Recovering From Burnout: 3 Subtle Signs You Need To Recharge

Burnout is a bummer.

woman awake in bed getty

This pandemic fatigue is affecting us all. But how do you recover from burnout caused by COVID-19?

Even powerful, accomplished, and brilliant professionals admit that they're struggling to stay productive, positive, or confident.

They're accustomed to high achievement, self-efficacy, or some semblance of control. Many interpret this "failing" through their well-honed lens of self-criticism.

"Why can’t I focus? Why can’t I get as much done as usual? Why can’t I shake this mood? What’s wrong with me?!"


RELATED: What Is Burnout & The Symptoms That Are Your Body's Cry For Help

Struggling with burnout is common in this pandemic.

The truth is that we're all expending far more energy just coping than we were before the pandemic — processing negative and confusing news, dealing with uncertainty and disruption in every arena, and worrying about the future.


We're grieving a wide variety of losses, from daily annoying little disappointments to major losses of loved ones, health, career, or purpose.

Your brain’s job is to take this constant stream of inputs — constant changes, losses, threats, conflicts, fears, etc. — and process them in a way to make meaning and keep you safe.

And unless you live under a rock, your brain has been in overdrive for months! It’s really, really tired!

So, what happens when your brain is tired? It doesn’t work as efficiently.

In its safety-first design, your frontal lobe — the part of the brain that does your best thinking, planning, mood regulation, perspective setting, creating, and self-monitoring — is the first to go offline under stress or duress.


This saves energy for lower-brain survival reactions.

It's the perfect design for reacting to acute danger, but not an advantage when the crisis drags on and you need access to your better thinking.

What can you do? Instead of pushing yourself harder (our cultural norm), you can learn to work with your brain.

Recognize your subtle signs of brain fatigue and, instead of judging yourself for them, use them as data.

Like the power indicator on your cell phone, these are the cues that you need to recharge. Then, get creative.

How can you regularly incorporate more energy recharges in your day? Your year? How can you renew your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual energy so you have more capacity to wisely handle the ongoing challenges?


Start with a little self-awareness exercise.

Who are you when you not at 100 percent capacity? Most of us know when we get to the extremes of overtired and overwhelmed, but we often miss the more subtle shifts of off-peak performance.

Not sure? Ask your family, friends, or co-workers. They are the professionals of reading your subtle shifts.

RELATED: Why Do We Get Burned Out & How Should We Deal With It

Here are 3 subtle signs that's time to recharge and recover from burnout.

1. You're judgey.

I’ve always noticed that when I'm not feeling my best or most confident, I'm more critical of myself and others. I see this in my clients, as well.

And thanks to pandemic fatigue and a divisive culture, we're swimming in a sea of judgey humans. (As if judging others or ourselves makes us any more "right" or safe?)


True, mindful discernment is always important, but snap judgments rarely serve your better thinking or the world.

What if you just notice when you're judging more and ask what you need to feel more compassionate and collaborative? What form of energy do you need right now?

2. You're indecisive.

Maybe you are managing a few big decisions, but wind up scarfing chips because you just can’t decide what to have for dinner, or waste half your evening deciding what to watch?

Your frontal lobe is your decision-making apparatus and when its energy is challenged, you conserve by handling some decisions then getting stuck on others.

What if you simply use that stuck feeling as a metric that you need a reboot of some kind?


Walk away, figure out what fuel you need — whether it's rest, nutrition, hydration, or connection — and come back with your smarter brain.

3. Your perspective has been narrowed down to "black and white."

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who feels stuck between two choices, when you so easily see they're missing a whole range of other possibilities?

We’ve all been that person, right? It’s often the meat of coaching.


By design, stress or fatigue narrows your perspective, making the world more black/white, good/bad. Your brain is trying to keep you safe by quickly judging inputs as threat/non-threat.

What’s lost is your frontal lobe’s creative capacity and its ability to see the grey zones and find solutions.

What if you start to notice when you feel stuck and ask yourself if you have your frontal lobe fully charged and onboard? What do you need to fuel your creativity and bring back your ability to see the grey zone wins?

What are the subtle cues that you need a recharge?

When you start to pay as much non-judgmental attention to these as you do your cell phone battery, you open up the opportunity to work with your brain and keep it fully charged, so you can be your happiest, healthiest, most productive, and creative self.


RELATED: 12 Signals You’re Struggling With Burnout & Need A Break ASAP

Cynthia Ackrill, M.D. is a leader in the field of stress mastery and an expert in the critical connections between lifestyle choices, performance capacities, leadership effectiveness, health, and happiness. For more information, contact her or visit her courses and resources on her website.