Oh Sh*t, I Think I’m Burnt Out

 Numbers released yesterday in the Netherlands show that people in their 20s and 30s are experiencing increasing and unprecedented levels of work stress. As one expert puts it, “Most people keep working, even with serious symptoms, for far too long.”

One of the challenges of dealing with work stress is that once you are in a state of chronic stress, it can be hard to avoid full-blown burnout. That’s because when the sympathetic nervous system (the one that triggers your flight, fight, freeze, or fawn response) is activated, you are zoomed in on the threat. You are trying vigilantly to end our exposure to whatever is causing us stress.

In this high-alert state, you often no longer have the perspective to see with clarity or compassion what is happening. You lose sight of your options. You become incapable of making objective, healthy decisions for your own welfare. You may start to get the sense of feeling lost.

The earlier you catch burnout, the better positioned you are to protect what remains of your precious spark and prevent the soul-destroying impact of full burnout.

Questions to Ask

Below are a few prompts about your work life, and any stress you might be experiencing. This is not a diagnosis, medical advice, or anything else along those lines. These prompts are intended to help you see your own current situation more clearly and compassionately.

It can be helpful to write down your answers — grab a pen and paper now.

  • In relation to your work, if zero is completely calm and rested, and 10 is totally overwhelmed and exhausted, where would you put yourself on this scale right now?
  • How do you feel when you think about your work life? How do you feel about work when you wake up in the morning? Write down a few keywords to describe your feelings about work.
  • How is your health generally? Have you experienced any changes to your health recently?
  • How healthy are your sleeping patterns? Do you generally feel well-rested?
  • How connected do you feel to the people around you? Have you withdrawn from your colleagues, friendships, or other relationships?
  • Have you noticed any changes in your behavior around food, coffee, alcohol, or other drugs, recently? If so, what has changed?
  • Do you find yourself thinking constantly, or even obsessively, about work?
  • How do you feel when you are not working — are you able to fully relax and disconnect?
  • Do you do work outside of your working hours? Do you take work with you on vacation? Are you available to your boss or colleagues outside of working hours?
  • What healthy coping mechanisms do you have for handling work-related stress? Describe what these coping mechanisms are, and how often you use them.

Note: Again, this is not medical advice or a diagnosis, or anything of that ilk. I am, to my parents’ chagrin, not a doctor.

However, if you are starting to get the feeling that you are experiencing full-scale burnout, do two things right now.

  1. Talk to someone about what you are going through, right now. Whether it’s a trusted friend, a coach, a therapist, or your doctor. Put down your phone — or use it to reach out — now.
  2. Pick up my latest book, Relight Your Spark. It’s specifically designed to help you better understand how you got to this point, and how to take the first steps to heal and evolving out of burnout.

[Mini-spoiler: Here are the first four steps to healing from burnout. Drop the vowels from the word ‘burnout’ and there you have them:





Overwhelmed? Reach out to a coach, therapist, or trusted friend right now. Talking — and acknowledging what you’re going through — is the first step to healing from work-related stress and burnout.

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