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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Peh Wei Jie on October 21, 2022

5 Burnout Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Burnout symptoms are easy to ignore if you are constantly on the go. Learn how to identify and correct them before they turn into a more serious health complication.

Burnout symptoms min scaled

Burnout symptoms can be as harmless as forgetting where you put something or as serious as taking longer than normal to recover from colds.

Many people struggle with work-life balance. As a result, they sacrifice sleep, healthy eating, and exercise to make time for other responsibilities.

However, burnout has serious consequences. It can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and more.

Read on to learn how to identify burnout symptoms and what you can do to ease stress.

What Is Burnout?

Many people struggle with burnout due to poor work and life balance.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Peh Wei Jie describes burnout as a syndrome many people in this hectic day and age face.

It results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. He says individuals face a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion due to excessive and prolonged stress. They find an inability to cope with daily tasks.

“From the TCM perspective, this state of chronic fatigue can be classified under consumptive disease. It refers to a Deficiency in one of the organ systems in the human body,” elaborates Physician Peh. 

“When one faces chronic fatigue, the Liver, Kidney, and Spleen are usually involved. The most fundamental concept of TCM is that of qi, which refers to the energy and life force that flows through the human body. It’s fundamental to our body’s processes and daily activities.

Fatigue is related to the quantity and quality of qi a person can maintain; hence the primary cause of fatigue would be Qi Deficiency. Prolonged periods of fatigue can lead to other deficiencies, namely BloodYin, or Yang Deficiency,” he stated.

Burnout Symptoms To Be Aware Of

Some experts compare burnout to trying to drive your car for too long or too fast, to the point where the petrol tank empties but your foot is still on the accelerator. The engine heats up and overwhelms the car’s mechanism and ends up breaking down.

Here are some signs of burnout to look out for:

1. You feel fatigued, not just tired

Feeling tired no matter how much rest you get can be a sign of burnout.

Fatigue is different from just being tired from over-exerting yourself occasionally. Your body runs out of energy and optimal levels of functioning and essentially shuts down to a level of low activity.

You may start off feeling a “normal” sort of tired. However, as you approach burnout, it will feel like you are extremely tired all the time.

You may also feel tired no matter how much you rest. When your body is exhausted, it forgets when to switch from an active state to a resting state.

In a healthy body, we’ll instinctively wind down towards the end of the day, in preparation for a good night’s sleep. When you’re in a state of burnout, your mind keeps racing – you can’t switch off.

2. There are noticeable changes in your sleep and diet habits

Sure, you’re sleeping but your quality of sleep suffers. You may also eat more or less than usual, as well as develop gastrointestinal issues.

“Liver Qi Stagnation and Spleen Deficiency are where chronic stress leads to extreme mood swings, low self-esteem, and feelings of depression, affecting the Liver, causing a Stagnation of Liver Qi,” explained Physician Peh.

“This is presented with bloating, indigestion, loose stools, or constipation. This often results from erratic eating patterns, or excessive worrying and over-thinking, which is common from individuals experiencing burnout,” Physician Peh continued.

3. Your work is starting to suffer

With no switching off, you wake up the next day tired, with a sense of dread or indifference. You feel overwhelmed by simple tasks and make mistakes. You may also find it hard to concentrate on one task because you have so much on your mind.

4. You get sick easily and cannot recover as fast

Sometimes burnout itself can be a result of weakened immunity due to other illnesses, but often it is the other way around – burnout weakens immunity.

“This Deficiency often arises in individuals having to manage a lot in their capacity. They experience inadequate rest, or grief and sadness frequently, weakening the Lung Qi. This often presents via a higher susceptibility to flu or colds,” described Physician Peh.

5. Your body hurts

A woman holding her back in pain while sitting on a sofa
Back pain and other body aches can be a sign of burnout.

Did you know that back pain itself can be one of the signs of burnout? “Kidney Qi Deficiency refers to a depletion in the deepest foundation of energy (qi) in the human body, especially when we try to function without sufficient nutrition or rest,” stated Physician Peh.

“Consumption of caffeine, recreational drugs and excessive stress often deplete Kidney Qi, which will cause a reduction in Kidney Yin and Yang in the long run. Individuals facing this usually encounter weakness and aches in the lower back or knees, memory loss or even deafness and osteoporosis,” Physician Peh continued.

How To Stop Burnout Symptoms

Stop burnout in its tracks at the earliest signs because ignoring them can lead to compromised health. A key first step is to admit that you are burnt out. This honest recognition paves the way for a reset and healing.

You may then try the following approaches to prevent burnout symptoms:

Acupuncture and acupressure massage

The Tai Chong acupoint is located on the dorsum of the foot, in the depression proximal to the first metatarsal space.

Physician Peh recommends acupoints on the Liver meridian to correct Qi circulation within the body. One such common acupoint will be Tai Chong (LR3), which can clear Qi Stagnation and improve circulation.

“This acupoint is also one of the points of the Four Gates, which have the function to open and circulate the energy flow within the body. This is akin to unblocking a stagnant drain and helps the body to relax,” stated Physician Peh.

A study involving nurses reported that acupuncture promotes less stress, more patience with patients, better sleep, and increased mindfulness in 60% of the respondents.

In a clinical trial involving 120 patients with increased stress levels, divided into three groups, acupuncture was shown to be significantly better than conventional treatment. Physician Peh also encourages other remedies, such as cupping therapy, or Qigong for busy individuals.

Herbal remedies

In the field of TCM, many herbs can be utilized to nourish the body. The organs in particular that address burnout and its corresponding symptoms are the Liver and Kidneys. Examples include goji berries (Gou Qi) and cinnamon (Rou Gui), which can boost the Kidney yin and yang respectively.

Ginseng (Yang Shen) also provides relaxation, boosts vital qi, and strengthens the immune system, which can aid recovery and alleviate symptoms of mental and physical exhaustion from burnout.

Lingzhi is another great remedy to use for stress. It helps improve the body’s response to stress, promoting relaxation, alleviating fatigue, and reducing cortisol levels that elevate blood sugar and make you crave unhealthy foods.

“However, one should first consult a licensed TCM physician for a detailed diagnosis before consuming such herbs,” Physician Peh cautioned.

Dietary changes

A woman pouring herself a glass of water as she begins to eat healthy meal of vegetables and fruits
Eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated can help combat burnout symptoms.

“The Spleen and stomach are the body’s powerhouse, providing qi and blood we require for our daily activities. It is important to consume adequate amounts of nutritious food at the right time to replenish the nutrients we require,” says Physician Peh. 

He suggests abstaining from excessive alcohol intake, reducing sugar, and consuming fewer cold or processed foods. These will lead to increased exhaustion.

Warm and nourishing foods and beverages can be chosen instead. This helps replenish qi and yin within the body and to combat fatigue. Concentrated TCM formulas, such as essence of chicken or essence of ocean fish, are great for jumpstarting your health. 

Address Future Burnout Symptoms

As you rebuild your health after an episode of burnout, take care to prevent it in the future. Keep your qi flowing optimally by building in breaks to properly rest and refuel, drawing clear boundaries at work, and recognizing the tell-tale signs to prevent you from being overwhelmed. 

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