If you're a high achiever, you've probably come close to a workplace burnout, if you haven't had one already.
A burnout isn't a sudden experience. It's not like a panic attack that comes over you without warning. Burning out is a long and sustained stressful period that slowly wears you down emotionally and physically. When you're nearing rock-bottom of a burnout, you're so stressed and overwhelmed you may be unable to do your job anymore.
Other, less severe outcomes of a workplace burnout are disengagement and cynicism about your job and company, or an underlying feeling that you are ineffective, no matter how much effort you put in.
How do you know you're heading towards a workplace burnout?
CONCENTRATION BECOMES DIFFICULT
A perpetual feeling of overwhelmingness at work - whether you feel you can't get on top of everything or you can't stop your mind from wandering - can be an early sign you're burning out. You may be unable to focus or even find you can't get any work done and your days are largely unproductive.
NEGATIVITY SURROUNDS YOU
One of the initial feelings that can lead to a burnout is negativity towards everything work-related. Perhaps you dread getting out of the bed in the morning, or increasingly everything your colleagues say or do angers you. You may start to feel like everybody you work with is useless, you'll get angry about bureaucracy and workplace politics, and feel a huge sigh of relief the minute you leave work each day.
FEELING WIRED, FATIGUED, YET UNABLE TO SLEEP
If you operate at a low/medium level of stress all day, every day, you'll probably be used to the feeling of being "wired". It's a physical and mental sensation that helps you push through difficulties and can be beneficial in short bursts (e.g. for creativity), but is wholly unsustainable in the long term. Being wired leads to chronic fatigue, but because your brain is unable to shut down each night, you may still be unable to sleep no matter how tired you are.
YOU HAVE PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
Some of the more common physical symptoms that you're heading towards a burnout include chest pain, persistent underarm sweating, skin spots, blemishes and breakouts, stomach pain, irregularities in your bowel movements, headaches, dizziness, and a general shortness of breath. If you notice them at all, you may find you only experience these while working, and they may come and go, or endure for weeks or months.
IT'S AFFECTING YOUR HOME LIFE
When these negative and overwhelming feelings about work follow you home and affect your spouse or family, it's a clear sign you are never getting a break and a burnout is increasingly likely. It could result in anger towards those in your home, removal from social participation, or habitually turning to alcohol or drugs to "take the edge off" each day.
YOU DON'T TAKE TIME OFF
If you can be frequently found working nights and weekends, and never take holidays, you probably do so because there's "too much work" to do, or "nobody else" can cover for you. This feeling of being indebted to your job means you may string yourself along to the point of exhaustion, purely because you don't see any other options.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, your first step should be an immediate trip to your GP. As your primary care provider, she or he will be able to recommend a treatment course to get you back on track, which will probably include a period of leave from work.
You should request that your GP write you a medical certificate to avoid any issues with your employer, and this doesn't need to be specific: it merely needs to state that you're unfit to attend work. The earlier you intervene in a burnout, the quicker you'll be on the mend and back to work.