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Burnout: Symptoms and Signs

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 03, 2020

What Is Burnout?

It happens to everyone at some point or another. Our lives get busy going here and there — working, helping others, or taking care of our families. Sometimes, we get too busy and forget to take a step back and rest. That is when burnout can occur.

Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job.

Burnout happens when you’re overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to keep up with life’s incessant demands.

The condition isn’t medically diagnosed. But burnout can affect your physical and mental health if you don’t acknowledge or treat it. 

Burnout keeps you from being productive. It reduces your energy, making you feel hopeless, cynical, and resentful. The effects of burnout can hurt your home, work, and social life. Long- term burnout can make you more vulnerable to colds and flu.

Major reasons for burnout include: 

  • Unmanageable workloads
  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Confusing work responsibilities
  • Lack of communication or support from managers
  • Immense deadline pressure

Types of Burnout

Three types of burnout have been identified, each with their own cause: 

Overload Burnout

This happens when you work harder and harder, becoming frantic in your pursuit of success. If you experience this, you may be willing to risk your health and personal life to feel successful in your job.  

Under-Challenged Burnout

This happens when you feel underappreciated and bored in your job. Maybe your job doesn’t provide learning opportunities or have room for professional growth. If you feel under-challenged, you may distance yourself from your job, become cynical, and avoid responsibilities.

Neglect Burnout

This happens when you feel helpless at work. If things aren’t going right, you may believe you’re incompetent or unable to keep up with your responsibilities. Such burnout can be closely connected to imposter syndrome, a psychological pattern in which you doubt your skills, talents, or accomplishments. 

Signs of Burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen immediately. It’s a gradual process that builds with stressors from your job. Signs and symptoms can be subtle at first. But the longer they go unaddressed, the worse they can become, which can lead to a breakdown.

Continued

Many burnout symptoms can feel like symptoms of stress, but there are three ways to differentiate them: 

  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • No enthusiasm, and feelings of negativity toward your job
  • Inability to perform your job

Burnout can have many symptoms. It can often be confused with stress or escalate into depression. These are signs to look for if you or someone close to you is experiencing burnout: 

Exhaustion

You may feel drained and unable emotionally to deal with problems around you, both professional and personal. You may experience extreme tiredness and low feelings, leaving you without energy. These symptoms can show themselves in physical pain, stomach, or bowel problems. 

Alienation from Activities

Look out for signs of cynicism and frustration toward work and colleagues. You may start to distance yourself emotionally, feeling numb about your work and environment. 

Reduced Performance

This can occur at work, home, or when caring for family members because you have no energy left for everyday tasks. Burnout makes it hard to concentrate, handle responsibilities, or be creative.

Dealing With Burnout

Burnout builds over time. It’s caused by stress at work or in other parts of your life, making it difficult to manage your job and other responsibilities. Once you’ve identified your burnout signs, there are ways to avoid a breakdown: 

Talk with your Supervisor

If you are in an environment where this is possible, try to explain how you’re feeling and discuss a more manageable workload. Communication is important for creating a healthy work environment.

Get Enough Sleep 

Sleep is vital for good physical and mental health. If you aren’t getting enough because of anxiety over your job, it’s likely to lead to burnout. Prioritize getting enough sleep. 

Try a Relaxing Activity

Yoga, meditation, or tai chi can be great ways to release stress. Burnout symptoms can appear physically; you can hold onto stress in your body. Practicing these activities can help you release the tension. 

Exercise Mindfulness

This gets you to focus on yourself internally, and know how you’re feeling in the moment. Mindfulness can help you identify when you’re feeling overwhelmed and let you take stock of your emotional well-being. It can also help you cope with challenges of life and work. 

Continued

Find Support

Talking with trusted coworkers, friends, and family is an important way to share how you’re feeling and seek help. Their support can help you cope with the stressors of your job. Finding a therapist is also a great way to discuss your feelings and get support.

Get Moving

Taking at least 30 minutes of exercise is proven to have a multitude of health benefits. Not only is it good for you physically, but it can improve your sleep quality and mental health as well.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Institute of Stress: “What is burnout? How to recognize the signs and recover from work-related stress.”

HelpGuide: “Burnout Prevention and Treatment.”

InformedHealth.org: “Depression: What is burnout?”

Mayo Clinic: “Job burnout: how to spot it and take action.”

Psych Central: “The Three Types of Burnout - And How to Bounce Back from Each.”

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