How to recognize and prevent burnout (9 Hidden Signs)


“Rest is, quite simply, when you stop using a part of you that’s used up, worn out, damaged, or inflamed, so that it has a chance to renew itself.” – Emily Nagoski…

Why it works

Burnout is on the rise. Gallup research indicates that over two-thirds (67%) of employees faced burnout in 2018. In 2019, the pressure to address it became so intense that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared burnout an occupational phenomenon. And in 2020, Gallup found things to look even worse, as eight out of ten employees (76%) experienced burnout.

The term was coined by American psychologist Dr. Herbert Freudenberger (pictured above) in his 1980 book “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement”. He used it to describe the physical and emotional exhaustion he observed in overworked and severely stressed healthcare workers in the 1970s. Dr. Freudenberger, who was chosen Psychologist of the Year by the American Psychological Association in 1983, thus laid the foundation for further research into burnout and its effects on other professions. 

According to the WHO, burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Its symptoms include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. As it turns out, burnout can sneak up on even the most driven professionals. Recognizing and counteracting 9 hidden signs early on is critical for maintaining your well-being and productivity. Here’s how.

How to do it

1) Lack of concentration
If you’re experiencing difficulty focusing or frequent distractions during tasks, use techniques like timeboxing with scheduled breaks to improve your focus. Get started with this wildly popular article on timeboxing deep focus, defocus and collaboration.

2) Detachment
If you’re feeling disconnected from work and colleagues, strengthen relationships through team activities and social events. To improve your relationships at work and home, read this article on the seven social fitness keystones proposed by Prof. Robert Waldinger, the director of Harvard’s 85-year study on happiness.

3) Neglecting self-care
If you’re skipping meals or neglecting personal hygiene, make time for meals, exercise, and relaxation. According to Dr. Peter Attia, a longevity expert and NYT bestselling author of “Outlive”, these are also crucial for physical health. If you want to learn more about eating and exercising better, read this.

4) Irritability
If you’re increasingly frustrated over minor issues, engage in activities like meditation or deep breathing. For example, try the physiological sigh – the most effective way to become calmer in real-time. I do this multiple times every (!) day, and it works like a charm. Here’s why and how.

5) Reduced performance
If you’re experiencing decreased productivity and efficiency at work, break tasks into manageable steps and set achievable deadlines. Oliver Burkeman, a productivity expert and NYT bestselling author of “Four Thousand Weeks”, has a brilliant approach for doing just that: the 3-3-3 Method. Learn more about it here.

6) Negative thinking
If you’re experiencing persistent negative thoughts and a pessimistic outlook, practice positive affirmations and focus on the good aspects of your life. And to make stress work for you instead of against you, cultivate a good stress mindset – regarding both the stress response and stressful events. Here’s why and how.

7) Feeling overwhelmed
If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities, share them with others to balance workload. Productivity expert and bestselling author Nir Eyal has devised an excellent technique for pulling this off: Schedule Synching. It works with colleagues, family members – and even your boss. Learn more about it here.

8) Physical symptoms
If you’re experiencing frequent headaches or muscle pain without a clear cause, incorporate physical activity into your routine to boost energy and mood. No time for a run or hitting the gym? No problem. A 10-minute brisk walk goes a long way. To dive deeper into how movement improves your energy, mood and productivity, read this.

9) Exhaustion
If you’re experiencing constant fatigue (even after a good night’s sleep), take time off, schedule regular breaks, and use good sleep hygiene. Plenty of quality sleep is the foundation of our mental and physical health and performance in all endeavors, according to Stanford’s Prof. Andrew Huberman. Learn more about how to set yourself up for plenty of quality sleep here.

Don’t let burnout take over your life, but recognize the hidden signs.

Spotting and counteracting them will help you stay happy, healthy and productive.