signs you’re reaching burnout and how to deal with it

Burnout can sometimes creep up on us without any warning. But if we don’t know the signs, we may dismiss them as something else, or ignore them completely. Here’s how to spot the signs of burnout in yourself and the people around you

Everyone has different stress thresholds, which means what one person finds stressful another person might not. 

That doesn’t mean the person feeling stressed or burned out should keep pushing themselves, though.

If you – or someone you know – is exhibiting the signs of burnout listed below, it’s time to look at ways you can reduce your/their feeling of overwhelm.

the signs of burnout

brain fog

Because our brains are worrying about so much, it can be difficult to think clearly. This is called brain fog. You may find it harder to find the right word for something, understand instructions given by your boss, or complete basic tasks.

joint pain

Our brains interpret physical and emotional pain in the same place – the amygdala. This means that prolonged emotional pain can lead to physical pain, too.

You may feel sharp, shooting pains, or a constant ache throughout your body. It could also manifest as pulsing or coursing pain, pins and needles, or weak muscles.

Over time, if left untreated, this can lead to chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.

fatigue or lowered energy levels

Is it any wonder you have lower, or non-existent, energy levels if you’re burned out?

sleeping more

Feeling fatigued can mean you want to sleep longer, especially as you try to regain the energy you lost from working so hard.

lack of motivation

When you’re burned out, it can be a challenge to do even things that you want to do.

Sometimes, tasks may start to feel futile, so you wonder why you’re bothering at all. You may struggle to get out of bed in the morning.


The decreased energy and lack of sleep that comes with burnout can mean we operate with a shorter fuse and become easily irritated.


Being pushed to the brink can lead to a feeling of detachment to everything around you.

It may be that things you used to enjoy no longer appeal to you, or, in more serious cases, you stop caring about yourself and those around you, too. This could lead to neglecting basic things like personal hygiene.

digestive issues

Our digestive system can be heavily affected by our body’s fight or flight response.

Issues such as diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, and indigestion are some of the ways stress can affect our digestive systems.

ongoing anxiety or a feeling of dread

A constant feeling of dread, but no apparent reason for that dread, can be a sign of burnout or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD can be exacerbated, or caused, by long-term stress and burnout.

being unable to switch off

Twenty-first century life already makes it hard to switch off. The difference when it comes to burnout is that you may find you worry about work, or whatever else is causing you stress, even when doing fun activities like family days out.

It’s a challenge to get your brain to focus and be in the moment because it’s always worrying about what could happen, or anticipating the next threat.

feeling of overwhelm, even if there isn’t much going on

When you hit a certain point, you may find that you feel overwhelmed – even if there isn’t much going on. You may have a lighter workload than usual, but feel like you don’t have enough time to get everything done because you don’t have the same energy that you usually do.

“We feel supported in a way that wouldn’t have happened without caba. My wife and I have been able to stay together and look after each other. caba has enabled us to have a safe home, to stay independent and stay together.”


caba client

how to deal with burnout

slow down

One of the main reasons we get burned out is because we’re doing too much at once. It’s ok to slow down for a little bit. This could come in the form of reducing your workload, cutting back on commitments, or taking more ‘me’ time.


Meditation really helps slow our brains down by forcing us to concentrate on the moment. It isn’t about preventing thoughts from happening, or clearing our minds – it’s about exercising our brains so that we can concentrate more, feel calmer, and stay in the moment.

write about it

Sometimes it’s easier to write about how we’re feeling than talk about it. Writing can be an incredibly helpful and safe way to process and let go of pent-up emotions.

talk to your manager

See what they can do to decrease your workload, help with challenging colleagues, or assist with other sources of work-related stress.

Is work a big cause of stress for you? Here are six ways to cope with work overload and reduce stress.

talk to your GP

Your GP can offer you a variety of treatments including counselling and medication. If you have underlying or undiagnosed health conditions, they may also be able to refer you to a specialist to help you get expert, tailored advice.

talk to a friend

Great friends should never be underestimated. It’s not about that friend having answers – sometimes just knowing you’re not alone, and that your friend has your back, is enough to release some of the strain on your brain.

If you don’t feel like you can talk to a friend, see if you can find in-person or online communities of people with similar situations to yours. These could be regular meetups, Facebook groups, or somewhere else like-minded people can offer moral support and advice.

If you’re supporting someone who’s dealing with burnout, check out our guide on how to support them.

“My husband and I are both chartered accountants and I practiced at one of the big London firms for a long time. My mental health had been vulnerable on a number of occasions over the years.”


caba client

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We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW)1, ACA students2, ICAEW staff members3, and the family and carers of members and students4

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
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