Signs You’re Burning Out—And What To Do About It

I started a job that was, for all intents and purposes, my dream job a few years ago. At least, that’s what I’ve been working toward for the past four years of college and two years of internships. This was my big chance, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.

I believe that, while I may not be the smartest or most talented person in the room, my outstanding work ethic will get me a seat at the table. So I went to work early, remained late, and worked weekends, all the while obsessing over my performance and my future.

Looking back, it’s clear that my way of life was unsustainable. Back then, however, I proudly flaunted my workaholism. I thought I had a great job and would work as hard as it required to succeed.

With the passage of time, any pretense of a balanced life vanished. I didn’t have the energy or desire to socialize with my friends, I was neglecting my health, and I was dissatisfied with my job.

There was no particular catalyst—it wasn’t that I had lost interest in the type of job I was doing in general.

Instead, it was a classic example of burnout: several chronic pressures over a long period of time had left me exhausted and unable to perform at my best.

I went from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to seriously burned out in a matter of years. Here are several indicators that you may be on the same track.

What Exactly Is Burnout?

As it turns out, my experience isn’t unique; many millennial women experience job burnout before they reach the age of 30. Job burnout, according to David Ballard, PsyD of the American Psychological Association, is “an extended period of time during which someone suffers tiredness and a lack of interest in activities, resulting in a reduction in their job performance.”

“A lot of burnout is caused by persistent stress,” says Dr. Ballard, who is also the director of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “The demands being placed on you in certain situations surpass the resources you have available to deal with the pressures.”

Burnout can have a negative impact on your health, happiness, relationships, and job performance if left unchecked.

It’s critical to know what to look for in order to detect and battle burnout early.

Dr. Ballard let us in on 10 signs you may be experiencing burnout:

1. Exhaustion

A clear sign of burnout is when you feel tired all the time. Exhaustion can be emotional, mental, or physical. It’s the sense of not having any energy, of being completely spent.

2. Lack of Motivation

There’s a good probability you’re experiencing burnout if you don’t feel excited about anything anymore or if you don’t have that internal motivation for your profession.

What are some other manifestations of this? It may be more difficult to get out of bed in the morning and drag yourself to work every day.

3. Frustration, Cynicism, and Other Negative Emotions

You might feel as though what you’re doing isn’t as important as it once was, or you might be disillusioned with everything.

You might discover that you’re feeling more negative than usual. While everyone has negative emotions from time to time, it’s crucial to recognize when they start to become abnormal for you.

4. Cognitive Problems

Burnout and persistent stress can impair your capacity to focus and pay attention. When we’re stressed, our attention is drawn to the negative aspect of the situation that we see as a threat. According to Dr. Ballard, this helps us deal with the problem at hand in the short term.

Our bodies and minds, on the other hand, are built to tolerate this in brief spurts before returning to normal functioning. When stress becomes chronic, our restricted focus persists for an extended period of time, making it difficult to pay attention to other things. “

This “fight or flight” tunnel vision can negatively affect your ability to solve problems or make decisions. You might find that you’re more forgetful and have a harder time remembering things.

5. Slipping Job Performance

Are you unsure if you’re burned out? Compare your current job performance to past years’ performance. Because burnout usually occurs over a lengthy period of time, taking a long-term perspective can help you determine whether you’re in a short funk or suffering from chronic burnout.

6. Interpersonal Problems at Home and at Work

This tends to play out in one of two ways: (a) You’re having more conflicts with other people, such as getting into arguments, or (b) you withdraw, talking to your coworkers and family members less. You might find that even when you’re physically there, you’re tuned out.

7. Not Taking Care of Yourself

Some people who are burnt out engage in harmful coping mechanisms such as binge drinking, smoking, being excessively sedentary, eating too much junk food, not eating enough, or sleeping too little.

Another issue is self-medication, which can include taking sleeping pills to sleep, drinking more alcohol to de-stress at the end of the day, or even drinking more coffee to summon the energy to drag yourself into work in the morning.

8. Being Preoccupied With Work … When You’re Not at Work

Even if you’re not working at the time, if you’re wasting mental energy thinking about your job, it’s interfering with your capacity to recuperate from the pressures of the day. To recover, you’ll need time to yourself when the real activity is completed… and time when you don’t think about it at all.

9. Generally Decreased Satisfaction

This is the tendency to feel less happy and satisfied with your career and with your home life. You might feel dissatisfied or even stuck when it comes to whatever is going on at home, in the community, or with your social activities, Dr. Ballard says.

10. Health Problems

Over a long period of time, serious chronic stress can cause real health problems like digestive issues, heart disease, depression, and obesity.

And If You Are Experiencing Burnout?

Dr. Ballard let us in on what to do if you recognize the above symptoms in yourself.

Take Relaxation Seriously

Whether you take up meditation, listen to music, read a book, take a walk or visit with friends and family, truly think about what you’ll do to relax, and designate time for it.

Cultivate a Rich Non-Work Life

Find something you enjoy doing outside of work that is difficult, engaging, and motivates you—whether it’s a hobby, sports or fitness activities, or community service (along with other items we mention here, like relaxation, being able to “turn off” and participating in rewarding non-work activities).


While communication technology can promote productivity, it can also allow work stressors to seep into family time, vacation, and social activities. Set boundaries by turning off cell phones at dinner and delegating certain times to check email.

Get Enough Sleep

According to research, getting less than six hours of sleep every night is a key risk factor for burnout, not least because sleep deprivation can affect job performance and productivity.

It can cause weariness, lower motivation, make you more sensitive to stressful events, impede mental performance, make you more prone to errors, and make juggling competing demands more difficult. The opposite is also true: we’ve seen how sleep may help you remember things.

Recovering from chronic stress and burnout necessitates removing or reducing demands on your time and resources. One technique for recharging such resources is to sleep. Check out our suggestions for getting better sleep for more ideas.

Get Organized

When people feel burned out, they frequently worry that they will forget something crucial or that something important will fall through the cracks.

Organize your thoughts, make a to-do list (or an electronic task list), and then prioritize. You won’t have to continually remember those details since you’ll have procedures in place to remind you.

Stay Attuned

More headaches, tense shoulders, a stiff neck, or more frequent stomach upset are all physical symptoms that indicate that you may be under too much stress.

Burnout has an impact on depression, and being depressed can have an impact on your amount of burnout—it works both ways.

So, if the problems you’re having are becoming increasingly significant, you may need to seek expert help. Talk to a psychologist if you need more help than your friends and family can provide.

You Know When It’s You and When It’s Them.

Internal causes can cause burnout, but it can also be a consequence of external stressors, according to Dr. Ballard. In the first situation, you’ll need to ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” so you can figure out what’s stressing you out and how to keep your internal resources topped up so you can stay motivated, produce your best work, and operate effectively.

Work is to blame for some of the burnout. “In a 2011 poll, more than two-thirds of respondents claimed their employers took efforts to cut costs as a result of the recession,” such as hiring freezes, layoffs, reducing work hours, rolling back benefits, mandating unpaid days off, raising hours, and so on.

“All of this puts more pressure on labor,” he argues. “There are greater demands and fewer resources, and these are the two factors that contribute to burnout.”

To find out whether it’s time to move on, figure out whether your position is a “mismatch between your needs and what you’re getting working for that particular organization.”

Figure Out When Enough Is Enough.

Consider talking to your manager or HR about EAP services, mental health benefits, or stress management training—or at least, about how to improve communication and create a better, more positive work environment.

Angle the conversation around how those cultural shifts will enable you to continue to serve the company and become an even better employee.

“I do think there are times when, no matter what you try to do, the organization is unable or unwilling to make those changes,” Dr. Ballard says, “and in those cases, it is just time to move on.”


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