View of woman at work desk with head on the table experiencing burnout against bubblegum pink background.
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5 signs you really need to take a day off or risk burnout

12 Aug 2019

Has your hard work begun to fray your nerves? You may need to take a personal day to recharge your batteries. Here is how to tell when you’re due a day off.

Even if you’re in your dream job, work isn’t always going to be a dream. Peaks and troughs are normal. Some days are, inevitably, going to be better than others, and just because you sometimes don’t want to go into work doesn’t mean you have fallen out of love with your job.

It’s perfectly normal that your patience with daily challenges will occasionally wear thin, however, it also could be a sign that you are inching towards the end of your tether.


How do you differentiate between typical frustration and indications that you may need to take some time out to get your groove back? Your intuition will be a great guide on this, but checking whether you identify with any of the signs below will help push that insight a little further along.

You’ve got a bad case of the ‘Sunday scaries’

The ‘Sunday scaries’ is a colloquial term coined to describe the wave of disquiet that can wash over you as the light dwindles on a Sunday evening and you cast your mind to the week ahead. As one researcher puts it, this feeling is the “emotional discomfort at the doorstep of a new week”.

‘Sunday scaries’ are very normal. The start of the week looms large for most people, to the point that ‘I hate Mondays’ has become the clichéd rallying call of the 9-to-5 working population.

Having a nice, restful Sunday and doing lots of preparation for the week ahead can help you combat that ballooning sense of anxiety. Yet if a bath bomb and overnight oats just aren’t cutting it anymore, you may need to consider that you’re getting overwhelmed.

Brain fog is plaguing your work

Do you find yourself forgetting things that normally feel second nature? Have a lot of emails been slipping through the cracks in your inbox? Do you have problems concentrating and feel as though there is a giant wad of cotton wool inside your skull where your brain is normally meant to be?

There are myriad reasons your focus can fail you. You could be dehydrated, hungry or inadequately nourished. Perhaps the environment you’re working in could be too distracting.

It could also be that you’ve simply worked a little too hard without giving yourself an adequate break. Even if you are disciplined enough to always leave on time and take your full lunch hour – a practice we in the Careers section strenuously recommend – you need to regularly take more extended breaks from the office.

At a certain point, productivity will fall victim to diminishing returns. Taking time away from the office, if anything, will make you more productive. Not to mention that a change of scenery will generally do wonders for your creativity and problem-solving skills.

You’re feeling more irritable than usual

Work is often annoying. Clients can test your patience and office politics can grate on you. These things in moderation, as with all of the above, are completely natural.

You need to think more gravely about how to address this feeling, however, if irritability has become a resting state. If you’re a walking powder keg, you risk blowing up at an inappropriate time. That’s not only unpleasant but can potentially damage your professional reputation or relationships, and be a sign that you’re approaching burnout.

You’ll know yourself when the scales have tipped. If you spend more time with teeth clenched than you don’t, it’s a good idea for your sake – and, let’s be realistic here, for the sake of everyone around you – that you take some time out.

You are constantly unwell

I’m not talking about having the flu here. When I say unwell, I mean suffering from continuous, low-level illness. Dull and perpetual headaches, a running nose, persistent aches and pains, frequent indigestion, cold sores, or other indications that your system is slightly on the fritz.

The flu can happen to anybody and doesn’t warrant deep consideration, but if it seems like your immune system isn’t performing quite as well as it normally does, this could be a strong indication that you’re stressed. When stress happens, the body releases cortisol, which alters the immune system and suppresses the digestive system, and can have quite grave long-term effects if not addressed properly.

If this is happening to you, you may need to book some annual leave for your health, or even just take a sick day if your health issues are impacting your work.

You have a glut of unused days

You get given annual leave days for a reason – you’re meant to use them. You may be saving up your days for some grand epic excursion and hoping to carry over as many as possible in service of that goal, but there are limits. Generally, employers cap how many unused days you can transfer to the next calendar year, so don’t let those days burn a hole in your pocket.

If you’re experiencing a particularly hectic time in the office or if you are struggling financially, you may be hesitant to take time off. The office beckons and your wallet weeps. Most people can identify with that situation.

You don’t have to shell out for a big holiday or take a full week out of work. You can, alternatively, pepper your coming weeks with long weekends. Working a four-day week instead of a five-day one will leave you considerably refreshed without disrupting your upcoming projects too much.

Just take a day off, please

You may feel worried that taking time off, be it sick days or annual leave, will call your commitment to your role into question. No reasonable manager should make you feel like this is the case, and if they do you may need to consider looking for a new job rather than just taking a day off.

Taking leave is an essential component to assuring your working life and personal life remain in harmonious balance. Working yourself down to a fine powder and mechanically pressing ahead even if your body and soul scream at you will ultimately benefit no one.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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