What to Know About Work Burnout

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 20, 2024
4 min read

Burnout is more than just feeling tired at work. It’s an emotional, mental, and physical reaction to constant stress. When work demands constantly pile up, it takes a toll on you. You might start to feel unappreciated and overworked.

Burnout is a thief of energy and productivity and can spread into your personal life. You might come home feeling completely drained and dread the next day. You feel you have nothing more to give or you simply stop caring.

There are many effects that work burnout can have on your mental health. People suffering from work burnout can be at risk for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Distress
  • Poor decision-making
  • Shortened attention span
  • Lack of motivation
  • Negative or cynical outlook on life

Every situation is different, and work burnout can be caused by one thing or a combination of reasons. The main reasons for work are a high workload and a lack of appreciation. Other things that can lead to it include:

  • Lack of control in the workplace
  • Lack of social support
  • Skills that aren’t in line with your role
  • Lack of fairness
  • Not being recognized for effort

Work burnout and stress may often be confused for one another, but there is a difference between the two.

You can get work burnout from stress that never seems to let up. But stress is its own ball game. Stress is characterized by feelings of “too much.” With stress, you might think you can get things under control if you work a little harder.

When you’re burned out, you’ll feel as though “it’s never enough.” You might start to feel hopeless or lack all emotion. Burnout is the result of prolonged stress, and you might not realize it as it sneaks up on you.

Work burnout can affect every part of your health, and if you feel it for a long period of time, it can trickle into other parts of your life and a feeling of hopelessness can set in.

It’s important to recognize the signs of burnout before this happens. You might have work burnout if:

  • Every day is a “bad” day
  • You feel like nothing you do is appreciated
  • You can’t get a good night’s sleep
  • You have trouble telling one day from the next
  • You feel unconnected from your work
  • You don’t take an interest in your work any more
  • Your efficiency and performance is dropping
  • You feel exhausted all the time
  • You use drugs or alcohol as a way to get through the day
  • You find it hard to concentrate

If you think you’re suffering from work burnout, there are steps you can take to improve your mindset and situation:

  • Cut down on contact with negative people. Negative people can spread their energy to you and bring down your mood. Stay away from them as much as you can.
  • Reach out to people close to you. Talking to your partner or family about how you feel at work can be helpful. Don’t assume you’re burdening others. Most people will be flattered that you trust them.
  • Socialize with coworkers. Interacting with the people you spend the workday with can help ease the grind. Try to strike up a conversation in the breakroom instead of checking your phone.
  • Make new friends. Meeting new people can take your mind off of work and will expand your social circle. 
  • Take time off. Sometimes, all we need is some time off. Use vacation days, sick days, or a temporary leave of absence. Refocus and figure out where you need to make changes.
  • Try to find value in your work. Try to see value in the work that you do. Maybe it’s a necessary role that helps people, or one that requires a certain skill level. Focus on the parts that you can enjoy.
  • Set boundaries. Boundaries are important in every area of life. Saying no to some tasks can help you regain a sense of control.
  • Make time to relax. Try yoga, meditation, or practice mindfulness.
  • Get creative. Try a new hobby, or pick up an old one. Paint, draw, or make crafts. Creativity is a powerful force against work burnout. 

Once you’ve figured out how to deal with work burnout, you don’t want to go back to the old way of doing things. Take these steps to protect your mental health and set up boundaries with your work:

  • Practice self-care. Self-care isn’t only about spa days. It’s taking care of yourself first, through eating right, exercise, and setting boundaries.
  • Pace yourself. Decide what needs to be done first and give yourself permission to take breaks when you need them.
  • Get off your phone. Our devices can make us hunch over and keep to ourselves throughout the day. Set a special ringer for important calls and try to talk to others throughout the day.
  • Be you. Taking on a different personality at work can take a toll on you. Be yourself.