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It was a sunny Saturday and my son was quietly playing with his Lego in the lounge room. I had woken up with a horrendous migraine, once again – something that was becoming an incredibly predictable pattern. I would work hard all week, putting in long hours managing a national multi-disciplinary health care practice, but then when it came to the weekend, a time I was supposed to enjoy playing with my son, I had nothing left to give. I was spent, totally exhausted and very sick.

On the outside I looked like I had everything: I had a well-paid job with a lot of perks, I was well respected, I had family around me and I was fit. I was doing a group boot camp at 5am, three mornings a week; I was the fittest I had ever been in my life! So, being sick just didn’t make any sense.

Somewhere in the migraine-induced fog, I had an a-ha moment… Was this all there was? To give everything I had to all my clients, my team members and my directors and yet have nothing left for me?

This is what we as high achieving people do.  We give.

As parents we give.

As partners we give.

As friends we give.

As employers we give.

As employees we give.

As service providers we give.


To put it bluntly, I had burned out. I came from a family where ‘work’ meant being useful and accepted. What I learned was that hard work comes before everything else, including your health, wellness, relaxation and enjoyment.

The result? I made sure my clients were cared for, which meant I over delivered. Then they expected this over delivery as my standard. So, I had to keep showing up, doing more, being more, delivering more, MORE, MORE.

Sound familiar?

Now before you stop reading thinking, ‘Oh gawd not another guilt ridden article about how I am supposed to look after myself…’ No, that’s not what this is.

Where did Burn-Out start?

Burn- Out is not new.  It was a term first developed by American Psychologist Dr Herbert J Freudenberger in the late 1970’s – this is NOT a new phenomenon.    Simply put, Dr Freudenberger surmised that Burn-Out is the “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life”.

Interestingly Dr Freudenberger identified that traditional roles such as parenting were also prone to experience Burn-Out.

A person who is burning out, on the surface is not a particularly likeable person.  This person is often cranky, irritable, critical, rigid, resentful to suggestions and given to defensive behaviour that turns people off.

This behaviour is a safety mechanism for the person who is burning out.  What I have come to learn about my own Burn-Out behaviour, is when I start thinking and behaving in a way that suggests – If one more person asks me to do one more thing I am going to scream… then I know I have tipped over the edge and need to employ my being healthy behaviours again.

Burn-Out is not a phenomenon that gets better with more work or by ignoring it.

Many of us feel ashamed by our Burn-Out behaviours.

With the guilt and shame that comes with burning out many of us will tend to engage in more activity, more work, take on more projects in the hope that our busyness will mask the fact that we feel awful and we in fear of losing a sense of control.  It is more legitimate to express how busy we are as the excuse for being cranky, irritable and critical than it is to say, I need help.  I’m not coping.  I’ve had enough or simply – HELP!!

So instead of saying – I am burning out – what we will instead say is I need more to do until I am too sick to work.

This is a bigger deal that we probably care to admit.  Burn-Out isn’t a lifestyle by design nor is it a choice many of us consciously making.   However, many of us will put up with the warning signs, and push them aside until a project is completed, or until our annual leave arrives.  Invariably what happens here is that when the stress comes off the body and the mind, there will be a physical illness, and this is why so many people end up sick while on a holiday.

My question to you today is this: Do you know what your Burn-Out signs are?

You will have them.

How about you spend 10 minutes simply reflecting on how you feel

when you know you’ve had enough.


If you have read this article today and it has triggered you or you realise that you need help, please take action now.  Don’t leave this article thinking that this doesn’t apply to you.  Call a trusted friend; reach out to your GP or to a health professional.

Please don’t ignore this.  The world needs what you have to offer.


Who is Jo Muirhead?

Allied Health Support Services Jo Muirhead Photo

Jo Muirhead- Rehabilitation Counsellor
Founder, PurpleCo

Jo is passionate about helping people make work work well.  Jo is an engaging speaker, coach and the founder of PurpleCo a team of specialized allied health professionals who help people reclaim their lives and return to work following injury, illness and trauma.   Jo is also the author of the book The Entrepreneurial Clinician.

Contact Jo – LinkedIn



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