6 Visible Signs of Burnout (and What To Do About It)

The 6 visible signs of burnout might be obvious to you yet not at all in your conscious mind. This post is designed to help you become aware of those signs and determine a course of action to remedy them.

But right now, picture this.

It’s Friday afternoon and you are working on a project that’s due in less than two hours. Then you hear those kids playing and screaming outside your window and it’s all you can hear – they’re impossible to ignore – and you just can’t focus.

Your heart rate goes up and tiny beads of sweat form on your forehead.

Your jaw tightens and you can feel your stomach clenching with anxiety. 

Normally this wouldn’t bother you but today it feels like some one staged a rock concert in your head and took the remote away.

This, my friend, is what stress feels like.

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

And while moments like these are considered ok, studies suggest that today these feelings have become the norm, rather than the exception. The problem is that modern life exposes us to moderate but chronic stress – constantly.

It’s the day and age of multi-tasking, juggling too many things, moving too quickly, being bombarded with stimulation leads to burn out!

If you are living at this pace, your adrenals are going to burn out. And 75% of Australian’s surveyed have admitted that stress adversely affected their physical health. 

Although we are talking about 6 visible signs of burnout, the chances are, there is a good chance that you haven’t even recognised them in yourself.

So, let’s look and how they arise, what those signs of burnout are, and some easy strategies to help reduce stress and therefore, burnout. 

How Chronic Stress Leads to Burnout

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

Stress comes from within you. And with enough stimulus, stress simply adds up. It works something like this:

  • You notice that things no longer seem to flow as easily as they used to.
  • After a while you experience problems focusing and/or with memory, which lead to more stress.
  • Burnout symptoms start to manifest (read more below).
  • Then, you become stressed because you want to work against these symptoms. That, in itself, is stressful!

Burnout can manifest in symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, insistent food cravings and weight gain.

The stress of burnout can also make you more susceptible to illness.

How does all this happen? Partly, through an increase of cortisol.

About Cortisol – ‘the Stress Hormone’

Cortisol is a hormone made by your adrenal glands. It interacts with other systems to regulate a range of important functions in your body. Cortisol levels tend to vary according to time of day (normally, highest in the early morning and lowest around midnight).

But add other daily stressors and your cortisol is pumped up all day, by:

  • daily emotional stress
  • exposure to blue screens from mobile devices
  • exposure to computer screens and TV
  • poor food choices
  • lack of sleep
  • caffeine intake.

All those things adds to your total cortisol load. That’s where the problems start.

A Big Problem

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

Let’s look at where cortisol fits into the equation:

Unhealthy lifestyle (e.g. food, drink, sleep, rest) + a poorly regulated stress system (e.g. constant stress)

= increased secretion of cortisol, catecholamines, and interleukin-6, with concurrently elevated insulin concentrations 

+ development of central obesity, insulin resistance, and the metabolic syndrome – and possibly, anxiety and/or worse depression.

Basically, cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy. 

It also stimulates insulin release and maintenance of blood sugar levels. The end result of these actions can be an increase in appetite.

Excess circulating insulin means your body starts storing fat – typically on the belly. 

You can see how the downward spiral forms!

So, What Are the 6 Visible Signs of Burnout ?

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

Sign #1: You Drive Yourself, are Time Poor and Often Stressed

You find yourself doing everything for everyone, and your to-do list is your mantra. You can’t relax until your to-do list is ticked off (but you know it never will be, because you keep adding to it).

Or maybe, you are super busy helping everyone else, at your own expense.

Being time poor and stressed means it’s hard to stick with your healthy habits – and it’s hard to set boundaries and say no! So ask yourself:

  • Are you driving yourself too hard?
  • Are you setting healthy boundaries for yourself?
  • Are you eating to fill an emotional need due to high stress or grabbing fast food simply because there’s no time to prepare something healthy?

Sign #2: You Crave Alcohol to Help You Relax

More and more, you find yourself turning to alcohol to help you relax, or to get to sleep.

Yep, stress drinking is a thing. It can be a sign of excess stress and burnout.

Sign #3: You Have Annoying Food Cravings 

Are you food cravings compromising your healthy habits?

Are you constantly hungry and craving specific foods, like sugar, carbs, bread, fatty foods, salt and caffeine…and alcohol?

  • Chronically elevated cortisol can cause intense hunger and food cravings due to metabolic derangement.
  • One of the ways we compensate for high adrenal hormone levels is to eat more sugar.
  • If you eat a diet high in carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises, leading to a rise in insulin, which causes the blood sugar to fall, leading to a “crash,” with hunger, cravings, a drop in energy, and less mental clarity.

Sign #4: You Are Growing A ‘Stress Belly’ 

Research shows that high levels of cortisol can encourage you to gain weight.

According to some researchers, chronic stress can lead to too much sugar in the bloodstream, with the excess sugar then being converted to fat and deposited in the abdominal area.

  • Cortisol amps up the appetite for quick energy (namely, carbohydrates and sugar), triggering cravings and overeating.
  • Cortisol also puts excess glucose in the bloodstream. When it’s not burned off through exercise (the equivalent of sprinting away from or fighting off the perceived attacker), it gets stored as fat in your body’s tissues.
  • You tend to gain weight because cortisol is making you want to eat more.
  • But it’s also making you more likely to hold on to that food as fat, especially as abdominal fat.

Sign #5: You Are Always Exhausted, Irritable and Sick

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

Physical exhaustion is one of the earliest warnings signs of burnout. Pay attention if you’re constantly tired, despite getting enough rest. Ask yourself:

  • Do you struggle getting out of bed in the morning?
  • Do you find yourself struggling to keep your eyes open, even when you’re out with friends?
  • Do you reach for caffeinated energy drinks mid-morning: this indicates that your adrenals may not be making enough adrenal hormones in the morning.

If you let stress get the best of you for too long and you may find that your immune system is compromised.

  • Cortisol partially shuts down the immune system when levels are high.
  • It interferes with T-cell production and function, making your body more susceptible to invading pathogens.
  • Cortisol production may go through the roof, your body may not make enough, or you may make a ton of it at night when you’re trying to sleep and nothing in the morning. Ugh.

Sign #6: There’s Not Enough Fun in Life, So You Feel Down and Out

You’re always on the go so there is never enough time for fun. As a result, your work/life balance is out of kilter. Not enough fun!

What happens then? You get frustrated, irritable. You seek quick-fixes of comfort and pleasure. You seek relief.

Then, you may find yourself reaching for food as comfort when you are stressed in your search for relaxation, peace and calm – or seeking simple ‘sweet pleasure’.

Why sweets or carbs?

  • A recent groundbreaking study showed that foods high in fat and carbohydrate may actually fight stress by reducing cortisol levels in the body (Dallman et al. 2003).
  • Other researchers have found that ingesting carbohydrate foods releases the amino acid tryptophan into the brain, which then manufactures serotonin, a chemical that imparts feelings of calmness, peace and well-being (Wurtman 1986).

What You Can Do About It

Tip #1 – Schedule “Me Time”

Schedule time for you every day to take a class, read or engage in some other form of self-nurturing that doesn’t involve food.

  • Find your OWN pause button.
  • There are many pause buttons you can push.
  • Which one will you choose?

Tip #2 – Have a Warm Bath

6 Visible Signs of Burnout | Downsize Me

This can decrease the stress response in your body.

  • Add two cups of Epsom salt, half a cup of baking soda, 10 drops of lavender oil to your bath, and soak for 20 minutes.
  • Lavender lowers cortisol and helps to balance your whole hormonal system

Tip #3 – Practice Mind-Body Techniques

There are many techniques you can try, like:

  • Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, meditation, breathing techniques
  • Guided Meditation
  • Journal writing and other forms of self-expression are effective stress busters.

Tip #4 – Practice “Regular Rhythm”

Rhythm is your key, because your hormones are balanced in rhythms. These are the rhythms in life that help to reset your natural balance, such as:

  • Waking at the same time every day, going to bed at the same time every day
  • Eating at the same time every day
  • Take natural breaks when you are tired.
  • Your body function best on ultradian rhythm cycles of 90 minutes of activity punctuated by a few minutes of rest or zoning out

Tip #5 – Get Moving and Grooving

Mountain Biking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Exercise is your powerful tamer of emotional stress and burn out symptoms.

  • Your fitness program should include cardio activity and strength training to help you lose body fat, build muscle, build confidence, alleviate stress and boost self-esteem. (Work with a personal trainer if you need help developing a program).

  • Your morning walks will be very beneficial as well as a light jog or little bike ride.

  • Get your butt out in the fresh air to get natural light that affects your pineal gland and helps reset your brain and the stress response.

Tip #6 – Eat Healthfully

When a craving strikes, consciously choose a healthier substitute.

  • You will benefit from eating healthy meals and snacks at regular intervals this will keep your blood sugar levels in check and prevent hunger.
  • Keep your sugar and flour to a minimum while eating plenty of healthy fats and good protein (grass-fed meats, fish, legumes, nuts).
  • This will help keep your blood sugar on an even keel and support good energy, mental clarity and stable mood

Tip #7 – Get Support From Health and Wellness Professional

A Health & Wellness Coach may be able to help you handle any emotional or eating issues that surface during a stressful period in your life.

Reaching out for help can be hard, but a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s an opportunity to get out of your downward spiral and back into an healthy, happy upward spiral.

What do you do to deal with burnout? Let me know in the comments below. 

Irena Geller

Irena Geller

Mind-Body-Weight Coach

Irena is passionate about helping busy professionals crack the food cravings code so they can take back control of their weight, body and life.