“Am I Burnt Out?” This Medical Doctor’s 2-Minute Quiz Provides Burnout Symptoms, Answers and Relief

Internal medicine doctor and leading burnout author and expert Neha Sangwan, MD, explains what causes this total physical and mental exhaustion.

About 20 years ago, Neha Sangwan, MD, found herself in a doctor’s office, past the tipping point of total physical and mental collapse. “As a young hospital physician, I was idealistic, always in a flurry trying to make it to the next milestone,” she says. “I was fueled on sugar, caffeine, and a fear of failure—I ignored my own needs, and I hit a wall. I burned out.”

What surprised her the most was that her leaders in the medical world didn’t really know what to do with her when signs of burnout took over. “They gave me a psychiatrist, some time off, and some meds to take care of my symptoms,” Dr. Sangwan explains, with the expectation that soon she’d be able to get back in the ring for round two…but with no new tools. “They really didn’t know how to help me change the underlying patterns that got me there.”

This personal experience was the inspiration behind Dr. Sangwan’s September 2023 book, Powered By Me: From Burned Out to Fully Charged at Work and in Life. The book came out of two decades of her research into the underlying causes of burnout, with customizable strategies that identify what’s draining energy in your life to help you restore.

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What is burnout?

Burnout is not a formal medical diagnosis, but in 2019 the World Health Organization added burnout to its International Disease Classification (ICD-11) as a syndrome with profound impacts on people’s lives. Burnout is often described as a state of complete and total mental and physical exhaustion. However, Dr. Sangwan explains that feeling drained, used up, and unable to unwind and recover—hallmark signs of exhaustion—is only part of the picture.

Burnout also involves feelings of cynicism and ineffectiveness, she says. Cynicism presents as having a cold, distant attitude toward aspects of life like your work, social life, possibly even your health and other areas of your life. “In a way, cynicism is an attempt to protect oneself from exhaustion and disappointment,” she writes in Powered By Me.

Meanwhile, a sense of ineffectiveness makes an individual feel as if there is no way for them to progress, and that anything they do accomplish is trivial. Together, these dimensions gradually become someone’s reality—until they hit rock bottom, as she says in her book, “like the proverbial frog in hot water that doesn’t even notice that the temperature is rising degree by degree until it has literally boiled to death.”

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Here’s how to find out whether you’re burnt out

While the path to burnout is unique for everyone, it tends to manifest in similar ways—primarily through physical symptoms, behavioral changes, and thought patterns. “Your body is communicating with you all the time, and most people don’t know how to decipher its language,” Dr. Sangwan says. (Note: She emphasizes that physical symptoms alone do not necessarily indicate burnout, but it is very important to speak with your doctor any time you experience a physical change.)

Quiz: “Am I Burnt Out?” Determine the answer by noting the multiple choice letter you select for each one to tally your responses at the end.

  1. How often do you experience headaches, unexplained muscle aches, a sore jaw, and/or stomach issues?

    1. Almost never.

    2. About weekly.

    3. A few times a week.

    4. Every day.

  1. Stop and think about your breathing. It’s:

    1. Slow and steady, deep into the belly.

    2. Neutral, I don’t really notice anything.

    3. Shallow and in the upper chest.

    4. Often rapid, and I experience moments of breathlessness.

  1. I sleep through the night:

    1. Always.

    2. Fairly consistently.

    3. Now and then.

    4. Never, I always wake up at least once.

  1. How often do you miss deadlines or forget about appointments?

    1. Rarely.

    2. Sometimes. It’s out of character for me, though.

    3. More and more often, I’m struggling to keep up.

    4. All the time.

  1. How would you describe your workload?

    1. Smooth sailing.

    2. It’s big but manageable.

    3. It’s pretty overwhelming.

    4. I’m totally in over my head.

  1. How do you feel about your work or other full-time role (i.e., a parent, student)?

    1. I feel positive. My values are being met—such as passion, excitement, challenge, consistency.

    2. I feel effective most of the time. There are some bad weeks, but it’s mostly positive.

    3. I feel inadequate, like I’m in a rut.

    4. I’m checked out; I dread my daily routine and don’t care about my work.

  1. Consider your coping mechanisms, like a cup of coffee to power through the morning, a glass of wine to unwind at night, or zoning out to Netflix. What is your relationship with these strategies?

    1. Neutral—I like [having a glass of wine] at the end of a long day, but it’s not essential.

    2. Some days I find myself indulging a bit more [such as watching that extra hour or two of TV] to unwind.

    3. It’s escalating—I used to [only have one cup of coffee in the morning], but now I need more.

    4. It’s out of my control—daily, I’m [overeating comfort foods, reaching for another glass of wine, binge-watching TV, etc.]

  1. How do you spend your weekends?

    1. I spend at least a full day doing whatever I want to feel refreshed.

    2. Catching up on errands and chores, and spending time with my friends/family.

    3. Delivery food and TV marathons. I’m wiped out.

    4. What weekend? Even if I’m not working, I feel like I’m going non-stop.

  1. How do you react to conflict?

    1. I stop and take time to think about it so I can respond properly.

    2. I get easily irritated but try to catch myself and resolve it amicably.

    3. I find it hard not to get defensive, sarcastic, or start blaming myself.

    4. I either lash out or completely shut down, not engaging.

  1. How do you feel when you have time to yourself to relax?

    1. Amazing, self-care all the way!

    2. Like I’m getting a breath of fresh air after being underwater.

    3. A bit numb. I find it difficult to get myself to relax, but I try to do something that will zone me out.

    4. Anxious and guilty, I should be spending the time getting stuff done.

  1. Your friends planned a social event tonight. How do you respond?

    1. I can’t wait!

    2. Hesitantly agree. I have a lot to do, but making time for my friends is important.

    3. I’m way too busy. But I’ll try to join next time.

    4. Hard pass. I don’t have the energy to socialize.

  1. You just achieved something big in your life (be it personal, work-related, or other). How do you feel?

    1. Like celebrating!

    2. Proud of myself. I sacrificed a lot to earn this.

    3. It’s satisfying enough, but I don’t get too excited—there’s more work to come.

    4. Honestly, I don’t really care. I’m mostly glad it’s over with.

If you answered mostly A’s:

Your risk for burnout is low. Your energy levels are well-balanced and in good alignment.

If you answered mostly B’s:

You may be in phase one of burnout, the alarm phase. “It’s kind of like where you just jumped on a treadmill that’s going a little faster than you can handle,” Dr. Sangwan says. You may be more irritable, forgetful, or impatient than usual, experience changes in your eating and sleeping habits, and have some physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach issues.

If you answered mostly C’s:

You may be in phase two of burnout, the adaptation phase. “These changes that occurred in the alarm phase are now your norm,” Dr. Sangwan explains. “You’re constantly feeling surprised, constantly feeling behind, you hear yourself becoming more cynical, and are starting to distance yourself in relationships because you don’t have the energy to engage socially.”

If you answered mostly D’s:

You may be in the third phase of burnout, the exhaustion phase. “You’re sliding down the slippery slope of burnout and hitting ineffectiveness,” she says. “You become apathetic—you’re not even down or depressed. You just kind of start detaching and don’t care.”

So, what now? If you are in one of these stages of burnout, learning which aspect of your life is burning you out the most is the next step in how to heal.

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About the Expert:

Neha Sangwan, M.D., CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, is an internal medicine physician, international speaker and corporate communication expert. She regularly consults with organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Express, Kaiser Permanente, and Google, and has shared her keynote presentation on the stages of TEDx.

  • https://www.thehealthy.com/healthcare/doctors/doctor-visits-every-age/

Sources

People:

Neha Sangwan, MD, founder and CEO of Intuitive Intelligence and author of the book Powered By Me

Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.