Origami fortune teller on vacation at the beach concept for work-life balance choices
Origami fortune teller on vacation at the beach concept for work life balance choices

It’s January. In the northern hemisphere, in the cold, people are tired. It’s natural. You’re meant to stay in more, rest more, do less. But you don’t. You wake up before the sun, crust in your eyes, grumble a little and then go about your days.

Your motivation might be waning and it might feel like you just can’t seem to bother doing anything. The pleasure that you feel from accomplishing things at your business or career is dulled. You start wondering: do you need to change your job? Get a divorce? Is vacation enough? Are you cut out to be an entrepreneur?

All the questions come up and zap so much energy that you already are low on and you feel even more tired. The sheer number of possibilities seems too much to handle. Are you burnt out or do you just need a vacation?

As a burnout coach, I have these conversations with people daily. Everyone gets bored with their routine sometimes. They call it burnout. They go on vacation and come back refreshed. That, my friends, is not burnout.

Burnout, in my experience, is the result of chronic stress (low or high level) that creates physiological changes in the body and affects mental and emotional health – strongly. Researcher Christina Maslach, together with fellow researcher Susan E. Jackson created a questionnaire for measuring burnout that has, over the past 35 years, proven to be useful for measuring the psychological effects of burnout. According to the research, those are:

Emotional Exhaustion
Personal Accomplishment
Professional Efficacy

I love the contributions that Christina Maslach and her various teams and research partners have made to the subject of burnout. I’m also afraid that there is a huge gaping hole that needs to be filled.

When chronic stress is present, there are physiological changes to the body. Every person experiences them differently. Some people end up with migraines, some with thyroid problems, some with weight gain, and others with IBS. It’s impossible, in my opinion, to experience the above psychological issues without a physical component.

In my experience, full-blown burnout is a mixed bag of the above psychological components and physical issues that nothing seems to help. When you are experiencing full-blown burnout, you don’t simply feel like you are lacking motivation, you literally, physically, cannot get shit done.

Arianna Huffington collapsed from burnout and exhaustion. She wasn’t just cynical and emotionally exhausted. Her body was DONE.

So, if you’re feeling the wintertime blues, find a way to reset. Take more baths, take a 2-day staycation, go on a vacation if you have the time and can afford it. Step away from your tasks for a minute and let your mind refresh, when you come back to them, you’ll be more ready and get them done faster than if you try to bully through right now.

BUT. If you’re feeling burnt out, you’re going to need to do more than that. You should start with a full check-up with your GP. Find out if there’s anything obvious that needs western treatment. If there is, treat it.

Next is nervous system calming. When you’re in chronic stress mode, your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system is overworking. Your job? Give it a break by activating your parasympathetic (rest, rejuvenate, digest) system. You can do this with meditation, breathing techniques, binaural beats, self-hypnosis, yoga, etc. etc.

Then, it comes time to ask for help. Find yourself a practitioner of alternative medicine that you trust (for tips on how to choose an acupuncturist, read this), or a coach or therapist that specializes in burnout. A GP with a holistic approach is a great idea, as is a functional medicine specialist.

There’s no perfect way to go about it, but know this: you MUST go about it. In whatever way feels best to you, take the smallest steps possible that will have some influence and then keep taking them. One small step at a time. Drastic measures should be avoided. Burnout should be crawled away from, not sprinted away from. If a vacation will solve it, go find yourself an umbrella on the beach. If it won’t, today is the day to start inching your way back. You can do it. Promise.

If you still aren’t sure where you are on the burnout scale, take this quiz for some perspective.


  • Caitlin Donovan

    Burnout Expert

    Caitlin Donovan is one of New York City’s leading burnout experts, host of “Fried – The Burnout Podcast,” and author of the book The Bouncebackability Factor. Her master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine enables Caitlin to combine Eastern wisdom with her natural practicality. After treating more than 25,000 patients, Caitlin added 1:1 coaching, corporate workshops, and keynotes for companies such as PTC and Lululemon – all with a focus on burnout. She has been featured on podcasts and online magazines such as “Elephant Journal,” “Thrive Global,” “Addicted 2 Success,” and “Your Story. Your Health.” as well as quoted in Oprah Magazine. Caitlin and her husband spent 12 years living in Europe, but now make their home in New Jersey. When Caitlin is not speaking or coaching on burnout, you can find her with her husband and their white fluffy dog hiking around NJ and NY. caitdonovan.com friedtheburnoutpodcast.com