burnout: what it looks like

Burnout is when we feel overwhelmed emotionally and physically, so much so, it becomes almost impossible to function in our work or personal life or both. Burnout affects people in different ways, but there are common signs to look out for. Discover what they are by reading this article.

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Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, so much so, it becomes almost impossible to function in our work or personal life or both.  

When life gets too much, the smallest of tasks, like going for a shower or sending an email can feel as though you’re climbing a mountain when you are feeling burnt out. And after completing the task, it can leave you feeling drained all over again. 

Earlier this year our research showed 55% of accountants admitted that they were suffering from stress and burnout. Heavy workloads, long hours, complex work with no room for error, high pressure environments were among the main triggers. 

why does burnout happen?

Today’s technology-driven, always-on culture is contributing to more-and-more of us feeling burnt out. Constantly checking our inboxes the second they ping and always being contactable via our mobiles and other devices means it can be difficult to switch off. All of which causes increasing pressure and demands within the accountant community

What’s more, having to juggle working from home with looking after the kids and other family members, can blur the lines between work and home. And when you throw today’s 21st century always-on culture into the mix, it can become increasingly difficult to stop functioning at a million miles an hour.

“I felt that there was quite a bit of stress in my life. I had a lot of weight on my shoulders as I was in the process of building a team. I also felt that perhaps the way I was going about things wasn't the most time-effective. I was working day and night, yet still not achieving what I felt I should be.”


caba client

10 signs of burnout  

Stress is often an early warning sign of burnout and one of the main symptoms. But here are a few other signs to look out for in your day-to-day life:   

1. Brain fog 

Because our brains are worrying about so much, it can impact our ability to think clearly. This can lead to you struggling to understand instructions from your manager and complete basic tasks. 

2. Joint pain 

Our brains interpret physical and emotional pain in the same place – the amygdala. This means that prolonged emotional pain can also lead to physical pain, ranging from sharp, shooting pains to constant aching and pulsing pains.

3. Tiredness 

Feeling fatigued because your energy levels are low can result in you wanting to sleep longer because you’re trying to regain the energy you’ve lost from working so hard. What’s more, operating with less energy can also be more draining in itself.

4. Poor motivation 

When you’re burnt out, it can be a challenge to do the things you usually don’t mind doing. You may find you’re struggling to get of bed in the morning, finding cooking a chore and avoiding team meetings and work outings.   

5. Irritability  

Low energy levels and the lack of sleep brought on by burnout can also result in people generally having less patience and getting aggravated by things that wouldn’t usually irritate them

6. Detached outlook 

Being pushed to the brink can lead to feeling detached from 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 (e.g. personal hygiene) and those around you. 

7. 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 impact our digestive system.

8. Anxiety  

A constant feeling of dread, and there being no apparent reason for that dread, can be a sign of burnout or Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The disorder can be aggravated or caused by long-term stress and burnout.  

9. Constant overdrive  

You may find yourself worrying about work, even when you’re taking part in fun activities, such as family days out. When you can’t switch off, it’s not uncommon for you to constantly be worrying about what could happen, even when it might not… 

10. Feeling overwhelmed  

When you hit a certain point, you may find that you feel overwhelmed emotionally, even if there isn’t much going on. You may have a lighter workload than usual, but are struggling to get through it because you have less energy and motivation than usual.

noticing these signs?  

If you’re feeling like life is starting to spiral out of control, it’s important that you intervene and make changes early on. The earlier you tackle the issue the less it will impact your wellbeing. That’s why we’re here. To help you find the right support for you. Whether that be talking to our registered counsellors or joining our safe and confidential support community to chat to others going through similar experiences.

You can also sign up to our free, dedicated Managing Burnout Course, which will provide you with practical guidance on the best way to manage your mental health and avoid burnout. 

For more practical advice on preventing burnout, read burnout: how to prevent it (10 tips) 

find out about our emotional support

There are everyday and exceptional things that affect us all at some point in our lives. We're here for you. We can arrange for you to receive counselling sessions to help you work through any difficulties you're facing. Our support is free, impartial and confidential.

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further reading

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burnout: how to prevent it

Our research shows that burnout is on the rise, with over 50% of accountants admitting that they suffer from stress and burnout. Taking the time to implement more self-care measures into our everyday routines is pivotal to helping prevent it.

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burnout at work: advice from a mental health expert

Read more from our mental health expert, Kirsty Lilley, as she shares her thoughts and advice on how chartered accountants and ICAEW members can prevent and address burnout at work.

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Sleep struggles can cause lasting effects on your mental health. Our expert guidance can help you improve your understanding.

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your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  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 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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