How to Tell if You Are Suffering from Burnout
Updated: Feb 26
Are you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, unable to concentrate, and pushed past your limits? If so, you may be suffering from burnout. Keep reading to learn more about how to tell if you are just stressed out or if you are in fact dealing with burnout syndrome.
What is Burnout?
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term burnout in 1974. He called it “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” While the term is most often applied to the workplace, burnout can also occur when you have gone through any period of prolonged stress, whether it be from caregiving, being a new parent, or going through difficult situations such as divorce.
Is it Stress or Burnout?
When most people think of burnout, they think of being extremely stressed. While there are many similarities in terms of the signs and symptoms of being stressed, burnout takes stress to the extreme, to the point of total depletion, emptiness, and hopelessness. There is nothing left to give with burnout; whereas with stress, we are still able to function relatively well and are motivated to engage in our daily lives.
Here are some differences between stress and burnout:
How do you know if you are at risk for burnout?
There are several risk factors for developing burnout, ranging from workplace factors to personality traits and even lifestyle choices. People who are overworked, underpaid, and have demanding supervisors are at high risk for burnout. Feeling underappreciated in the workplace significantly increases your risk of experiencing burnout. In fact, workers who believe they are not treated fairly are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout. Experiencing financial issues can also cause added stress which leads to burnout.
Certain personality traits such as perfectionism can lead to burnout. In the case of perfectionists, it happens because they are constantly pressuring themselves to do more and better, which eventually drags them down when they don’t measure up to the impossible standards they set for themselves.
As well, if you are someone who struggles to set boundaries and tend to be a "people-pleaser", you are also at high risk for burnout. For example, behaviours such as always agreeing to working extra hours, struggling to say no to social plans, or being too compliant in a demanding relationship can eventually lead to burnout.
Certain careers are known to carry a high risk for burnout such as physicians, nurses, counsellors, social workers, teachers, and those in service professions. But no one is really immune; burnout can happen to anyone under prolonged stress.
Burnout Syndrome in the Workplace
Burnout Syndrome is so prevalent and pervasive that it is now included as a mental health diagnosis in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, 11th edition (ICD). According to the WHO, burnout syndrome is a diagnosis that results from uncontrolled workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
The three dimensions of workplace burnout are:
Feelings of energy depletion
Increased mental distance from work, or feelings of negativity or cynicism towards work
Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout in Relationships
Burnout exists not only in the workplace, but can also arise in family and romantic relationships. When you feel that your relationships are draining you and no longer providing the joy or satisfaction they once did, you may be experiencing relationship burnout.
Common symptoms of relationship burnout are:
Emotional exhaustion; You feel drained by your relationship and have no energy to put in, despite knowing your relationship needs some work
Detachment & cynicism; You don't feel close to your partner and are increasingly critical and negative about them
Lack of investment in the relationship; You stop putting in effort and maybe rather spend your time elsewhere
Caregiver burnout describes the emotional and physical exhaustion that comes with caring for someone who has a severe or chronic illness or is otherwise very dependent, such as an elderly person. This kind of burnout can also happen to those shouldering the responsibilities of raising or otherwise looking after infants and young children.
Caregiver burnout results in:
A change in attitude from feeling positive to negative towards the person you are caring for
Ignoring one’s own needs
Lack of time for activities once enjoyed
Signs you have burnout
1. You always say no to plans – If you are frequently turning down social plans, it may be because you are “burned out.” Always saying no to invitations from friends or relatives can lead to social isolation, negatively impacting mental health and well-being.
2. You are constantly thinking about quitting your job – If you regularly find yourself daydreaming of quitting your job, you may be experiencing burnout. This feeling is more than wanting a different job for simple reasons such as better pay. With job burnout, you feel that you are stuck and miserable. If you are working full-time and spend most of that time hating your job, it’s a recipe for developing burnout.
3. Constant exhaustion – If you’re feeling exhausted all the time and no longer have the time or energy to do the things you once loved, such as an art hobby, it may be due to burnout. Exhaustion that comes with burnout is not only physical; it is emotional too, leaving you feeling drained and unable to cope. Lack of productivity and efficiency at work is one of the hallmarks of burnout.
4. Sense of loneliness – When people are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, they may simply cut themselves off from family and friends, raising the risk of social isolation and ultimately depression. People could also still feel lonely even if they haven't isolated themselves; it is a sense that no one understands you or is genuinely there for you.
5. Self-neglect – When you are overly stressed, you are less likely to take care of your hygiene, appearance, and physical health. When you are drained physically and emotionally, you can lose the inspiration to see your life positively, which tends to undermine the practice of good self-care.
6. Irritability – Feeling frequently irritated at others may signal that you are feeling burned out. If you find yourself often venting or lashing out at people around you, maybe it’s not their fault, but a sign you’re reaching your limits in a problematic situation.
7. Resentment – When you are feeling burnt out, you are more likely to resent others who appear to “have it better” than you do. You also might harbour resentment towards a demanding boss or untrustworthy coworker. However, you must keep in mind that the grass is not always greener on the other side and learn how to confront and process unresolved and difficult emotions.
8. Physical symptoms – Burnout is not exclusively a psychological state. It can cause physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems, as well as changes in weight, appetite, and sleeping patterns. Pay attention to what your body is telling you; sometimes the body shows what the mind is not yet willing to admit. This is why taking care of our physical health to help enhance our mental health is so important!
The Bottom Line
Burnout is a serious phenomenon that affects millions of people all over the world. But in many cases, it is treatable and even preventable with adjustments in routine, such as improving self-care practices, or by making necessary changes in the home or work situation. Recognizing the signs of burnout and seeking support from others to address it can go a long way toward putting you on a healthier, happier path. Read our blog post on preventing and healing from burnout here.
If you feel like you need some help in treating burnout, book an appointment with one of our Barrie therapists or online counsellor for support.
Our team of online and in-person Barrie counsellors provide quality and effective counselling services in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.