How to Recognize & Reverse the Early Signs of Burnout

By Katie Lodge | June 06, 2022

The term burnout was first coined in the 1970s, and in 2019 was added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Considering that chronic stress can also apply to life in general, we believe burnout extends beyond the workplace. Many of us are familiar with feelings of detachment and disengagement from what’s happening around us—whether that’s in our jobs, parenting, our relationships, through the dragging on of the pandemic, navigating polarized politics or following the increasingly chaotic news cycle. It’s wanting a sense of control over life, yet feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or even frozen. Like you’re chasing an ever-shifting goal post.

According to a recent survey, 46 percent of working women feel burnt out.

What is burnout?

Burnout is defined by the APA as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.” Dr. Andree LeRoy, Harvard-trained MD and WellSet advisor, describes burnout as a state of exhaustion where we lose our sense of identity and feel a lack of control.

It’s a problem that is increasing at an alarming rate. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of working women feel burnt out—a staggering statistic. Burnout and prolonged periods of stress can steal our joy, counteract productivity, and throw our whole system out of balance.

What’s actually happening in your body during burnout? We’ve all heard about the fight or flight response, but during burnout the nervous system, which is wired to protect you from perceived threats to your survival, is in a state of freeze or shutdown. Your system is attempting to protect you from the chronic stress through detaching and dissociating from the threat. While this is a good strategy for the short term, it’s important to bring our systems back into balance and safety, where we can regulate, reconnect, and function better in our daily lives.

During burnout the nervous system, which is wired to protect you from perceived threats to your survival, is in a state of freeze or shutdown.

Spot the early signs of burnout. 

If chronic stress feels familiar, it may be a good time to reflect on whether you’re experiencing some of the mental, physical or emotional signs of burnout:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A sense of overwhelm
  • Loss of enthusiasm and energy
  • Physical or emotional exhaustion
  • Spending more time numbing with social media or substances
  • Feelings of irritability and frustration
  • Impaired performance at work
  • Lack of creative thoughts and ideas
  • Feelings of cynicism or emptiness
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches

The good news? Burnout is reversible.

The sooner you recognize the signs, the earlier you can take proactive steps to reverse burnout and return to balance. There’s always a way back.

  • Prioritize sleep and sleep habits like a consistent bedtime, a cool room, and removing technology 
  • Introduce gentle movement like stretching and yoga to connect with your body
  • Take a break from the news and set limits on social media scrolling
  • Make time for activities or hobbies that bring you joy, inspiration or purpose
  • Evaluate your priorities and simplify your commitments
  • Start a gratitude journal to counteract stress 
  • Get into nature with a hike, walk around the block, or even just sitting in the grass
  • Connect with a trusted friend 
  • Take up a mindfulness practice like meditation or breathwork to calm your mind
  • Schedule time for a daily self-care routine (even 10 minutes can make a big difference)
  • Identify your stressors and develop an action plan to reduce them
  • Talk with a mental health professional

While life often feels urgent, the practice of weighing the short-term benefits of pushing yourself through that next task or deadline against the long-term impact of burnout can help you prioritize your to-do list. That short meditation, walk around the block, or stretching break are small, approachable steps that can quickly reduce stress and lift your mood. Longer term, aligning meaning and purpose in your life (both inside and outside of work) can help protect you from chronic stress and burnout.

We all deserve support. At WellSet, we offer holistic emotional wellcare to help you feel better.

This article mentions: Mental Health, Stress

About the Author:

Katie Lodge

Katie Lodge is the Head of Marketing at WellSet and a Mental Health Counselor in training. In her free time, you can find her exploring or hiking in Southern California with her Mini Aussie, Bill, or listening to a mental health podcast or audiobook. She’s forever curious about how our minds work and how we can build resilient emotional health individually and as a society.

Read more articles by Katie Lodge




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