5 Warning Signs You’re Headed for Burnout (And What to Do About It)

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Picture this: It’s Wednesday afternoon, and you’re already mentally checked out. The neighbour’s generator – the one that never bothered you before – is now the reason for your anger. And those WhatsApp messages piling up? It feels like climbing Everest just to THINK about tackling your inbox. If this hits a little too close to home, your body might be waving a giant red flag: Burnout is here.

5 Major Signs You Are Headed for a Major Burnout

Nobody suffers burnout in a day. Often, it is not being able to recognise its warning signs that prevent you from stopping it. But not anymore. Here are 5 signs to watch out for and how you can deal with them to avoid burnout.

Sign 1: You’ve Become Easily Irritable

You used to be patient, maybe even a little too nice. However, everything sets you off lately. You complain about the neighbour’s perfectly normal generator, snap at well-meaning family members, and even find yourself being short with strangers. This explosive irritability isn’t just a sign of a bad week.

Why it happens: When you’re under chronic stress, your body pumps out cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone. A constant cortisol bath leaves you on a hair-trigger, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation. Over time, this also damages your emotional regulation, making it harder and harder to stay calm.

What to Do: Practice the “5-minute reset.” When anger strikes, physically step away from the situation. Focus on deep breaths and try picturing a calming scene (a beach, a forest, whatever works for you). It might even help to label the feeling (“Okay, I’m feeling overwhelmed and frustrated right now”). This won’t erase the stress, but it buys you time to respond instead of react.

Sign 2: Sleep is a Mess, But You’re Still Exhausted

You either lie awake with your brain in overdrive or crash hard only to wake up with your head buzzing a few hours later. Even when you get a decent night, you drag through the day like a zombie.

Why it happens: Burnout wreaks havoc on your nervous system and your stress hormones, messing with both your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Plus, that racing mind makes true relaxation impossible. It’s a vicious cycle – the exhaustion makes coping with stress harder, which further fuels the sleep problems.

What to Do: A strict bedtime routine is key. Ditch screens an hour before bed, make your room a cool, dark haven, and try a relaxation technique like progressive muscle relaxation (you can find guided ones online). If insomnia persists, consult your doctor.

Sign 3: Lack of Motivation (Even for your Favourite Things)

Black woman raising her hand and saying no to everything she likes due to burnout

I used to love writing. But during a particularly stressful period, I stared at a blank document for what felt like hours. Simple tasks that usually brought me joy suddenly felt like torture. That loss of motivation and focus is a major burnout indicator.

Why it happens: Remember cortisol, our stress buddy? It also messes with your dopamine levels. Dopamine is the “reward” chemical, giving you that hit of satisfaction when you accomplish something. Long-term stress depletes dopamine, making even enjoyable tasks feel pointless and unrewarding.

What to Do: “Micro-tasks” are your friend. Break down projects into laughably small steps using the Pomodoro technique. Instead of “write a blog,” it’s “jot down three possible topic ideas”. Celebrate each tiny win, as this creates mini dopamine boosts. Also, remember WHY you love what you do. Re-read an old positive email from a client or take a few minutes to brainstorm what excites you most about your work.

Sign 4: Your Inner Critic Goes Nuclear

Everything is pointless, your work is trash, your coworkers are secretly judging you… That wave of negativity and pessimism? It’s a classic burnout symptom.

Why it happens: Constant stress and exhaustion erode your self-esteem. That inner critic, always lurking in the background, gets louder and louder. Burnout creates a perfect storm of negativity: lack of energy makes problem-solving harder, which then reinforces the “I can’t do this” loop.

What to Do: Challenge those negative thoughts. When your brain says, “this will never work,” ask yourself “Is that actually true?” Seek out small, achievable tasks to build back a sense of competence. Also, practice gratitude. Take a few minutes each day to jot down even ONE small thing you appreciate about your life. It sounds cheesy, but studies show it does help shift your perspective.

Sign 5: Your Body is Rebelling

Headaches you can’t shake, constant stomach upset, or random aches and pains are signs your body is struggling to cope. Call it your body’s SOS signals

Why it happens: That neverending cortisol flood disrupts so many of your body’s systems. It amps up inflammation, lowers immunity, and can manifest in all sorts of mysterious aches. Ignoring these red flags sets you up for more serious health problems down the road.

What to Do: Don’t brush off these symptoms. If something’s new and persistent, consult a doctor. Also, prioritising the basics – healthy food, water, and exercise – can make a big difference.

Deal with Burnout Before It Deals With You

Burnout doesn’t have to be your inevitable fate. Recognizing the signs is the first step towards recovery. It can take time, and it won’t always be easy, but it’s absolutely possible to get your spark back.

Have you experienced these burnout warning signs? Share your stories in the comments – let’s remind each other we’re not alone! And if you found this post helpful, sign up for our email newsletter for more resources and support on managing stress and preventing burnout

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2 thoughts on “5 Warning Signs You’re Headed for Burnout (And What to Do About It)”

  1. Simply true!
    Thank you for this piece.

    Ohh how these ‘aliens’ called burnouts receive residential permits within our mind construct! Paying no attention to their invasion creates other futures unplanned and unprecedented.

    The steps proffered are very relatable and practicable. Thank you sir.

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