How to recognise the signs you are experiencing burnout

When we are excessively stressed, as many people are due to constant work overload and excessive time spent at work with little or no recovery time, we can get burnout.

In my clinical practice and in ordinary conversations, I discover that many people are on the verge of burnout and cannot recognize that they are in that situation. I have therefore taken the following stories from my book “Conquering Stress: Make it Fun!” to help you understand what burnout is.

“The physical symptoms were bad, but the mental “fog” was awful. It was like someone had drilled a hole in my head and filled it with concrete,’ Liz, a health and well-being counsellor in her forties, recounted her experience of severe burnout at the age of 30.

“Overwhelmingly long work hours, lack of sleep, no social life, and poor nutrition over many months led to a physical and mental state so wrecked that Liz could not even get out of bed one morning. It was the start of a slow recovery that took her more than four years. The shocker? That she had barely realised she was under stress because she enjoyed the work and the adrenaline kick from being constantly on the go.

Lai Khee was working flat out at his office until 9 or 10 p.m. daily; and yet when he went home, he would still have some work to clear. He ended up sleeping at 1 a.m. or later every night; and by 7 a.m., he would be up and be back at his office desk by 8.30 a.m. Life was an uphill struggle. Weekends were just as bad. He went back to his office voluntarily to clear his work backlog on Saturdays and even put in a few hours on Sundays. His wife of four years was also working, but his intense work schedule took a toll on their relationship, to the point where tempers flared, and disagreements became vocal and sharp. At the office, where a trimming of staff had led to this overwork, relationships were sometimes tense, and disagreements could lead to angry exchanges. He had issues with his immediate supervisor, but his departmental head seemed to appreciate his work and was supportive. In fact, noticing his stress, the departmental head suggested that Lai Khee should take some time off work to unwind and return more productive.

“Like Liz and Lai Khee, some people are not able to recognise their own symptoms of stress. They may be so used to the adrenaline rush of being efficient that when things become even more demanding, they push the rush even higher, causing their performance to falter in the end.”

To help you recognize burnout better, I have reproduced the following list of symptoms for you to recognize whether you are on the verge of burnout. If you have one or two of the following items in the list, you are at risk, but if you have 5 or more than 5 of the symptoms listed, you are most likely in the early stages of burnout.

Here is a list of warning signals (credit: Schoen Clinic) that can be prominent in the workplace and in your homelife that indicate you may be in the early stages of burnout: 

Warning signals at work

  • Feeling of being indispensable
  • Feeling like you never have enough time
  • Indifference
  • Being unable to say no
  • Voluntarily unpaid overtime
  • Imprecision
  • Difficulties in performing complex tasks
  • Dissatisfaction with one’s own performance
  • Feeling of a lack of recognition and appreciation
  • Mistrust/Withdrawal from private contacts
  • Frequent checking of the time at work
  • Increased conflicts with colleagues, superiors or students

Warning signals outside of work

  • Relationship and/or family problems
  • Decreasing friendliness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Bitterness/Lack of Humour
  • Loss of empathy
  • Cynicism / Loss of idealism
  • Disillusionment
  • Daydreams (escape fantasies)
  • Sports accidents
  • Increased alcohol/tablets consumption

If you feel you can relate or are suffering any of the symptoms of burnout, the next step would be to consult a professional for advice and/or treatment. A psychologist/counsellor or a psychiatrist should be able to help you handle your burnout symptoms and help you manage an optimal work/life balance.

About the Author 

Dr Douglas Kong is a Business and Life Coach that specializes in helping small businesses to be profitable and scaling up from there. He is a Regional Director of The Alpha Group that helps small businesses to double the value of their business within 2 to 3 years and to dominate their niche. 

As a Life Coach, he helps individuals overcome their psychological limitations to achieve their purpose in life and find happiness. The result is that individuals can achieve peak performance even in the face of overwhelming stress. For more information visit

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