How to Recognize Burnout Symptoms

What to Do When Your Job Is Stressing You Out

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Experiencing workplace stress for prolonged periods can lead to burnout. Burnout symptoms include feeling exhausted, empty, and unable to cope with daily life. If left unaddressed, your burnout may even make it difficult to function. Learn the physical and mental symptoms of burnout, factors that may increase your risk, and a few recovery strategies.

Signs You're Burning Out

Recognizing the signs can help you better understand whether the stress you are experiencing is impacting you in a negative way. Here are a few to look for:

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How to Deal With Burnout

  • Discuss work problems with your company's human resources department or your supervisor.
  • Explore less stressful positions or tasks within your company.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Learn meditation or other mindfulness techniques.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Practice healthy sleep habits.
  • Consider taking a vacation.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress. It is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability. More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. So, if you hate your job, dread going to work, and don't gain any satisfaction from what you're doing, it can take a serious toll on your life. This toll shows up via burnout symptoms.

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger defined burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Symptoms of Burnout

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously. Burnout symptoms can affect you both physically and mentally.

Physical Burnout Symptoms

When you experience burnout, your body will often display certain signs. Research indicates that some of the most common physical burnout symptoms include:

Because burnout is caused by chronic stress, it's helpful to also be aware of how this stress, in general, affects the body. Chronic stress may be felt physically in terms of having more aches and pains, low energy levels, and changes in appetite. All of these physical signs suggest that you may be experiencing burnout.

Mental Burnout Symptoms

Burnout also impacts you mentally and emotionally. Here are some of the most common mental symptoms of burnout:

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Burnout vs. Depression

Burnout shares symptoms with some mental health conditions, such as depression. Depression symptoms also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms, as well as thoughts of suicide. How can you tell if it is burnout versus depression?

Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work. If this is how you feel, a mental health professional can help. Seeking help is important because individuals experiencing burnout may be at a higher risk of developing depression.

Risk Factors for Burnout Symptoms

Having a high-stress job doesn't always lead to burnout. If your stress is managed well, you may not experience these ill effects. But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk of having burnout symptoms than others.

For instance, a 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44% of physicians experience burnout. Of course, it's not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry at every level are at potential risk.

According to a 2018 Gallup report, there are five job factors that can contribute to employee burnout:

  1. Unreasonable time pressures. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70% less likely to experience high burnout, while individuals who are not able to gain more time (such as paramedics and firefighters) are at a higher risk of burnout.
  2. Lack of communication and support from management. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70% less likely to experience burnout symptoms on a regular basis.
  3. Lack of role clarity. Only 60% of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  4. Unmanageable workload. When the workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout symptoms.
  5. Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.

The stress that contributes to burnout can come mainly from your job, but stressors from other areas of life can add to these levels as well. Personality traits and thought patterns such as perfectionism and pessimism, for instance, can contribute to the stress you feel.

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Effects of Untreated Burnout Symptoms

If left untreated, burnout symptoms can lead to:

  • Alienation from work-related activities. Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. You may grow cynical about your working conditions and the people you work with. You might also emotionally distance yourself and begin to feel numb about your work.
  • Emotional exhaustion. Over time, untreated burnout symptoms can cause you to feel emotionally drained and unable to cope.
  • Reduced performance. Burnout affects everyday tasks at work, or in the home if your main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout symptoms feel negative about tasks, have difficulty concentrating, and often lack creativity. Together, this results in reduced performance.

Prevention and Treatment of Burnout Symptoms

Although the term "burnout" suggests that this may be a permanent condition, it is reversible. If you are feeling burned out, you may need to make some changes to your work environment.

Approaching human resources about problems you're having or talking to a supervisor could be helpful if the company is invested in creating a healthier work environment. In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to begin to recover from burnout. If you can't switch jobs, it may help to at least switch tasks.

It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies to help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.

A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won't be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout and are having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment. Talking to a mental health professional can help you discover the strategies you need to feel your best.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.