How to identify and prevent burnout

Photo of Sarah Tuckett lying on a yoga mat in a green dress - Sarah Tuckett Psychotherapy and Counselling North Brisbane
I burnt out in my 30’s. Twice. Both occasions I was under chronic stress in a job, where I had absolutely zero power over my workload. Because I’m an A-type personality I battled on, determined to get through it. But over time, that stress wore me out and I collapsed and had to stop work. In my 30s I had no idea what the signs and symptoms of burnout were. So this is a guide showing you how to identify and prevent burnout.


What is burnout?

Put simply… burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

This 1 minute video is how I explain burnout to my clients 

Short-term stress can be a good thing, but chronic stress is bad

Burnout usually happens when we’ve been under (dis)stress for too long. This is the usual pathway:


Stuck in a Crisis

Chronic Stress




Stress can be a positive, motivating factor in your life. But chronic stress is a different matter.

Cortisol, a chemical messenger from the endocrine system, is supposed to help return our body to homeostasis after a stressful event has passed.  However, under long-term stress, cortisol is still being released and this has a pro-inflammatory effect on the body.  And inflammation causes depression. 

READ MORE about the link between chronic stress, inflammation and depression and what you can do about it. 



The physical signs and symptoms of burnout

Whilst you’re in that middle stage of chronic stress, the physical symptoms of burnout may be very similar to those of anxiety or being in a heightened nervous system state:

  • Insomnia
  • Shallow breathing/shortness of breath
  • Nausea/churning tummy
  • Sensation of pressure in your chest
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

(Please always get your physical symptoms checked out by a medical practitioner. You won’t be wasting their time. They’d much rather you check it out than miss something important that can be fixed).


And once you’ve used up all your energy and fallen off the cliff into zero energy phase:

  • No energy. Total depletion.
  • Feeling run down
  • Heaviness in your body
  • Feeling numb or passive
  • Feeling shut down, disconnected
  • Taking less care of your appearance.



The emotional/mental symptoms of burnout

  • Wanting to withdraw from friends, family and the world (even if you’re normally an extrovert)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling like you are a failure
  • Doubting yourself. Having no confidence in yourself and your abilities
  • No motivation (even to do stuff you used to love)
  • Feeling negative and cynical
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling irritable and defensive.


So how can you prevent burnout?

Look out for the signs and symptoms of burnout and take a break

When you recognise you are exhibiting some of the signs and symptoms of burnout it’s time to take action.

I’m still someone who likes to work really hard. I find meaning and fulfillment from working and helping people. BUT I also now recognise when I need to take a break.  I know the signs and symptoms to look out for. I know when to take my foot off the accelerator.

I schedule in my holidays before I open up my calendar to clients. Fit your own oxygen mask first!


My top 10 tips to recover from burnout

This post is getting way too long, so hop on over to the next page to read My top 10 tips to recover from burnout.


Three easy ways to reduce your anxiety:

movement, breathing and your senses.

Sign up today to get access to the free eBook and monthly newsletters.

Related Blog Posts

What to do next

Want more breathing, movement and rest techniques?

Hop on over to the Resources page.