Scaleup Blog

Scaleup Blog

Symptoms of stress and professional burnout test


We need temporary or mild stress at work. It is accompanied by symptoms such as mobilization for action, increased strength or a surge of energy before an important task or event.

Strong stress, which is mobilization in a turbo version, in the history of humankind, was reserved for actions related to defense, escape, fight, or generally speaking, responding to danger. Importantly, such actions were always short-lived for humans – lasting from a few seconds to a few hours – followed by a time of relaxation, rest, regeneration, or healing of wounds sustained in battle.

Severe, chronic stress at work is an extreme form of mobilization that, for one psychological reason or another, persists without interruption. At first, it allows us to achieve better results in those professional activities where the speed of reaction counts more than strategic thinking.

However, constant mobilization exhausts our strength, negatively influencing our ability to think logically and creatively, to notice the broader context of events, to empathize, or to take care of our basic life needs.

Then the symptoms of stress intensify, and we begin to enter the next stage of burnout, the signs of which are easily confused with “ordinary” fatigue.


It is worth noting that severe chronic stress has a negative impact on most human organs, systems and vital functions.

For example, severe chronic stress can effectively disrupt the following systems:

  • Circulatory (elevated blood pressure, burst blood vessels),
  • Muscular (chronic muscle pain, spasms, tics),
  • Nervous (decreased sensitivity and ability to feel, hear, notice, think logically, creatively, concentration problems),
  • Gastrointestinal (indigestion, stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation, excessive sweating).


In addition to the physical symptoms of stress listed above, there are a number of changes in behavior of the stressed person and in the way they perceive the outside world and other people.

In our latest e-book entitled: Stress and Burnout: How to Deal with Stress and Regain Peace of Mind, you can find a list of the 35 most common symptoms of stress. I invite you to download this e-book and see how many of the symptoms of severe or chronic stress you observe in yourself.


When severe, chronic work stress lasts for a long time, and the stressed person does not allow himself or herself to rest and recuperate (or cannot or does not know how to rest properly), the symptoms of stress intensify. The increasing tension in the body and mind then interferes more and more with the person’s ability to perceive, feel and think, causing, among other things:

  • Increasingly frequent poor judgment (person misses many important facts),
  • Increasing number of mistakes made due to lack of concentration,
  • Progressive decline in performance,
  • Increasing frustration, anger and feelings of injustice caused by increasingly poor results despite great effort,
  • Increased emotionality (aggression) in relationships, breakdown of relationships, increasing loneliness,
  • Fewer and fewer ideas about how to get out of a difficult situation (narrowed vision of options for action).



The above examples may already be signs of progressive burnout. It generally begins unnoticed, and its first symptoms are often ignored by the suffering, busy person.


An individual’s limiting beliefs play a large role in depressing the first symptoms of burnout. Some of the ones that effectively prevent us from taking care of ourselves and turning back from the path of burnout include:

  1. “I can’t rest until I finish work.”
  2. “Work first, rest later.”
  3. “I have to do everything perfectly.”
  4. “For something to be done well, I have to do it myself.”
  5. “Other people will always mess something up.”
  6. “People cannot be trusted.”
  7. “I have to cope.”
  8. “The needs of others come first, then my own needs.”
  9. “My needs are not important.”
  10. “I am strong and have to endure it.”
  11. “You have to endure the pain.”

12) “It’s just stress, which will go away by itself.”

  1. “There is no success without suffering.”
  2. “My value is based on what I do at work.”
  3. “Professional success above all else.”
  4. “To be successful, I have to make sacrifices.”
  5. “Success requires blood, sweat and tears.”
  6. “I will not leave my computer until I have cleared my e-mail inbox of new messages.”
  7. “I have to answer emails immediately, no matter what time of day or night.”
  8. “The more tasks I perform at work, the better my results.”



I have particular sympathy for people who hold the last belief on the list above. In one-on-one sessions, my clients are usually quick to point out the futility and destructive power of this belief.

The pointlessness here stems from the simple fact that many (sometimes most) tasks at work do not lead to success, better results, higher customer satisfaction, or improved KPIs. Such effects are achieved only by performing the right tasks. Conversely, when we do the right things while ignoring distractions, we can get better results by working less, but with more focus on what brings us closer to success.

Noticing these correlations, many of my overworked clients decide to reformulate the above belief into its supporting version, which might sound like this: “the more appropriate tasks I complete at work, the better my results” or “my success depends on the right actions.” Not a maximum number of arbitrary actions but a reasonable quantity of the right actions. Forgetting this, we put more and more strain on our strengths and health, entering into a full-blown work burnout. What are the stages? 


In my e-book, I cite and describe in more detail the 12 stages of burnout as formulated by J. Freudenberger and G. North. They are as follows:

  1. A perceived compulsion to prove one’s worth or excessive ambition,
  2. Forcing oneself to work harder, longer hours without rest,
  3. Neglecting one’s personal needs,
  4. Increasing the conflict between internal and external needs leads to loss of energy and exhaustion,
  5. Changes in the value system. Subordinating work to the rest of life,
  6. Denial of the existence of accumulating problems in work and private life,
  7. Withdrawal from social interaction, progressive loneliness and isolation,

8 Significant changes in behavior – aggressive, inappropriate behavior, etc.,

  1. Loss of contact with self,
  2. Feeling of inner-emptiness, powerlessness,
  3. Depression,
  4. Breakdown or complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.


Most of us find ourselves in stage 3 from time to time and then easily, independently turn back from it. Those who don’t, naturally progress to successive stages of burnout at the same time as being less and less able to work themselves out of a stalemate.


If you have felt that the symptoms described above may be affecting you, I suggest the following next steps:

  1. Download my e-bookStress and Burnout: How to Deal with Stress and Regain Peace of MindI wrote it specifically for busy people such as managers, executives, entrepreneurs, business owners, or experts of all kinds who work independently. Read more about what the symptoms of stress and burnout look like and how you can start taking systematic action to lower your stress levels.


  1. In small steps, start to implement the activities you enjoyed most in the e-book. Don’t overdo the number or length of the new activities. Choose one or two new ways to release tension on a daily basis and try them on yourself, observing the impact of these activities on your functioning at work and at home,


  1. Seek external supportwhenever you fail to turn around stage three burnout on your own.



For my busy clients of life coaching sessions, the signals to look for external support were:

  1. Symptoms of subsequent stages of burnout(beyond stage 3) – especially those physical symptoms that can no longer be ignored,
  2. Environmental feedback (e.g., aggressive, toxic, or inappropriate behavior),
  3. Recurrent, similar situations and the loss of the will to deal with them,
  4. Chronic fatigue and lack of energy to perform,
  5. Feelings of being in a no-win situation, trapped, locked in a struggle, etc.,
  6. More and more conflict situations with others,
  7. Feeling that you do not have a process or method of getting out of a difficult situation,
  8. Feeling that you are a victim of events, situations, bad bosses, etc.,
  9. Wanting to significantly improve your quality of life,
  10. A desire to release stress and worry about the outside world,
  11. Loneliness– especially when loneliness at work is combined with loneliness in private life (no friends, bad or hostile relationship with a partner).



Under no circumstances should you wait for a situation of severe, chronic stress to resolve itself. The current, growing COVID-19 pandemic will not go away anytime soon, and unfortunately it is very effective at multiplying new stressors and difficult situations such as blurring work-life boundaries.

Therefore, act today. Especially if you are observing more symptoms of stress in yourself, and you still have a relative amount of energy to do something about it. The strong suffer longer because it generally takes them longer to “hit the wall.” Don’t be one of those people. Take care of yourself.

Maciej Szturmowicz

Scaleup Founder, Coach, Facilitator