Burnout rate has always been an interest of mine.  It’s so often reported that I’m not even surprised when a peer tells me that he or she is burnt out.  However, just because it is common, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.  I had a bad cold last week and somewhere between naps and spending half my paycheck on tissues, I realized burnout has become the bad common-cold or the flu of our profession.

Much like the flu, everyone gets burnt out at points.  Burnout has a natural progression and it is even contagious.  



Less sleep, a poor diet, increased stress, winter months, and other sick people increase our likeliness of getting the flu.  Distractions, looking for immediate gratification, boredom, and negative people make us more susceptible to burnout.

Ask Yourself:

  • Are the people I surround myself with negative and/or stagnant?
  • Do I get distracted when things feel too difficult?

Warning Signs

The scratchy throat woke me Saturday morning and the headache with congestion came in the hours following.  Burnout is accompanied by warning signs, just like any other illness.  They often take the form of feeling overwhelmed, disinterested, stressed, unhappy, and agitated or restless.  

It is important to recognize these warning signs of burnout because it allows us to intervene early before it progresses and before it worsens.  When we have the flu, we reach for the OJ, go to bed early, drink lots of fluids, and get the rest we need in order to get over it.  Burnout can be treated most effectively when acted upon during those early warning signs.  A change in exercise/diet, an increase in social activities, planning a trip or restructuring goals may be all we need if we recognize the symptoms early enough.

Ask Yourself:

  • Do I frequently feel like I need to escape or make a radical change because I feel worn out?
  • Do I dread going to work and feel overwhelmed even after a weekend?

Red Flags

I promised myself two things when I became a physical therapist.  First, do no harm and second, never wear sneakers with dress pants.  I was in the middle of a burnout, but I didn’t realize it.  I did not realize it until I looked down at my feet on a Tuesday afternoon and saw gray sneakers with my black dress pants.  I was in disbelief.  I hadn’t forgotten to bring them with me after the gym or left them home because of a snow storm.  I had put those sneakers on to wear to work even though I normally have a strong personal aversion to the combination.  This was my red flag.

Red flags are different than warning signs.  We feel warning signs, but nothing has changed or been affected at this point.  Red flags are where we start noticing behavioral changes.  Maybe our healthy eating or workout habits falter, maybe we hit the snooze button more, or maybe we change our social habits.  When our behavior changes, we need to intervene immediately.

Ask Yourself:

  • Has my behavior recently changed unintentionally?  Do I hit the snooze more? Workout less? Have I changed my eating habits?
  • Have I stopped trying to be better than good enough?

Seek Help

If you’ve ever read the back of a Tylenol or Nyquil bottle, it instructs you to call your doctor if your symptoms last more than 7 days, your fever increases, or you have a persistent cough.  

My sneakers and dress pants coupled with feelings of disinterest in learning prompted me to send an email to my mentor and schedule a meeting.  When we get to the point where a burnout changes our behavior, we need help.  And, not just any help.  We need to seek the help of someone more experienced and more knowledgeable to help us take the steps necessary to beat burnout.

Ask Yourself:

  • Do I feel exhausted after work and unmotivated regardless of rest?
  • Have I stopped working on projects or working to improve myself outside of what is required?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above you may be in a burnout or at risk for one.  Like all illnesses, diagnosis is the cornerstone to choosing the appropriate treatment.  Next week’s post will focus on diagnosing your burnout.  

3 thoughts on “Treat Your Burnout Like You Treat Your Flu

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