Why Are You Burned Out? This Doctor’s Short Quiz Helps Zero In on the Exact Reason

Updated: Jul. 05, 2023

Experiencing burnout? An internal medicine doctor who's a leading burnout expert reveals five questions to pinpoint the biggest energy drains in your life...and what to do from there.

The pandemic might be over, but burnout is clearly not. According to December 2022 poll results from the research firm Future Forum, more than 40% of us are experiencing burnout—with women and those under age 30 feeling the burn the most.

Yet while the World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational syndrome and ties this fatigue to our work, the path to burnout is often more complicated than that, explains Neha Sangwan, MD, an internal medicine doctor, burnout expert and author of the September 2023 book Powered By Me: From Burned Out to Fully Charged at Work and in Life.

Dr. Sangwan suggests the simplest way to understand how burnout is impacting you is to gauge whether you have a net drain of energy across different areas of your life: “Healing burnout comes down to identifying and correcting those underlying patterns,” she says.

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What causes burnout?

“How someone gets to burnout is as unique as their fingerprint,” Dr. Sangwan says. But there are root causes that apply to almost anyone—it just depends on where you are on several spectrums, from depleted to fully charged.

This comes down to whether you have a net gain or a net drain of energy within five areas, Dr. Sangwan says, including:

  • Physical: How well you’re nourishing and caring for your body.

  • Mental: How your thought patterns serve you or strain you.

  • Emotional: How you navigate difficult emotions and make space for feelings like joy.

  • Social: How you feel about the people you spend the most time with.

  • Spiritual: How well your life aligns with your most important values.

Because burnout is a gradual loss of energy, emotion and engagement—until the point at which normal tasks seem impossible—it can be difficult to recognize where within these realms you’re facing a net drain. Dr. Sangwan says this is especially true since people tend to run on autopilot. “We have about 70,000 thoughts each day, and 90% to 95% of them are the same as the thoughts we had yesterday,” she explains. It’s hard to spot where we’re experiencing energy drains and unravel patterns while running on this repeat experience.

Social stigmas also hold us back from truly checking in with ourselves. “We find ourselves in a world moving faster than most of us can keep up with,” Dr. Sangwan writes in Powered By Me. Our society’s beliefs hinge on attitudes like “do more with less,” “faster is better” and “no pain, no gain.”

These types of standards set the tone for how we think, behave and live, and too often create blind spots that keep us from listening to our own needs. “There’s so much taboo and judgment around burnout,” Dr. Sangwan says. “Like you can’t hack it, you’re a failure; what’s wrong with you? Just power through.”

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Why am I burnt out?

Once you’ve taken our quiz below, the next step to healing is understanding where in your life you’re experiencing a net drain of energy. The conventional understanding of burnout tends to immediately place blame on our job, but that’s not always the clear-cut case.

Some people are completely satisfied in their work or full-time role and still experience burnout, Dr. Sangwan explains. If there’s an imbalance in another area of your life, that net drain can create a sense of apathy, exhaustion, cynicism and ineffectiveness that spreads to the point where you struggle to pinpoint exactly what’s causing you to feel so drained.

Dr. Sangwan created this tool to help you map out areas of your life and measure the net energy gain or drain you experience.

Your Net Physical Energy

When it comes to healing burnout, a good place to begin is by exploring your most basic relationship with your body, Dr. Sangwan says.

Rate each question from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  1. Do you eat whole, nutritious foods at regular intervals throughout the day?

  2. Do you get at least seven hours of sleep a night, waking up well-rested?

  3. Do you have a joyful way to move your body daily?

  4. Do you experience consistent energy throughout the day?

Your Net Mental Energy

Through our experiences, personal setbacks and relationships, we develop thought patterns and subconsciously apply them to all sorts of situations, Dr. Sangwan explains. Even when it comes to burnout, it’s common for people to tell themselves to “keep at it; success requires struggle.”

But our brain isn’t always telling us the truth—and these automatic thought patterns can drain our energy, erode our relationships and lower our sense of effectiveness. Restoring mental energy is about identifying and examining the ways in which your brain may be unintentionally undermining you, Dr. Sangwan says.

  1. How would you rate your general perception of the world?

Rate your response on a scale from 1 (skeptical) to 10 (trusting).

  1. How do you feel about your work or full-time role?

Rate your response on a scale of 1 (I’m replaceable, I need to always prove myself) to 10 (I’m effective and confident).

  1. How do you react when you make a mistake?

Rate your response on a scale from 1 (I’m a failure) to 10 (This is a learning opportunity).

  1. When something goes wrong, how do you react?

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (I blame myself or someone/something else) to 10 (I focus on finding the solution).

  1. Tune into your body for a moment. How do you feel?

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (tight, tense, and heavy) to 10 (at ease and light).

Your Net Emotional Energy

Emotions are real-time data, Dr. Sangwan says. “Being clear about what you’re feeling will allow you to get the support you require and know what may need to change, even if it’s simply in your thought patterns,” she says. “By identifying the exact emotions present in a given situation, you gain a more complete picture of what’s really happening.”

  1. I am able to identify and express my emotions.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

2. In the following areas of your life, rate yourself on a scale from 1 (I avoid conflict or difficult emotions) to 10 (I experience emotions such as peace, joy, or satisfaction).

  1. Health

  2. Money

  3. Work (or full-time role)

  4. Social life

  5. Significant other

  6. Children (if applicable)

Your Net Social Energy

Our relationships have a huge influence on our health and well-being, Dr. Sangwan says. But while we can’t escape people, we can ease the stress that comes from misunderstandings, assumptions, expectations and conflict.

1. Consider the three people (or groups) you spend the most time with, either in person or online. When you spend time with each person, do you experience a net drain of energy (1) or a net gain of energy (10)?

  1. Person/group 1

  2. Person/group 2

  3. Person/group 3

2. I’m able to set boundaries with my social circle, like saying no to social requests.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

3. Overall, I enjoy spending time with the people in my life.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

Your Net Spiritual Energy

Dr. Sangwan defines spiritual energy as the strength of your connection to a deeper meaning and purpose in life, both personally and professionally. She says it’s an unfortunate truth that we live in a world with certain demands, many of which may not align with our values. The strength of our spiritual energy comes down to how we design our lives within these constructs—or how we can restore balance when we must make compromises.

Consider the three values that are most important to you. Examples can include achievement, adventure, challenge, community, creativity, discipline, excellence, family, helping others, intellectualism, knowledge, leadership, love, meaningful work, personal development and security.

  1. I am able to clearly define my values.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  1. My values align with my work or full-time role.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree.).

  1. I am able to create space in my life for self-care rituals or hobbies that align with my values.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  1. I have people in my life who share my values.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

  1. I respect other people’s values but do not allow them to direct decisions in my life.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

What to do with your results

The areas in which you scored the lowest indicate where you’re experiencing a net drain of energy—and these parts of your life could be what’s contributing to your feelings of burnout. But healing burnout takes time and deliberate action, Dr. Sangwan says.

A good way to start is to look at each question where you scored low and consider, “What can I do that would bring this to a 10?” Some aspects of your life will be easier than others to answer, such as addressing setbacks in your physical energy. Or, let’s say you have a job that pays the bills but doesn’t align with your values. You may be able to restore balance in your spiritual energy levels by investing time in a hobby or pursuit that does speak to what you value most.

Other areas causing a net energy drain may be more complicated to address and course-correct. For instance, changing thought patterns that zap your mental energy is a process that involves re-training your brain—and this is often best supported by a mental health professional skilled in tools like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Dr. Sangwan’s book Powered By Me offers more exercises and guidance in understanding what’s behind your burnout and ways to kick-start the healing process (including recognizing when you need help) and, ultimately, provide you with the tools to prevent burnout from happening again.

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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.