The 5 Warning Signs of Burnout


This blog comes from teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions, Jo Steer (@Skills_w_Frills)

Maintaining a good work-life balance is difficult in any profession.
The wonders of technology have given us endless ways to blur the boundaries, meaning that we often take our work home, physically, emotionally and mentally.

Despite what some may think, educator don’t “own” work-related stress. But by golly we’ve earned a majority share.

Given our excessive workloads, accountability measures and the fact that we work more overtime than any other industry, it’s no wonder that 67 per cent of educators describe themselves as “stressed at work”, with many showing actual symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression.

The truly tragic thing is that we’re not surprised by this. To us, the language of stress, panic attacks and antidepressants has become commonplace and normalised.

The risk of burnout


We accept and expect it. Some of us even seem proud of it, bragging about how little sleep we’ve had or how stressed we are, as if these things are synonymous with success.

We tend to ignore the warnings from our bodies, committing ourselves wholly to the school timetable. We don’t stop when we’re tired, we stop when term ends (even if we’ve contracted a moderate version of the Black Death along the way).

Of course, there will always be certain events that trigger an increase in this stress: exam time, data deadlines and OFSTED inspections. But if a bad day becomes a bad week, month or term, then you may be getting close to burnout. Here are the signs to look out for:

1. Restlessness


A racing mind, the need to be constantly busy and an inability to switch off and/or be still are all warning signs that you’re heading for burnout.

These can be accompanied by a host of uncomfortable physical sensations including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, shakes, tight muscles, dizziness, nausea, out-of-body experiences, panic attacks and more. Insomnia is also a common but distressing side effect.

2. Detachment


Losing interest in work or everything outside of work (hobbies, activities and entertainment that you usually enjoy) is a worrying sign. When I went through burnout, I felt detached from reality – and incredibly numb.

3. Mindlessness


If your mind is racing, you’ll very likely have big problems concentrating. Maybe work takes much longer than it should; maybe you’re extra clumsy and forgetful; maybe you get to work, without any memory of how you got there. These are clear signs that your brain is overworked.

4. Self-doubt


Perhaps one of the cruellest side effects of burnout is that, despite putting work above all else, you’re not even left with your self-esteem intact.

Instead, you’re often left feeling as if you can’t lead your school, that you’re a fraud, that you can’t keep up and therefore must be inadequate. If you’re increasingly insecure and unsure of yourself, you might be nearing burnout.

5. Negativity


Sunday night dread and ranting about work isn’t uncommon in any profession. But if you’re finding yourself consumed by negativity, unable to think, see, hear or say anything remotely positive; if those feelings of dread become an everyday feature of life, then there’s something very wrong.

No matter what the symptoms, the key here is to notice change; in your body, mind, emotions and your behaviour. Like any disease, it’s better caught early, before it does long-lasting damage.


Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

If you’d like to find out more about the community, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more


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