Burn out, how to recognise & how to heal from burn out

‘If you don’t want to burn out, quit living like you are on fire.’

In this blog I talk through how I didn’t even know I was experiencing burn out & what I learnt during & from this journey.

I’d noticed I was feeling increasingly fearful, extremely tired & disconnected from people & work. I was being highly critical of myself & felt frustrated that I was cancelling things I was meant to be doing. I wasn’t going to the gym & felt little excitement for things I ‘should’ feel excited about. The should’s & shouldn’t’s were really playing a part. I heard myself saying; “I just feel low” & “there is an undertone of sadness.” I’d also started having regular & prolonged headaches, often had a sense of my throat closing up plus an experience of not feeling present. I was also struggling with loud noise & bright lights. It all felt pretty tough. I had a sense me mental health was suffering & at the same time wasn’t fully aware.

Until the point my therapist said; “you are burnt out Carol,” followed by a close friend recognising the same symptoms, I hadn’t put any of it together. The friend in question recommend a book titled Burnt Out & a podcast episode by Brene Brown about burn out & stress. I listened to the podcast twice & felt relieved. I finally had a sense of what had been happening & acknowledged what I was experiencing. I was feeling really unwell with burn out. 

My hope in writing this is more people will become aware of what burn out is, how to recognise it earlier & how to respond to it in the right way. Plus how to gain a better idea of why & how it came about in the first place. From personal & professional experience not being able to recognise & respond can add another layer of despair to an already difficult experience.

Here’s some of what I’ve learnt about burn out, also known as Burnout Syndrome (BOS) 

  • Knowing your personality style & coping strategies can be really useful  
  • It essentially comes from us glossing over / doing too much of something / ignoring warning signs & can be similar to a panic attack in terms of the build up to it & our body eventually saying no we’re not doing this anymore
  • There are likely to be underlying messages, beliefs about oneself, coping strategies, an inner critic & similar within the ingredients that lead to burn out
  • Knowing what’s important you in life is helpful 
  • There are 3 components
  • There are 5 stages
  • Burn out is not just about recognising the symptoms & not just about work 
  • Most burn out strategies just focus on eliminating the stressor 
  • Burn out is also about the stress experience in the body
  • It can be really tricky to recognise when in it 
  • It can be chronic 
  • It can feel like anxiety & / or depression 
  • There may be physical psycho-somatic symptoms (body based sensations or symptoms related to emotions such as headaches)
  • There may be sensory difficulties such as with sound & light 
  • It can also affect thought process, memory,  language 
  • Recovery can be a long journey 
  • Stress is not bad for you, being stuck in the emotion is bad for you
  • Telling people & allowing yourself to acknowledge & actually feel unwell can really help 
  • We can learn some great lessons & some good can come of it 

Reading about the stages & components of burn out helped me understand more about what had led to it & to start the process of recovery & getting better. 

The 5 stages;

1) Honeymoon phase 

2) Onset of stress phase 

3) Chronic stress phase 

4) Burnout phase 

5) Habitual burnout phase

The 3 components;

1) Emotional exhaustion (energy depletion) 

2) Depersonalisation 

3) Lack of personal accomplishment

Part of my experience was recognising that I am in fact mostly an introvert…

I recharge by myself & I’d realised I hadn’t had enough time to recharge. For me it felt like I hadn’t been able to recharge my brain. I also hadn’t taken enough actual holiday days & extended holiday periods when I wasn’t working with proper time to ‘not think’. This meant feeling stressed & depleted was more likely. 

I also recognised other emotional factors such as a parent being in hospital, pushing myself to ‘do more’ at work, one of my dogs ageing & essentially becoming a carer for him. All of which had either felt stressful or I had just coped & pushed the stress aside. I also considered the lag effect of the pandemic, was there a global or societal burn out also happening on a wider scale & in addition to my personal experience? Having since spoken about burn out with a number of clients this definitely seemed like a possibility. 

What I also know about stress is that when we are stressed our coping strategies also ramp up.

If we have a drive (or drivers) to *please others, Be perfect, hurry up, be strong or try hard/work hard it’s highly probable that we will be doing more of these in times of stress. We might tell ourselves we need to slow down but doing it is another thing. This can make it even tougher to move out of it. That pesky ‘please others’ was definitely working overtime! Making decisions felt overwhelming, with a fear of making the wrong choice. I felt a sense of panic in my body, a need to get everything done at once. It was all there in some form or another. 

To mention depersonalisation. This can feel like an impaired & / or distorted perception of oneself, others or environment. It can manifest as a lack of empathy. It can also be an experience of feeling less real or numb. A person may feel detached from themselves & their identity, they may not recognise themselves. This can link in with feeling demotivated & isolated. For me this fitted for not feeling present & also feeling as if my voice & body were separate. 

Getting better involved recognition, telling friends & family, taking time out, having a proper break, giving myself permissions to not get things perfect or do everything at once. I chose when to see people on my terms, I moved away from ‘too much’ if it felt too much. I got outside  as much as possible & found talking to people outdoors so much easier. I watched trash tv! I went easy on myself. It was also about helping my body let go of the stress, using stress releasing techniques, going to the gym, hiking & similar. I took it slowly & recognised that some days I felt unwell again & that was okay. I also made some positive changes with work & home-life. Lots of permissions! It all took time however I can say now that I have learnt some really important stuff. It has also in turn helped a number of clients who have been in it. I’d realised as a therapist I wasn’t taught about burn out & now feel strongly that it should be spoken about more & alongside anxiety & depression. 

And that question… if I was given the chance to go back in time would I choose to not go through it again & forfeit what I have learnt & what has come from it or keep the experience? Hmmmm… I actually think I would keep the experience! 

Some really useful & advisable things to do if you recognise symptoms or burn out are; 

  • Ask yourself are you an introvert who recharges internally & by yourself or are you an extrovert who fills up externally through others?
  • Knowing what’s important to you in life, what do you really enjoy doing & ask yourself what are you doing about that? 
  • Remember that; ’if you don’t want to burn out, quit living like you are on fire’ (Brene Brown) I would suggest saying this over a few times in your head or out-loud & maybe even write it down somewhere or set as a reminder on your phone, it’s a great one to remind ourselves of.
  • Remember that strategies that do with stressors have little or nothing to deal with the stress experience in the body & so we are left in a state of burn out if we just try & deal with the problem or ‘finish that assignment’ without acknowledging & responding to the body experience. The body understands body language, not work language. Maybe you enjoy running, dancing, singing, jumping, humming?! 
  • You could try a technique in which you tense & tighten all muscles & limbs in body & hold for as long as you feel is needed & then let go. I find doing this several times over really feels as though it completes a cycle & releases pent up stress or emotions. It can give our body permission to let go of the stress. 
  • Some professional recommend practicing the opposite action, for example if your day is busy practice slowing down. Or if you are isolated, reach out to people. 
  • Ask yourself have you stopped yourself from fully feeling & experiencing the stress? Have you said to yourself I shouldn’t feel stressed or said to yourself that everyone else is coping fine & has it under control? Have you also stopped yourself from feeling other emotions such as sadness or grief? Or even if you are giving yourself time to cry that perhaps you also have a belief that your feelings are valid or important? This could mean you are stuck in several emotional cycles. 
  • Spend some time understanding those underlying messages, beliefs about oneself, coping strategies, your inner critic etc & the aspects that you glossed over & added to you doing the too much or the not enough
  • And give yourself tons of permissions, time & compassion. Perhaps do for yourself what you do for others?
  • Ultimately your body is trying to give you information & self-reflection could help figure some of this out. 


In terms of resources take from them what you will & leave behind what doesn’t resonate. Personally I’m not sure about the women v men angle in the podcast , however I found the rest of it really useful. 

– Podcast episode titled ‘Burn Out & How to Complete the Stress Cycle’ with Brene Brown & guest hosts Emily & Amelia Nagoski on her podcast ‘Unlocking Us’. 

– A book co-written by the two sisters from the above podcast episode called Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle, by Emily & Amelia Nagoski.

– And also a Ted Talk by the same two sisters that you can watch on YouTube;

* Injunctions & counter injunctions. Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy theory