The signs of burnout

Burnout.  Not something you have to worry about right? The type of stress you have is just something you have to deal with in your line of work or current situation perhaps?  How about the fact that you’re struggling to get to sleep or waking up almost every night? Or perhaps you’ve noticed your weight is creeping up and up despite pounding the treadmill every morning before work?

These could all be signs that you’re heading towards exhaustion. Burnout is on the increase and unfortunately, because we’re now living in a highly stressed environment, it can be difficult to spot.  It can also have drastic effects on health and happiness. Unfortunately, it’s often not addressed until it reaches a critical breaking point.

Spot the signs

Some stress can be beneficial for our mental and physical wellbeing – it makes us more alert, energised and resourceful. But over time, being chronically stressed can start to have a negative effect on the body and mind. It can lead to mood swings, anxiety or anger, wanting to withdraw from others, loss or gain of appetite and weight loss or gain, digestive issues, skin conditions, body pain and sleep troubles. If this chronic level of stress continues for a prolonged time, it can lead to burnout – where you are so exhausted, that you don’t have the energy to perform simple physical or mental tasks.

Burnout is often finally recognised when a person breaks down in some form – whether mentally or physically.

Spotting warning signs such as constantly feeling tired, lacking any motivation in or out of work, unexplainable weight loss or gain, low mood or mood swings and digestive complaints (to name just a few) is the first step to stopping the rot.

Don’t leave it too late

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to managing stress, and looking after your physical health often goes hand in hand with better emotional health and resilience.

1. Exercising regularly but at a low or moderate intensity is a great way to boost mood and improve motivation – beware of very high intensity workouts that can increase levels of the stress hormones and leave you feeling ‘wired’.

2. Paying attention to the foods you eat will also help to keep your stress levels in check – magnesium, one of nature’s best calming nutrients is found in high levels in dark green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Eating plenty of lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates like oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice will increase the release of serotonin but watch your caffeine intake as this blunts the release of this feel good endorphin.

3. Make sleep priority – avoid the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mentality. You may get by with this motto for a short while, but soon enough it’ll show up on your body, your mood and on your health – symptoms like weight gain, hair loss, skin conditions, poor focus and loss of sex drive are all signs of sleep deprivation. And in the long term, sleep deprivation will reduce your life expectancy. Not everyone needs 8 hours, but 7-8 is the optimum for most people.

Get help

Don’t be embarrassed about asking for help for yourself, or seeking help for others. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign that you’re strong enough to recognise when you’re not feeling quite right. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings with someone you know, visit  for more information on how to get help and support.

Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)