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Know the Signs of Burnout

Know the Signs of Burnout Image

What is Burnout?

It’s no secret that the last couple years have taken their toll on all of us. Working long hours, working from home, virtual school, back to school, adhering to guidelines, changing guidelines… this is pandemic life. But regardless of what challenges looked like for you, we can all agree that burnout is a real thing.

burn·​out | \ ˈbərn-ˌau̇t \ Definition\ : exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

No matter who you are- an attorney, a teacher, a business owner, a stay at home mom, a medical professional- your burnout experience is valid. Your needs and feelings are valuable and worth taking care of, both for your own sake and the sake of the people in your life. Burnout tends to sneak up on us and slap us in the face. It would be great if we saw it coming a mile away before it makes its hostile takeover!


What does burnout feel like?

How in tune are you with what burnout really looks like for you? Can you recognize how you feel when burnout is creeping in? Take a second to think about it. Write it down. Make a quick “burnout checklist” in your notes app and set a reminder once a month to go over the checklist and evaluate where you’re at. 

Maybe you start snapping at people you love, or tuning out your family when you get home at the end of the day. Maybe you’re craving comfort food… or you can’t stand the thought of food at all. You may wake up irritated for no reason when the day hasn’t even had a chance to throw you a curve ball. Maybe you start missing deadlines at work or getting easily frustrated with co-workers or clients. You might have trouble sleeping at night or feel like you’re treading water just to stay afloat all day long. You may even have physical symptoms like higher blood pressure or feeling like you can’t catch your breath.

The scientific description of burnout, according to social psychologist Christina Maslach, include three areas:

  1. Exhaustion- we’re tired at the end of a regular day, but “burnout” exhaustion is a chronic thing that can’t be fixed in one weekend getaway or a good run.
  2. Cynicism- when everything feels offensive and irritating, you’ve officially become a burnout-induced cynic.
  3. Reduced sense of effectiveness- nothing you pour your heart into is giving you any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

If any of this is sounding uncomfortably familiar, then burnout may already be knocking at your door.

So… now what?


What can you do about it?

There are lots of ways to handle burnout, including talking to your doctor- but you may find some of the simple ideas below useful in restoring balance to your mental and emotional well-being. Since burnout comes from being emptied of our physical and emotional strength over time, then we need to proactively fill ourselves back up on a regular basis to avoid this insidious intruder. It takes time to fix something that took time to break. Likewise, it takes consistency to take care of yourself just as it takes consistency to NOT take care of yourself. Be consistent in the right thing. None of these suggestions are a fix-all, but done regularly and with intent, they can certainly help lessen the likelihood that you’ll crash and burn(out) down the line.


  • Schedule an overnight, or weekend trip. It doesn’t have to be far, even a staycation at a local Airbnb or hotel can do wonders to get a quick reset.
  • Get outdoors. Fresh air has a way of clearing the mind and calming the body. Yes, even in winter!
  • Exercise. If you have time to spend an hour at the gym, go for it! If not, squeeze in a few 5 minute walks, take the stairs, even chair stretches at your desk count. 
  • Remember why you got into the field you’re in and why you’re so passionate about it. It’s amazing how motivated we feel when there’s a passion driving us.
  • The Calm App. No, we are not sponsored. But have you tried this app? You may find the places it can take you in just a few moments is all you need.
  • Tapping. This is a technique based on the practice of acupuncture, but instead of needles, you use the pressure of your own fingers along meridian points to bring a balance of energy to the body.
  • Floating. Either you love it or you hate it. It’s basically the spa version of a sensory deprivation tank and can ease mental anxiety, as well as muscle tension caused by stress. 


Where do you go from here?

Whatever time you have available to take care of yourself, whether an hour or just a few moments, take advantage of the opportunity. It will pay dividends to not push yourself until you’re a puddle on the floor. First, recognize your signs. Seriously, take a few minutes to assess your mental health and take notes. Next, let people know!  Tell the people in your life what your signs are so you’re not the only one looking out for yourself. Finally, take the most intriguing ideas above, and the ones you think you could easily incorporate into your life consistently, and pop them into your phone. What is ONE that you are willing to try this week? You’ll want to have these ideas on hand, along with your burnout checklist, so that you can stay proactive in preventing burnout and pursuing your healthy work-life balance.

If you end up giving any of these ideas a try, or you’ve found another solution that’s worked for you, please share below.  Let’s help each other out!


Additional Resources

Physician Burnout Library (

Member Assistance Program - Bar Association of Erie County ( 

The Happiness Lab Podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos - Pushkin Industries

Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation | Dedicated to Protecting the Well-Being of Physicians and Health Care Professionals (

Work Burnout: How to Spot Symptoms and What to Do - The New York Times (

Burnout Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster


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