especially in the following days.  You may also find that you can’t relax and wind down when you want to, so the temptation to turn just a glass of wine into the whole bottle come the end of the night may prove too great.

14- Less productive

Your superwoman powers may be lacking, and you find yourself unable to get as much done in any one day.  The quality of your work may suffer which only spirals your mood because no doubt you have high standards and don’t want to settle for just about ‘good enough’.

15- Just can’t take anymore

Feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope with what in the past would have seemed so simple is a classic sign of burnout.  Your body and mind is screaming at you not to take anymore on and you may notice that the physical effects of breathlessness and anxiety may crop up following someone asking you do something, or when you put yourself under the slightest stress.  In the past you may have been able to easily deal with reprimanding your kids followed by forgiveness and letting it go.  Not so with burnout – usually any emotional stress triggers the physical responses of anxiety and recovery time is a lot longer.

Having no doubt thoroughly depressed you, let me give you the good news!


Burnout and all the physical and behavioural manifestations are warning signs that your body is in overload.  You are on the verge of adrenal fatigue, your cortisol levels are through the roof and unless you listen to your body, it will become a chronic state.  Chronic means there is no cure, just management of a long term never ending problem.

If you keep on pushing past it, you may end up with debilitating conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (chronic pain in joints and head), depression, or trigger the onset of disease including some types of cancers, diabetes and arthritis, periodontitis, just to name a few. As much as we would like to believe it…..


The short term fix is to have a rest.  STOP.  Take a break, go on holiday and make a commitment not to check your e-mails or phone messages while there!

However, these are just short term fixes, so the true change has to come from within you if you don’t want to repeat the cycle and tip yourself over the edge.

Adopting daily health-positive behviors are essential to avoid finding yourself back at square one. These are my top ten simple ideas for you:

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Let's make this a regular thing!
  1. Regular exercise – ideally some outdoors
  2. Be strict about bedtime and monitor your sleep quality with several free downloadable Apps
  3. Spend some time in nature, even with a simple grounding exercise by walking barefoot on grass or sand
  4. Throw out your chocolate stash – if it’s not in your house or desk drawer, it makes it harder to turn to in those moments when you need a boost
  5. Avoid caffeine and refined sugars – decaf coffee and tea that taste half decent are finally available! Reducing alcohol is a great idea too if you can handle it
  6. Treat yourself to a regular massage
  7. Make this two-letter word your best friend: ‘NO’ and use it often
  8. Communicate your needs to others and don’t be afraid to expose your vulnerability – this is in fact a strength
  9. Develop and honour boundaries
  10. Meditate, mindfulness, relaxation exercises – again there are so many free Apps for all levels to help you.  I run mediate with dance classes to combine the fun with exercise and relaxation.  Walking and mediating may work well for you; practicing mindfulness while eating is great for the waistband as well as the mind.  There are so many ways you can incorporate this into your life.

Dr Rana Al-Falaki is the best-selling author of Women Who Want More, and specialises I helping professional women create work life balance and make sustainable and extra-ordinary changes in their lives, all the while having fun. She can be contacted via her website.