How to Recognise the Signs of Burnout In Yourself or Others. A Guide for Africans


By: Foluke Akinwalere. Freelance Health Writer. With medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team

Exhausted and fatigued black man seated at a table before a laptop device holding his neck in pain in sign of burnout

Exhausted and fatigued black man seated at a table before a laptop device holding his neck in pain in sign of burnout. Image from Freepik.





In today’s fast-paced world, it’s not uncommon for people to experience burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or overwhelming stress. 


Burnout can affect anyone, regardless of age, profession, or lifestyle.  Recognising the signs of burnout in yourself and others at work or home is crucial for taking proactive steps to address it and prevent further negative consequences.  


In this article, you will learn the various ways to recognise burnout in yourself and others (i.e. symptoms and signs) and be able to take practical steps to manage it effectively. 



What is Burnout?


Burnout typically develops gradually over time, often as a result of chronic stressors such as workplace pressure or caregiving responsibilities. It can build up to a more severe and persistent condition that can significantly impact your overall well-being if not identified early and managed.


Burnout is not classified as an illness or health condition but as a feeling of  mental, physical and emotional disharmony resulting from chronic occupational stress that has not been successfully managed. [1 ]


It is important to distinguish burnout from temporary feelings of stress or fatigue.  While stress is a natural response to challenging situations, burnout is a chronic build up of daily pressures placed on individuals within an occupational context, according to experts. [1]


“Burnout is not a result of one singular thing; work, familial responsibilities, and everyday stressors can all contribute to a sense of depleting motivation.” Dr. Eric Storch, Professor and Vice Chair of Psychology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. In Nieto A. 2024 [2]



What Causes Burnout?


The factors contributing to burnout include: [3]


1. Work-related causes


  • Lacking control over your work
  • Lacking recognition
  • Overly demanding job expectations
  • Monotonous or unchallenging work
  • Abusive, chaotic or high-pressure environment.


2. Lifestyle causes


  • Excessive working hours with little socialising or breaks
  • Lack of supportive relationships
  • Too many responsibilities, without enough help
  • Not enough sleep.


3. Personality traits


  • Perfectionism
  • Pessimism
  • Control freak
  • High achieving in nature.



How to Recognise Burnout In Yourself


Burnout shows up in various ways, and there are various signs to indicate you are on the pathway to being burned out.


1. Physical Symptoms


  • Persistent fatigue and exhaustion, even after rest.
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping despite feeling tired.
  • Headaches, muscle tension, or other unexplained frequent physical ailments.
  • Changes in appetite


2. Emotional Signs


  • Feelings of cynicism, detachment, or irritability towards work or personal obligations
  • Little sense of satisfaction at work or in the home, even during moments of success
  • Mood swings, heightened sensitivity, or a sense of emotional numbness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increase self-doubt and sense of failure


3. Cognitive Indicators


  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused on tasks
  • Forgetfulness and impaired memory
  • Negative self-talk and feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness.


4. Behavioural Changes


  • Withdrawal from social interactions or avoidance of responsibilities
  • Increased use of substances such as alcohol or drugs to cope with stress
  • Procrastination, perfectionism, or a decline in productivity.



How to Recognise Burnout In Others


1. Changes in Behaviour


  • Noticeable alterations in mood, temperament, or attitude towards work and life.
  • Withdrawal from social activities or decreased participation in previously enjoyed hobbies.
  • Increased reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive drinking or overacting.


2. Physical Signs


  • Visible signs of exhaustion, such as tired eyes, slumped posture, or frequent yawning.
  • Complaints of physical discomfort, such as headaches, digestive issues, or muscle pain.
  • Changes in appetite or weight, either loss or gain, without apparent cause.


3. Work Performance


  • Declined productivity, missed deadlines, or increased errors in tasks
  • Decreased engagement in meetings or discussions, with minimal contribution or participation.
  • Expressions of frustration or dissatisfaction with work-related responsibilities


4. Interpersonal Interactions


  • Strained relationships with colleagues, clients, or loved ones due to irritability or moodiness.
  • Difficulty communicating effectively, with increased conflicts or misunderstandings.
  • Lack of empathy or emotional support toward others, indicating emotional exhaustion.



How to Prevent and Develop Coping Tools for Burnout?


There are many preventive measures against burnout. According to Dr Storch, having honest conversations about issues is crucial.


Seek Support


Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals for emotional support and guidance.


According to Storch, “If you find that you are beginning to show signs of becoming burned out at work, speak with a trusted colleague for their advice or talk to a supervisor about what you both can do to change your work environment into one that allows for a healthier balance between personal and professional responsibilities.”


If loved ones begin to show signs of burnout, Storch also encourages you to reach out and have conversations with them to ensure their well-being. You should express that the discussion is intended to be constructive and is based on genuine concern.  Use “I” statements to communicate your observations and concerns and allow your loved one to share as much as they feel comfortable.  Aim to conclude these discussions with actionable steps or potential solutions to address the issues, ideally working together to find a resolution.


Remember, mental health is still a sensitive topic for many, and Storch advises that discussions should focus on objective and logical points rather than becoming personal. 


For example, you could emphasise that the well-being of the person is important to everyone in the workplace, and leaving issues unaddressed could harm both co-workers and the individuals themselves.


Practice Self-Care


  • Prioritise adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise to support physical and mental well-being
  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, medication, or yoga to reduce stress levels.
  • Establish boundaries between work and personal life, including designated time to rest and relaxation. There are situations where people feel that they cannot take a break because others depend on them: “I’m too necessary to step away from work or family”.  When that happens, Storch advises that you tell the person to try taking a break, anyway. In most cases, the sky will not fall in, he said.


Set Realistic Goals


  • Break tasks into manageable chunks and prioritise them based on importance and urgency
  • Delegate responsibilities when possible and communicate openly with supervisors or colleagues about workload concerns.
  • Practice self-compassion and recognise that it is okay to ask for help or take breaks when needed.


Strive for Meaningful Connections


  • Nurture supportive relationships with colleagues, friends, and loved ones to create a sense of belonging and mutual trust.
  • Engage in activities that bring joy and fulfilment, whether it is pursuing a hobby, volunteering, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Practice active listening and empathy towards others, building a sense of connection and mutual support.





Recognising burnout in yourself and others is the first step towards taking proactive measures to address it effectively.  By understanding the signs and symptoms of burnout and performing strategies such as seeking support, self-care practices, setting realistic goals, and cultivating meaningful connections, you can reduce the negative impact of chronic stress and foster a greater sense of well-being and resilience.


Remember, since no one can look out for you better than you can, placing your mental and emotional health at a high ranking is essential for leading a fulfilling and balanced life. that putsburnout at bay




1. World Health Organisation. Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases [Internet. Published 28 May, 2019]. Accessed: February 25, 2024. Available from:

2. Nieto A., Baylor College of Medicine News Release. How To Slow Down Before You Burn Out. [Internet. Published February 20, 2024]. Accessed: February 24, 2024. Available from:

3. Queensland Government. Darling Downs Health. Signs you might be experiencing a burnout and how to regain balance in your life. [Internet. Published Nov. 22. 2021]. Accessed: February 26, 2024. Available from:



Published: February 22, 2024

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