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How To Know When You're Burnt Out?

Long story short: if you're wondering if you're burnt out, chances are it's a good idea to keep tuning into your body because it's letting you know that something's up. I 10/10 invite you to check out "Burnout: The Secret To Unlocking The Stress Cycle" by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA to learn about burnout in depth. It's full of resources, tools, and reframes that can significantly improve our quality of life. In this week's article, you'll find some of the highlights from the book and a bit of a personal story. In next week's article, we'll chat about how we can move through and actively recover from different types of burnout.


Based on the research by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975 shared in the book, "burnout was defined by 3 components: 1. emotional exhaustion —the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; 2. depersonalization — the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and 3. decreased sense of accomplishment — an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes a difference." The reason I share these concepts instead of the World Health Organization's definition of burnout is because these go beyond hyper-focusing on workplace related stress alone.


Yes, if you're someone chronically experiencing high stress at work, you can absolutely experience burnout. *And*, if you're a person living with a chronic illness, a racialized individual, a woman, a queer person, a trans person, someone dealing with mental health concerns, and/or someone experiencing houselessness, for example, then simply moving through the world comes with a very high dose of chronic stress that goes beyond workplace stress. Why? Because we do not exist in a vacuum. We exist in a broader society impacted by different types of violence, which show up in our bodies, stories, and experiences in unexpected ways. Forgetting this can leave us asking: "why do I feel this way?" For example, it can also leave us forgetting that, if you were alive in 2020 and now, our nervous systems have been experiencing some form of high, chronic stress on top of whatever else we might've been dealing with before.


Great... How might it show up today in real, every day life, though? The best way I've found to describe it is: knowing what you 'need to do' to be well and feeling like you can't mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and/or financially access those tools. The best metaphor I've found is: imagine a set of keys, a dark room, and a closed door. The keys represent the tools that you already know or imagine can help you. For example, going for a walk, journaling, connecting with your community, exercise, going to therapy, accessing coaching, and/or taking time off work. The dark room represents whatever type of overwhelm you're experiencing. The closed door represents your bridge back to feeling like yourself or like you can find and actually use your keys consistently.


Now, have you ever 'lost' your keys fully knowing that they're somewhere in the room? Imagine knowing that you lost *your* keys in a dark room. You know what you need to do to 'open' the door and feel well: you 'just' need to use your keys. Still, you can't find them... no matter how hard you try or how much you shame yourself into searching for them more effectively. You can't access the support you need nor the rest and recovery periods that we all require to be well. That's what burnout felt like for me. I described not being able to find my keys, even though I fully knew what they were, how much they helped, and how much using them mattered. At the time, that description helped a friend realize that she was having a hard time finding her own.


If you're there now or if you've been there before, please know that you're not alone. Most importantly, please know it's not a personal or moral failing. It says more about the work cultures and social structures you're navigating than about your real or perceived individual shortcomings. We're rewarded when we overwork and when we struggle in silence. We're rewarded when we don't ask too many questions about why some people face more obstacles than others. We're rewarded when we act like living through the past three years has been like living through any regular three years. We're rewarded when we blame ourselves for not getting up early enough, for pushing through and pushing past our bodies' natural cues, and for blaming others for their own circumstances.


For coaching support in actively preventing and/or recovering from different types of burnout, let's connect and see if we're a good fit!

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