Christian Living

Spiritual Life

7 Signs You’re More Than Just Tired … You’re Burned Out

Ever wonder if you're burning out?  You’re not alone. 

70% of adults in their twenties and thirties say they’ve experienced some symptoms of burnout. A recent Deloitte study revealed that 82% of senior executives finish work every day feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. 

Maybe you're right on the edge of the cliff right now. Or maybe you're in free fall.

So how do you know if you're more than just tired? How do you know if you're burning out?

Fifteen years ago, I entered into the darkest period of my life. People had always warned me I would burn out. I thought I could prove them wrong. And usually I did. I would get tired—out of balance—but when I saw the edge, I could always pull myself back.

That approach worked just fine until the summer of 2006, when it didn't.

In that fateful summer, I found the edge, and as I was falling, I knew this time I couldn't pull myself back.

As a Christian, I kept praying and reading my Bible. I never lost my faith (I just couldn't feel it).

But I knew something inside me had broken, and I didn't know how to fix it.

When you’re perpetually overwhelmed, if you don’t declare a finish line, your body will. 

I was a pastor at the time, but in caring for others I had not adequately cared for myself. 

With the love and assistance of a great wife, board, leadership team, close friends, a counselor, and a very gracious God, I began to recover.

The good news is, there is life after burnout. Abundant life. 

But back to the original question: what about you? Are you burning out? 

Here are seven things I personally experienced as I burned out.

I hope these signs can help you see the edge before you careen past it.

1. Your passion fades

Everybody struggles with passion from time to time, but burnout moves you into a place of sustained motivation loss.

At one time, you likely had a deep passion for what you did, for your family, for your calling. But when I burned out, my passion set like the sun.

2. Your main emotion is 'numbness'—you no longer feel the highs or the lows

If you're healthy, you feel things. You experience highs and lows.

When I burned out, I couldn't feel either properly anymore.

If someone was celebrating the birth of a new child, I couldn't feel happy. I just felt numb.

If someone was sick or fell into trouble, I couldn't feel for them either. I just felt numb.

Burnout numbs your heart, and this was actually one of the earliest signs for me that the edge was near.

3. Little things make you disproportionately angry

It's not that burned out people feel zero emotion, but I know when I burned out, the emotions I felt were often just wrong.

One early sign I was heading for burnout was that little things started to set me off. Something (like a missed deadline) might be a 3 out of 10 on the problem scale, but I would react like it was an 11. That's never good.

Treating small things like they are big things is a sign something deeper is wrong.

4. Everybody drains you 

People are a mixed bag for sure. Some energize you. Some don't. I get that. On this side of heaven, that's life.

But when I burned out, I realized nobody energized me anymore. Not even my family, my friends or my leadership team.

In my head I knew they were good people, but my heart couldn't feel it.

When nobody energizes you, they're not the problem. You are.

5. You can't think straight

When you're burning out, your heart messes with your head; you lose the ability to think straight.

I remember having read enough and listened to enough about mid-life crises and burnout to know that people make stupid decisions when they're burnt out.

The brain fog you feel not only makes day to day function difficult, it can lead you to making decisions you’ll later regret—like quitting your job or having an affair. 

When I was burning out, some days, simply avoiding stupid was a win.

6.  You're self-medicating

Many people turn to self-medicating to numb the pain as they slide into burnout.

Whether that's overeating, overworking, sexual addictions, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, you've chosen a path of self-medication over self-care.

I avoided drinking, drugs or sexual escape. My poison was, ironically, more work, which just spirals things downward.

People who are burning out almost always choose self-medication over self-care.

7. Sleep and time off no longer refuel you

If you're just tired, a good night's sleep or a week or two off will help most healthy people bounce back with fresh energy.

If you're burning out, sleep and time off no longer refuel you. You could have a month off when you're burnt out and not feel any difference.

I took three weeks off during my summer of burn out, and I felt worse at the end than when I started. Not being refueled when you take time off is a major warning sign that you're burning out.

So Are You More Than Just Tired?

So how do you know if you're burning out?

If you want further clarity, I’ve developed a free burnout assessment that only takes a few minutes to complete. 

Second, I’d love to help you stop being perpetually overwhelmed, overworked and overcommitted. I wrote my new book, At Your Best, to help you do just that. It will give you simple, proven strategies to get time, energy and priorities working for you, not against you. It’s designed to help you get out and stay out of burnout. 

Copyright © September 2021 Carey Nieuwhof, author of At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor (Waterbrook, on sale 9/14/21). Used with permission.

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