Burn out might sound like an extreme stage to get to and something that might never happen to you. But not everyone has a dramatic event which causes them to change their life. The subtle signs of burnout are far more common and if you can spot them, and how they might be affecting your success, you can put steps in place to deal with it; before it has a serious impact.

What actually is burn out

Quite simply; burn out is exhaustion. 

When I talk about subtle burnout out, I typically describe it as a “lack of energy” or that feeling of not being full of beans to your usual standard. Think of it like this…

You know when you have to go into a meeting, or you see someone you know and you feel you have to “get up” for it; you almost take a breath in order to pump yourself up to handle that person or scenario? If you’re feeling this on a regular basis then it’s an early sign of burn out.

Who gets burnt out

Have you considered this? Lazy people don’t get burnt out. Why? Because they’re not striving to succeed or putting any pressure on themselves. The don’t criticise themselves when they don’t complete something, so they are happy working their way through life in a state of “chill” and as a result of this they will never feel burn out.

It’s important to recognise that when you’re feeling burnt out; you got to this stage because you’ve been over working yourself, it’s not a failure; it’s just a consequence of pushing too hard.

What causes burnout

There’s never normally one single factor that causes burn out, it’s normally a combination of a few different things compounded. When I look at the research by the Judgement Index, and the assessment of the same name which measures someone’s values-based behaviours what I often see is:

  • They’re highly motivated – often overly motivated, meaning they take on too much and set goals without considering how large they are.
  • They are very independent problem solvers, they are more than capable of sorting their own stuff out, meaning they may not always ask for help when they need it.
  • They’re very self critical, beating themselves up if they don’t tick every box on their list.
  • They’ve got a strong sense of what is important. They can clearly see what needs attention and are focused on getting through it.

Now a person can operate like this – it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get burnt out. But we all handle pressure differently and it’s about learning what is going to tip the scale from coping, to not coping.

The effect of burnout

As the cause can be different from person to person, so is the effect. But what the Judgement Index research on high performers and their susceptibility to burnout tells us is:

  • Judgement can start to get clouded which means bad decisions get made.
  • Self esteem starts to be impacted as self criticism increases.
  • Focus and concentration gets unsteady.
  • Intuition can get weaker and trusting the “gut instinct” is impossible.

I could list at least ten other things that can be impacted when energy is down. If that energy level stays low and nothing changes then these effects can become more and more damaging and impact on someones success. That’s if they haven’t already.

Burnout’s best friend? Stress

If there’s one thing that can turn a slight lack of energy into full blown burn out it is stress. Let’s not forget that stress could have been there from the beginning already contributing and I want to take a minute to talk about stress and how it goes hand in hand with burn out.

I categorise stress into either “work-related stress” or “personal stress”.

Work related stress is what it says on the tin; stress caused by the pressures of work, and when the lack of energy/burnout signs are there, then nine times out of ten so is the stress.

When this is at a low level then I often describe it as a person who is juggling, spinning a few plates and their energy might be down slightly, they may not be as sharp as they normally are. But when the stress is increased and the energy is impacted then this person might be starting to drop those plates and the chances are it’s affecting other areas of their judgement and behaviours.

If burnout is work related then how does personal stress affect it?

People can quite often go to work and mask whatever is going on in their personal life. In fact, work can often be an escape for someone who has personal stress.

People like to keep work and personal life separate. They might think they can. But at some point, personal stress may just creep under that work door. If you add work-related stress and burnout into the mix, then a person with both really does have no escape or down time, and that can be a very dangerous place to be.

How to catch the signs of burn out and what to do about it

To catch the signs of burn out early you really need to know yourself. You need to know the level of work pressures that are likely to cause it and what the signs are for you to look out for.

  • Are you turning to the Red Bull to fuel your waning energy?
  • Have you been less intuitive and not noticed things that you usually would?
  • Are you finding hard to stay focused and concentrate properly?
  • Are you operating at a much slower pace at work and struggling to stay clear headed?

It’s possible these are burnout signs for you, but everyone is different. Make some notes the next time you’re feeling low on energy and try to pinpoint…

What’s been the cause of your low energy?

What are the signs you’re close to burnout?

What effect is it having on your work and the things you are normally good at?

The more we can look at our habits and behaviours to determine our own needs, the better we will be at spotting the signs and taking action.

Originally published at sophiecoulthard.co.uk