Silent Burnout: How to Detect and Overcome It

“You owe yourself the love that you so freely give to other people.”


Dragging your feet to work, calling in sick frequently, lacking the energy to complete tasks, being irritable with clients and coworkers, and an overall feeling of disillusionment with your job. These are the tell-tale signs of burnout.

As a trained psychologist, I thought I had a good grasp on what burnout was. Yet, for years I worked tirelessly in corporate America and failed to realize I was burned out…BIG TIME.

My burnout didn’t have the same look as the classic definition. I wasn’t falling behind on tasks. I maintained a positive outlook to keep me focused at work. I didn’t call in sick frequently. I worked at Mach 10 speed to keep up with everyday demands. And I was really good at it.

Secretly, though, I was exhausted. The stress and tension was so bad that it affected my memory. I used to have photographic memory as a girl. Now, if I don’t write an appointment or task down, it doesn’t exist. While I was laser-focused on what I needed to accomplish at work, personally I had no focus. I didn’t know where I was going in life and what I really wanted.

Looking back, I often wondered to myself, “How did I miss the signs? Why did I let it get so bad?” But the answer is simple. My burnout looked nothing like the textbook description.

For many people like myself, there is a silent type of burnout—one that may not be quite as obvious to themselves and others.

After years of researching this topic and speaking to colleagues, friends, and family, I’ve come to realize that this type of burnout often seems to affect high achievers—people who are highly motivated, driven, and tend to succeed at everything they do. Why?

According to Psychology Today, “high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they’re working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel—all of which make them ripe for burnout.”

Wondering if you could be at risk for ‘silent burnout? Here are some markers:

  • You’re incredibly productive at meeting all your responsibilities, but secretly, you feel like you’re running on fumes.
  • You’re accomplishing great things in life, but feel disconnected from the joy of it.
  • Saying “no” is hard for you. You keep saying “yes” to everyone else and have little to no energy left for you.
  • When faced with an extra hour of free time, you choose to get ahead on finishing up the slide deck for your big presentation or catching up on work emails rather than taking a relaxing bath or going for a peaceful walk.
  • At dinner with friends, you get distracted in the conversation thinking about all the things you have to get done that week.
  • Even though you’re eating healthy and working out, your body feels tired and out of sorts.
  • You wouldn’t dare tell anyone at work you’re exhausted for fear of being seen as a failure or not strong enough for the job.

Burnout doesn’t just happen overnight—it happens little by little, day by day. If you have a demanding lifestyle where your ‘normal’ is being hyper-busy, it’s easy to ignore the signs or miss them altogether. This is why it’s so important to take the time to be silent; to truly listen to what your mind and body are telling you.

One of my favorite ways to achieve this is by meditating at work…and, no, I don’t mean that you should fold your legs and chant “Om” during your next conference meeting! Rather, make it a point to take a short walk outside of your building every day—even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Nature is magically healing. It’s like pressing the reset button on your day.

While you’re on your walk, check in with how you’re doing. If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, can’t concentrate, lack an appetite, get sick frequently, or feel anxious or depressed, these are ways your body is trying to say you’re at risk for burnout.

So, what do you do if you’re on the path to burnout?

The key is to correct the problem sooner than later. If left alone too long, burnout can literally “infect” everything in your life—from your work to home life, health, emotional well-being, and much more.

The first place to start is with the WHY. Why do you feel burned out? Everyone suffers from burnout for different reasons. It could be that you’re burned out because of a micromanaging boss, or work too many hours and don’t get enough time with your loved ones. It could be that your job isn’t fulfilling you and it’s time for a change. The only way you can determine your why is through self-reflection.

In addition to your daily work meditation, make it a point to keep a work journal. Ask yourself what stressed you out that day and why. Over time, you’ll come to see patterns and have a better understanding of what’s contributing to your burnout.

Once you come up with a list of triggers, take action to find practical solutions. For example, if you’re stressed that work is keeping you from being with your family, ask your company if you can change your work hours or work from home once a week. You’d be surprised how simple changes can have huge results.

In addition to this exercise, I can’t stress enough the importance of taking care of yourself. There’s a reason why doctors drill it into us that we need to drink enough water, eat healthy foods, and get physical exercise…it’s because our bodies and minds can’t function without it.

Burnout’s a result of too much stress over too long a time. An overload of stress in your body wears down your adrenal glands, nervous system, immune system and other body systems that you depend on to function optimally. If you feel burned out, go see your physician.

Just as important is surrounding yourself with the right kind of support to start building a new lifestyle. Burnout’s no joke, my friend. It takes a toll, not just on your body, but on your emotional well-being. Schedule an appointment with a therapist or counselor. Talk to a mentor. You’ll want professional support along the way so you don’t recreate a burned-out way of living in the future.

I get firsthand how painful it is to feel that despite all your amazing hard work and effort, they’re not leading you to a place of greater joy and fulfillment. I also know that suffering in silence is only going to bring you more pain. You deserve the best in life, and it starts with taking a small step to put yourself first…then getting the support you need to stay there.

Photo credit: Thomas Rohner

I’d love to hear more about what silent burnout looks like for you.

Send me a 30-second video telling me how you knew you were burned out at work, and you just might be featured in my next special project! Submit your video to [email protected] prior to March 15, 2017 for consideration.

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