canary in the coalmine

The Canary in the Coalmine


Just when does burnout begin?

How can you tell if burnout is what you’re experiencing – after all, everyone feels pressured and overstressed at times, right?

These are the questions I asked myself over and over again after I burnt out.

How did it happen?

When did it begin?

How did I not see it coming?

I’m a smart, self-aware woman – how could this possibly have happened?

The issue is that ongoing stress camouflages itself with its own familiarity.

“This is the way I’ve lived for so long.”

But the other issue is that denial is a prime feature of burnout.

High achievers have a high tolerance for stress. So they’re even more likely to experience the protective mechanism of denial.  

High-achieving women pride themselves on their endurance and ability to cope with the many roles they occupy in their life. So they rarely own up to inner exhaustion until they become physically ill.

I’d find myself saying…

“I just… need a few days off; I’ll be fine.”

“I just… need a good night’s sleep, and I’ll be fine.”

“I just… need to get through these next few weeks, and it will get better.”

For me, the only way to end my denial was the breakdown in my physical functioning.

But there were signs before that.

There were lots of subtle signs.

I had the canary in the coalmine moments.

If you’ve not heard that term, coal miners would carry canaries down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases were present in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners. It would be their early warning signal to get out and save their health.

Would you know your canary in the coalmine moments?

Would you recognise them? Would you listen to them?

Or would you ignore them as I did?

If you don’t recognise and listen to them, you risk placing unrealistic burdens on your body’s capacity to function as I did.

This sets you up as a perfect candidate for burnout.

The old me likes the idea of being a perfect candidate! But believe me, this is one perfect award you don’t want to win!

Not every woman who is fatigued is suffering from burnout.

If a good night’s sleep can replenish your energies and restore your health, then you might just be in situational overload. 

If not, then this can be a sign that you’ve already entered the burnout cycle.

My hope is that if you think you’re burning out, you catch it and its momentum before it reaches that critical stage.


We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!

We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.



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