burnout at work

8 Signs of Burnout at Work and How to Deal with It

Do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, wondering what the point of work is? Does your 8-hour working day feel like a lifetime? Do you lack the energy to be productive? Have you become cynical at work?

You could be having burnout that results from chronic workplace stress. It is a condition that is not easy to spot. Work-related stress is so normalized that you might mistake what you are feeling for ordinary exhaustion. However, burnout is a serious condition that can affect your physical and mental health, and if not dealt with, can result in a breakdown.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a response to prolonged and heightened work stress. It can be defined as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. But it also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and feelings of emptiness and loss of personal identity.

Before you experience burnout, your emotions might tip you off. However, it may be challenging to determine whether you’re dealing with everyday work-related stress or extreme exhaustion that is a precursor to burnout.

What Are the Risk Factors of Burnout?

Certain groups of people who are continually exposed to high levels of stress are at a higher risk of burnout. These include:

  • Women – they experience higher levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day decision-making.
  • High-achievers – they are intrinsically motivated and put enormous pressure on themselves to excel.
  • Caregivers – they are in charge of children or sick relatives.
  • Helping professionals – first responders, doctors, and nurses are particularly vulnerable.

8 Signs of Burnout to Look Out For

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. The first signs of burnout at work are subtle, but they become worse as time goes on.

Emotional and Physical Exhaustion

Fatigue is the most common sign of burnout. You might find it hard to get out of bed each morning. The lack of energy is not only physical; you might feel emotionally drained too. An ordinary workday feels too long, and you can’t wait to clock out.

Cynicism

Burnout leads to a negative attitude towards what you do and the people you work with. You might be callous towards your coworkers. You might also have misgivings about the management’s motives and feel exploited. Pessimism and lower levels of commitment are some of the red flags to look out for.

Apathy

Have you lost interest in what you do? Apathy is often overlooked because those who have it focus on doing the bare minimum, getting paid, and not bothering anyone unless necessary.

Although you are not happy with your job, you are not disgruntled either. You go through the motions, remain detached, and have no interest in tasks you usually find exciting. You do not slack off or cause a scene at work, but apathy is a sign that you may be highly stressed

Sense of Incompetence

You feel ineffective. Because you are exhausted and have a negative attitude, your productivity suffers. You might feel guilty or frustrated by your lack of accomplishment. These feelings pile up over time and can lead to depression.

Irritability

Do you get triggered by the slightest inconvenience? Burnout can cause you to lose your cool with those around you quickly. Coping with everyday stressors may feel overwhelming. Outright anger is another sign that your job is burning you out.

Trouble Concentrating

Does your mind wander during important meetings? Trouble concentrating is one of the mental signs that you are overwhelmed. Disillusionment and forgetfulness are other signs you should look out for.

Escape Fantasies

Because you are dissatisfied with your job’s never-ending demands, you might fantasize about a better life. Wishing you had a different career or life is a sign that you are frustrated by your current one. You may fantasize about running away or going on a vacation. In extreme cases, you might turn to food, alcohol, or drugs to numb the pain.

Physical Ailments

Extreme work-related exhaustion may present several physical symptoms, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Gastrointestinal pain

What to Do If You Are Experiencing Burnout

Noticing the signs is one thing; figuring out how to recover from burnout is another. There are a few things you can do to stop yourself from breaking down completely.

Change Your Attitude

Your mind is a powerful tool. Being conscious of negative thought patterns and habits can help you overcome burnout. Some thought patterns like competitiveness and perfectionism can make you push yourself too hard. Work on removing self-imposed pressures that stifle you at work.

Change Your Workload

Burnout can happen when you have too much on your plate. What you should do is lighten your load. Delegate as much as you can. Do not hesitate to turn down opportunities if your schedule is too tight.

How to Avoid Burnout

Burnout at work can be avoided. There are a few strategies you can employ to keep yourself energetic and alert for peak performance.

Start Your Day in the Right Mood

You cannot change all the negative aspects of your job. However, you can make sure that you are energized and looking forward to each workday. Having a morning ritual can provide a sense of comfort before you head to work.

You can also:

  • Start your day with some exercise to release feel-good hormones
  • Spend a few minutes outside for some fresh air
  • Listen to your favorite music or podcast on your commute to work

Avoid Negativity

Although you love what you do, a toxic workplace can leave you mentally and emotionally drained. Create a positive work environment by:

  • Avoiding workplace gossip
  • Taking part in healthy competition with your peers
  • Adopting a positive, problem-solving mindset
  • Distancing yourself from negative people

Find Meaning in Your Work

Remember why you chose your career. You probably spent years in college and internships to get to where you are. You must have had good reasons for doing so.

Even if you didn’t take the career path you wanted, there are probably several things you like about your job. Maybe it is the way you make a difference in others’ lives or being able to provide for your family. Finding meaning in your career gives a sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Set Boundaries

Manage expectations in your workplace so that you do not spread yourself too thin. Know that there is only so much you can do. Communicate with your coworkers to ensure you take on a reasonable amount of work.

Take Relaxation Seriously

Scrolling down your Instagram feed at midnight is not relaxation. Set aside days specifically to unwind. Meditate, practice yoga, enjoy a nature walk, or read a book by the fireplace. Regardless of which activity you choose, commit to it entirely.

Unplug

Occasionally take a break from social media and electronic devices. Being “always-on” can exhaust, especially when trying to process new information from many different sources. Unplugging from constant stimulation can have a therapeutic effect.

Achieve Work-Life Balance

Find something you enjoy doing outside work. It should be challenging, engaging, and fulfilling. Pick up a hobby, volunteer, or learn a new craft. Set aside time for the activity and be consistent with always having something to look forward to.

Get Enough Sleep

Poor sleep habits can worsen your exhaustion and push you closer to a complete breakdown. Create a good bedtime routine that helps you to unwind and fall asleep quickly. Some activities to include in your bedtime routine are:

  • Avoiding fatty, spicy foods and alcohol an hour before bed
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Dimming the lights
  • Setting the right room temperature
  • Staying away from electronics an hour before bed

Ask for Help

During stressful moments, it is good to ask for help. Reach out to your partner, family, and friends. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; instead, it is a commendable act that protects your wellbeing. Social contact can help you relieve stress and calm your nervous system. You might also want to talk to a therapist online about how you are feeling. Confiding in someone relieves the burden and clears your mind. Working with a licensed therapist can help you develop long-term coping mechanisms.

The Bottom Line

How to deal with burnout? By noticing the signs and making changes to your lifestyle. When you feel unmotivated, irritable, and long for an escape, it means you may be experiencing burnout. Firstly, change your attitude. Secondly, reduce your workload. Thirdly, talk to someone about how you are feeling. Online therapy can be an excellent tool for dealing with burnout at work.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more