Five signs you might be burning out and how to put the brakes on



If you’re reading this, you’re probably a busy professional who has a senior position or are running your own company. You’ve always been interested in health and fitness but the convergent pressures of work and home life have squeezed out the bandwidth you have for exercising and a healthy lifestyle. As a result, you may have noticed a few red flags going up in what we call the Six Signals®:

  • Sleep
  • Mental health
  • Body composition
  • Energy
  • Fitness
  • Digestion

Often, a client has an issue with 2 or 3 signals, for example, they sleep very poorly, have low energy and their fitness suffers as a result. Sometimes it’s just one signal area, and sometimes it can be all six.

If these signals worsen or are ignored, burnout becomes a very real possibility. Burnout is defined by the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary as:

“Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North identified the stages of burnout in their work entitled the Classic Stages of Burnout. I overview the stages in my book Rise and Shine: recover from burnout and get back to your best, and you can also find them here.

I believe the causes of burnout can be distilled down to three things, although this is just my opinion:

  • Relentless productivity
  • Crippling perfectionism
  • Compulsive helping

All three are strongly linked to self-worth and shame. I recommend reading Brene Brown’s work on shame if you’re interested in pursuing this thinking (I suggest Daring Greatly as a starting point). If you stop to analyse it, perfectionism isn’t an asset (I used to think it was), but comes from a strong desire to please and avoid criticism – and I think the roots of this lie in shame. If you identify with any of the above, it’s worth spending some time with yourself or a trusted friend analysing why these traits are prevalent. Of all the people I’ve worked with on burnout, at least one of the traits has been predominant.

Here are the five things to look out for if you think you might be burning out:

Apathy and anhedonia

Anhedonia is a loss of pleasure in activities you would normally find pleasurable. Apathy relates to a reluctance to do things, and even depressive symptoms. Life might seem dull at best and black and heavy at worst.

You feel very fatigued

You might have very low energy, or find that whilst you can get through a work day, once you get home you have nothing left in the tank. You might also sleep a lot but never wake up feeling rested – or the adrenaline that gets you through the day keeps you up at night and you can’t sleep. Both conditions are problematic, particularly over a prolonged period.

You find it hard to shut off

You struggle to quieten the mind, and might even dream about work-related matters. You may feel a constant level of anxiety even when you’re at home or there are no threats. Often, it will be hard to avoid repeatedly checking your devices or feeling as though you should be working.

You have mood and/or personality problems

Perhaps someone will comment on how you’re not yourself, or you’ll notice that you respond differently to situations where you might normally have been calm. You might notice feeling irritable, low in mood or anxious and those feelings bleeding into everyday life. In my case I went from upbeat and positive to resigned and uncaring once I began to burnout.

The body keeps the score

Physical symptoms often manifest themselves before mental or emotional signs appear. Unexplained aches and pains, mild aversion to light, low back pain, weight loss or weight gain and headaches can all be signs of burnout. You might be able to endure the pressures and keep going, but know that the body keeps the score – eventually, it will catch up with you.

What can I do about it?

There are five things you can do right away to assess where you are on the burnout scale and take preventative action. Firstly, take our Health IQ test to measure yourself against our Six Signals®.

  1. Acknowledge there is an issue – the first step to solving any problem is admitting it.
  2. Colour code your typical week – red = working / green = relaxing/recovering / blue = family or personal time / yellow = sleeping
  3. Increase the blue and yellow time – breathing exercises, meditation, walking, reading, film, podcasts, fun and laughter
  4. Build in more exercise but of the right type and intensity – gentle restorative exercise not high-intensity – walking, light jogging, yoga, stretching and massage
  5. Seek help if need it – whether that’s from a coach, counsellor, therapist or doctor

If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared. Why not talk to us and see how we can help.

If you’d like help understanding what your Health IQ is click here to take our test.

Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit or email to register your interest in our services and connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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