Red flags are indicators that you may be pushing a bit too hard. Learning how to spot and how to respect your red flags help us to identify and prevent burnout.
Not respecting my red flags
A few years ago, I woke up on a Monday morning feeling terrible. It felt like an invisible force was pushing me down, pinning me to the mattress as a result. When I tried to open my eyes, I had an aversion to light and could only squint or close them again. My mouth was dry, I felt nauseous and above all, I was incredibly lethargic. Eventually, driven by the need to go to the loo, I peeled myself off the mattress and shuffled downstairs on my bum, and into the bathroom. I had to climb back up the stairs on my hands and knees to get back to bed, which was where I stayed almost solidly for three days.
At the end of day three I felt slightly better, so went for a short walk in my local park. I soon realised my energy was nowhere near recovered – I had to stop at the benches every 100 metres or so and sit down for a few minutes. It was several days before I felt close to my normal self. My partner and I called this strange illness the ‘mystery sickness’. It came back again after three months and again three months after that.
Prevent Burnout with ‘REDFLAGS’
In hindsight, there was no mystery at all. I was simply doing too much and not respecting my red flags. Examples of red flags are listed below; you may find the acronym ‘REDFLAGS’ helps you remember them and most importantly to respect your red flag.
You might only experience some of these, or each of them at different times:
- R: rage, or quick to become angry
- E: emptiness
- D: despondency or depression
- F: fatigue
- L: low mood
- A: anhedonia (loss of pleasure in activities you normally enjoy)
- G: guilt or a feeling of letting people down
- S: self-doubt or low self-esteem
This isn’t a comprehensive list and of course there are physical symptoms, too, such as headaches, unexplained aches and pains and frequent illness such as common colds, but it gives you clues about what to look out for.
It’s important to note that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms in a way that feels different or more persistent, seek the advice of your GP or speak to a professional.
Ask yourself, what are my red flags? Do I schedule time to check in with myself on how I’m feeling? What’s the one thing I can do straight away if I notice one of these flags go up?
Our 12 stages of burnout resource may offer additional insight and advice for anyone who thinks they may be on the burnout spectrum.