8 Signs of Burnout and How to Recover with a Sabbatical


“I’m so tired, but I can’t sleep, [standing on the edge of something much too deep.]”

The Sarah MacLaughlin song, “I Will Remember You,” always pops into my head when I think about burnout.

Burnout and avoiding burnout is one of the most common reasons women consider a sabbatical.

The struggle to avoid burnout is particularly real right now. COVID’s unique challenges are making work-life balance so much more difficult. Trying to avoid burnout is one of the biggest reasons I am planning for my own sabbatical next year. 

Eight Signs of Burnout

Here are the biggest warning signs that you are already burned out or are on the path to burning out. 

1. Being Tired but Not Sleeping 

Whether you lay awake at bedtime and can’t fall asleep or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep, this is a sign of burnout.

2. Sleeping Too Much

While some who are experiencing burnout aren’t sleeping enough, others who are experiencing burnout sleep way too much. Whether it’s 10 hours, 12 hours, or 14 hours, if you are getting too much sleep for many days in a row, this is a sign of burnout.

3. Questioning Everything 

Another sign of burnout is questioning everything, specifically in a negative way.

Maybe you are cynical at work. Perhaps you are sarcastic when it comes to helping at home. Whatever it is, when you begin to negatively question everything, this is a sign you are on the path to needing a significant break.

4. Excessive Crying & Irritability

We all get sad and irritable at times. These are normal human emotions. But when the emotions become excessive and continue for an extended period of time, consider the cause and whether it’s time to recover.

5. Coping with Food and/or Alcohol

Do you find yourself wandering to the kitchen in the middle of the day – not because you are hungry, but because eating a treat temporarily makes you feel better? Or perhaps by lunchtime you are already thinking about your after-work Old Fashioned or glass of wine?

If you are coping with life through food and alcohol, this may be a sign of burnout. 

6. Escaping with TV, Social Media

Similarly to coping with life by turning to food and drink, escaping life with TV and social media is another sign that you need extended time off.

We all need to escape at times – this is completely normal. But ask yourself — are you living a life you need to escape from often? If so, it’s time to build a new life, possibly starting with a sabbatical. 

7. Low Energy

Do you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning? Do you go through many days not feeling particularly productive or that you’ve achieved a state of “flow” during the day?

If you are getting enough rest and eating nutritious foods, you should have enough energy to accomplish most of what you want to accomplish in a day. 

8. Asking: What’s the Point/What’s My Purpose?

Perhaps the  biggest sign that you are heading towards burnout is beginning to question the point of your work and wondering, “what’s my purpose?” Maybe you have been going at such a rapid pace that you haven’t stopped to ask if what you are doing is what you want to be doing.

When you start to ask yourself these questions, it’s time to slow down and figure out the answers.

Sabbatical Sum Up

If you are experiencing any of the above, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Assuming your physical health is ok, it’s time to start working on your mental health.

A good therapist will do wonders, but at the end of the day, many of us just need a break. Consider joining me as I start saving for my sabbatical!

I will leave you with this quote (with my own edit) from this 2016 Economist article about burnout:

Burnout is not simply a symptom of working too hard. It is also the body and mind crying out for an essential human need: a space free from the incessant demands and expectations of the world. [You need a place where], there are no targets to be hit, no achievements to be crossed off. The amelioration of burnout begins in finding your own pool of tranquillity where you can cool off. 

This post is part of our Sabbatical Sundays series. To read more, click here.