How To Recognize Burnout


Burnout manifests itself with underperformance, mood disturbance, reduced motivation, stomach problems, as well as fatigue, anxiety and depression.

It is seen in serious athletes training with high volumes and intensity with little recovery aka overtraining. It’s also experienced by various workers going through chronic life stresses and monotony: stressful job, divorce, kids, bills, nerve-wracking projects, little sense of self-worth etc.

What seemed like an easy task previously requires enormous efforts. Often, there’s psychological breakdown.

Recognizing burnout lets you stay away from injuries or pass the tipping point. This can mean extended years enjoying your work, exercise and family. A well-balanced person wants to recognize early symptoms, which lead to the question:

How do you Detect Burnout?

Symptoms above can be caused by infectious diseases, fevers, non-infectious diseases such as diabetes, or even eating disorders. It is therefore difficult to recognize. Many also underestimate long-term stress conditions.

The most common is through a Profile of Mood States questionnaire (wikipedia link), that lists 65 adjectives rated on a 5-points scale. The questionnaire was designed in the late 70s by teams of psychologists and is now used in workplaces to detect burn-outs as well as athletic overtraining.

I find the questionnaire extensive however impractical for daily use.

A more practical version has 6 questions which can be rated 1 = strongly disagree , 2 = disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree

  • I slept well last night
  • I am looking forward today for what I have to do
  • I am optimistic about my future performance
  • I feel vigorous and energetic!
  • My appetite is great
  • I have little muscle soreness or other physical symptoms

Add up the answers and you should get a total number between 6 and 30

A score below 15 means burnout. For athletes, a score below 20 means overtraining. Action is required.

If you feel stressed or unenthusiastic when waking up, take this questionnaire to assess your current condition. If you have a GPS sports watch with a chest heart rate monitor, you can also use their stress score feature. Another alternative is HRV monitors such as the HRV4Training app or EliteHRV.

Overcoming Burnout

Overtraining or chronic stress is a difficult and complex subject. However, here are possible steps:

  • Check first with your doctor if it is a disease or something worse. This is an important step
  • Take steps into getting quality sleep.
  • Clean up your diet. Refined carbs lead to brain fog and lethargy.
  • If you are an overtrained athlete, decrease training volume and intensity and revise your training plan to make it less monotonous.
  • A few rest days or weeks can be required, if you are going through intense life stress, such as moving out or a new baby.
  • If you have a stressful job, see if you can give your whole best. Give it a shot. If work conditions do not improve, and your boss is unsatisfied, maybe it is time to look where your talent and energy is appreciated. You can also try to get a few days off and take less responsibilities, or undergo cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • If you are sedentary, look into getting regular moderate to strenuous exercise.
  • Look into active recovery techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or a walk in the forest

It’s also good to reach out to friends, family or a support group. Being part of a good social network and talking it out will help your mood and bring relief.

If you find yourself looking forward to the day and feel enthusiastic, this is a good sign of recovery.

Preventing Burnout

For athletes, the worst case scenario is repeating intense long workouts every day with little to no recovery for the muscle. A good training plan will have intense workouts mixed with slow recovery workouts as well as cross training and rest days.

It is important for everyone to take a rest day regularly.

Equally important is knowing how to recover and participating in enjoyable activities. Do activities that make you laugh, run, smile inside you, and make you feel happy.

Have you gone through overtraining or burnout? What steps did you take to overcome this state?

8 thoughts on “How To Recognize Burnout”

  1. I actually have felt the effects of overtraining/burnout. I was running a lot and doing a group fitness class (sometimes 2) every day a couple years ago. I loved it, but then I injured my hip – could barely bend over or sit up from bed – had to go to physical therapy – and now I am very cautious about letting my body rest and being more balanced! Another risk is going from a sedentary lifestyle to suddenly working out every day. You’re so right about the necessity of rest day :))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Jess ! I write a lot of things but it means much more when we can see how overtraining occur in real life


  2. Good to see I get top marks, 30/30. Wasn’t always that way though but I have worked on my nutrition over the last couple of years to help me get better recovery and lower my stress levels


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