You wake up feeling almost as tired as when you went to bed. You dread the thought of going to the job you once loved. An hour into the work day and you feel like you’ve run a marathon. You feel irritable, impatient, and overwhelmed by things that never would have bothered you in the past. You’re mentally sluggish, emotionally drained, and you’ve lost your passion for the things you once loved.

And you can’t seem to muster the energy to care.

Sound familiar? You might be suffering from burnout.

It happened to me in my first career. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me, although it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.

At the time, I was a feature writer on contract with several business magazines, striving to build my portfolio and career. A high achiever born into a family of high achievers, I wore my workaholism like a badge of honor.

I never turned down an assignment and rarely took a day off. I raced to meet one deadline after another, fueled by adrenaline, a love for my work, and the determination to succeed.

The good news? I had more contracts than I could handle, and I was in love with my work.

The bad news? I burned out.

The changes were gradual. The same deadlines that once energized me began to overwhelm me. I felt like I was running on empty. I needed several cups of strong coffee to jumpstart my day, and I craved sweets, carbs and salty snacks.

I ignored the symptoms and kept up the frenzied pace, working longer hours to compensate for my lack of energy and focus. I seemed to pick up one cold after another and I was always tired. At the end of every day, I would collapse on my bed in exhaustion, only to lie awake for hours with fretful thoughts swirling through my mind.

I found myself irritable and overwhelmed by minor problems that would never have bothered me in the past. My creativity and motivation vanished, and I lost passion for the work I once loved.

The turning point for me came when a friend recommended I see a doctor who specialized in preventative medicine.

His diagnosis? It was simple: stress and poor lifestyle habits.

“Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of career women and men with the same problem,” he said. “If you keep up this pace and don’t change your lifestyle, you’ll have far more serious health problems down the road. It won’t be easy and there’s no quick fix. I can tell you what to do, but you’re going to have to work at it.”

I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing, so I took his advice. I had to make radical lifestyle changes. It took time, discipline, and patience. But finally, after a few months, I began to feel like myself again. I regained my energy, motivation, and passion for my work.

What is burnout? It’s a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by multiple, excessive stressors over an extended period of time. It’s what happens when prolonged stress is not counterbalanced with the physical, emotional, and spiritual things we need to thrive.

You don’t just wake up one day suffering from burnout. The cumulative effect of chronic stress is called “stress sensitization.”

Little by little, biochemical changes exhaust your adrenal glands and other hormones involved in the body’s stress response. Eventually, your body and brain react to minor everyday stresses the same way they would have responded to a major stress in the past. You might be running late for an unimportant meeting, but your body and brain react as if you were experiencing a major crisis.

It’s a slow process, which is why many people don’t realize they are heading towards a crash until it’s too late.

Warning signs

In the initial stages, most people feel driven and hyperactive, restless, and incapable of relaxing. Emotions tend to be over-reactive. You become more impatient, irritable, tense, and anxious. Sleep becomes a problem – you have trouble falling asleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.

As burnout progresses, you gradually lose your focus, motivation, and creativity. You disengage emotionally. Instead of feeling driven and hyperactive, you start to feel emotionally numb, empty, and apathetic.

Minor problems seem overwhelming. You may be moody, irritable and impatient. You may struggle to concentrate and make decisions at work. In time, you may lose the motivation and passion you once had for your life calling.

Chronic stress affects everything from mood to sleep, energy and memory. It weakens the immune system, exhausts the adrenal glands, and disrupts other hormones involved in the body’s stress response.

If you think you’re on the path to burnout, don’t wait until you crash to make changes to your lifestyle. Eat healthy, get exercise, and be sure to take whatever time you need to get refreshed physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Want to know more about burnout? See my book, BREATHE -Burnout Symptoms, prevention, & recovery:
6 steps to healing your body and brain from adrenal exhaustion, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and the loss of passion and drive:
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