Am I burning out or "just" stressed or exhausted?

Nov 30, 2021

“I’m exhausted, wiped-out, frazzled, dead on my feet, fried …” often followed by “I think I might be burning out?” 

As many of us literally drag ourselves across the line to year-end this is an all too familiar conversation. Especially for high achievers, those working in high-pressure industries, or those who have a very purpose-driven role (for me this includes caregiving & parenting) burnout has a tendency to sneak up.

We are so busy achieving or caring that we don’t notice, or brush aside, little signs from our mood, physical energy, engagement levels that would help us spot it early.  It silently grinds us down over time or hits like a truck we have the opportunity to pause.

But what exactly is burnout and how do you know if you are burning out vs stressed vs physically ill vs “just” exhausted?


Symptoms of Burnout

At a high level, burnout looks like being overworked, exhausted, disengaged, and being unable to cope with daily life. 

At the extreme it makes even the smallest daily tasks feel like mountains to climb - completely unable to continue with daily life and work.


Typical burnout signs to look out for are:

🔥Feeling completely drained/exhausted – 4 hours feels like 24, drag yourself out of bed

🔥A sense of hopelessness, there is no way out, it’s never-ending

🔥Lacking the energy to complete even small chores – tasks take a longer, are harder, negative thoughts towards doing them

🔥Feeling “useless”- no matter how hard you work, you cant be effective

🔥Feeling numb about your work or lower/no sense of meaning or purpose

🔥 Disengaged - loss of interest in doing things outside work, care less about life, people, or hobbies

🔥Unable to cope with life and people around you – easily irritated or angered

🔥Being cynical about work and colleagues, or other people in life … negative, callous even

🔥Physical symptoms like headaches or digestive issues

🔥 Constant mind wandering and forgetfulness (it may not just be “age!”)

🔥 ”enough sleep” doesn’t relieve it…

🔥 It's ongoing/continuous with no or very few “good days”


When I talk to people about burnout the most distinguishing signs tend to be cynicism towards life, utter exhaustion, feeling of helplessness. 

For driven people who are used to being able to solve, work or power their way through challenges is particularly hard to acknowledge and then deal with.

If these symptoms look familiar or you are asking yourself “am I burnout, stressed, or just exhausted?”, take some time to check in on how you feel and to notice other symptoms. Don’t rely on “it’s nearly Christmas” to solve it.

Similarly, if you see them in a friend or colleague please don't assume "they are just tired", offer to talk, or find support.

Below is a snippet from a broader corporate stress webinar giving my take on the difference between stress and burnout which may help.

Please get in touch if you are interested in running a webinar or talk in your workplace.



Rather than a weekly challenge, this one is for a few days.

Being able to clearly identify symptoms of even mild stress, burnout, exhaustion but also general challenges you are facing - physical, mental, emotional and behavioural - makes it must easier to actually put a plan in place that works.  A laser solution vs a scatter-gun approach

One of the best ways of doing this for stress and burnout is to keep a journal or log of

- how you feel emotionally and physically through the day

- your attitude towards tasks, hobbies, people

- the stories or little lines you tell yourself  (those phrases you mutter under your breath or that accompany an eye-roll) ... positive, negative or expletive! 

Are there any patterns or does anything surprise you?  Would you say this is  you "at your best"?  If you could change anything from this list of observations, what would it be?


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