Skip to main content

Telltale signs of workplace burnout and what to do if you spot them

Show Caption

Everyone experiences tough days at work, but chronic stress can lead to burnout. Stress is a normal human response to a particular event that causes mental tension or worry.  Burnout on the other hand is a consequence of extended high stress.  

According to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, signs you're experiencing burnout include:

  • "Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job
  • Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy."

Burnout may feel like every task is a sacrifice that is driven by obligation rather than value. You may feel like you’re struggling to find meaning and motivation. It is common to isolate yourself from the people around you as well as feel overwhelmed, moody or impatient.

More: I sometimes receive hateful comments online. How to handle critical feedback.

If you’re encountering these signs of burnout, there are a couple things that may help:

Take care of your physical health. Our mind and body are connected. Many of us carry stress in our bodies, often in our shoulders, jaws and guts. Take time to rest, sleep, move, eat, hydrate or stretch. It can really help our bodies to manage stress.

Re-establish clear and realistic expectations. Many of us have stressful jobs that involve myriad external expectations, but we often increase the pressure on ourselves by adding on our own expectations. For example, we may expect ourselves to take on every task our boss asks us, to complete tasks perfectly and do all this without breaks. It's important to distinguish a realistic expectation from an unrealistic one.

Adjust boundaries. It's key to adapt our boundaries. These adjustments might involve setting a specific time to socialize with colleagues, actually taking the breaks we schedule, and being deliberate about when we say yes or no and how we spend our time after work. The boundaries we set for our down time are as important as boundaries during work. If we over-extend ourselves outside of work, our stress at work will increase further.

What is languishing? Alonely?: A mental health glossary to explain what you're feeling

Reconnect with your purpose and meaning in life. Burnout often deprives us of our meaning in life. We can help reintroduce a sense of fulfillment to our lives by reconnecting to the things that hold value for us. This reconnection could involve being discerning about the projects we take on, choosing only the things we believe in or finding ways to seek fulfillment outside of work.

More: I can't stop meeting great guys. Is it time to give up on my dating ban?

Practice acceptance. So much of our energy is spent worrying about things beyond our control. Accepting these things as they are can help us make mental space.

Celebrate our efforts, not just the outcomes. Stress often focuses on what needs to be done and rarely on what has been done. Take a moment to celebrate before moving on to the next milestone. It can help you acknowledge your efforts. It can also give you a much needed break  – even if it’s only for a celebratory dinner.

Practice gratitude. We are all working really hard. Have we thanked ourselves? It's crucial to practice gratitude for the immense workload or stress we endure. Everyone needs validation!

Make a change. It might be time to reconsider our jobs if our mental health is suffering. Not everyone has the privilege of changing jobs, but if we do, it may be worth exploring, even if it comes with some disadvantages.

Seek support (e.g. friends, community, therapist). It can help the people around you know how to support you best. Consider seeing a therapist or telling your family and friends that you’re having a hard time.

More: Vaccine breakups: Is it fair to cut someone out of your life for not getting the shot?

More: Are you in a one-sided relationship? Here's how to tell.

Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at