You’re working long hours, but you don’t feel like you’re getting anything done. You dread getting up to go to work every morning. You don’t feel like anything matters 一 no matter what you do, it doesn’t make a difference, and you won’t be recognized for it. You’re exhausted, all the time.
Sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing burnout. Burnout is a term that describes a psychological condition in which you feel completely overwhelmed by on-the-job stress. Luckily, burnout is both preventable and treatable, but you need to be able to recognize it to take action.
Here are 7 signs of burnout to watch out for.
You feel ineffective and unproductive.
People who are burnt out often feel like they’re not as effective or productive as they used to be at work. You might find it hard to find the energy or passion to put your all into the task-at-hand. This ineffectiveness could come from many different places, including exhaustion and apathy, which we’ll talk about later.
No matter how many hours you seem to work, you don’t seem to be able to get anything done. Your to-do list keeps piling up, and you might feel hopeless about ever feeling like you’re succeeding at work. Your lack of productiveness might just be an internal feeling, but it could be visible enough to be noticed by your colleagues or superiors.
You feel jaded, cynical, or pessimistic.
Maybe when you first started your job, you felt hopeful and excited. You were optimistic, and you felt like what you did made a difference. You felt identified with your job and workplace, and you enjoyed spending time with colleagues. Maybe you even offered to take on additional tasks.
If you’ve reached burnout, you probably don’t feel that excitement anymore. Instead, you may feel jaded, cynical, or pessimistic about work. Nothing you do at work seems to make a difference anyway. More and more, you might be feeling like you really hate your job. You have no idea where that sense of excitement and positivity went. Whenever you think about your job, all you feel now is a sour taste of annoyance and disappointment.
You just don’t care anymore.
Feelings of apathy are one of the most common telltale signs of burnout. You might feel like you just don’t care about your job anymore 一 you’re there to do the bare minimum so you don’t get fired, but you don’t feel invested in the workplace. You might think to yourself: “What’s the point?”
This is especially common among people who burnout in the helping profession. You might find it hard to care about your clients or patients in the same way you used to. It’s too hard to care so much, and you feel like giving up. It feels like no matter what you do, nothing changes. You might feel hopeless about making a difference in any way.
You’re always exhausted.
Burnout often manifests in the body. One of the most common physical symptoms that people face when they’re burnt out is fatigue and exhaustion. Pay attention to how tired you feel throughout the day. It’s normal to feel tired in the morning, but if you’re experiencing a sense of exhaustion that doesn’t go away, that may be a sign that you’re getting close to burnout.
People who are approaching burnout often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, even after they’ve gotten enough sleep. They might rely too much on coffee to have enough energy just to get through the day. Fatigue can be a symptom of other physical and mental illnesses, so if you’ve noticed chronic fatigue, make sure you talk to a doctor to figure out whether you’re burnt out or if there’s something else going on.
You’ve started using more drugs and/or alcohol.
Not everyone will experience this symptom, but pay attention to how much you’re using drugs and alcohol to escape from the stress of work. If the amount of drugs and alcohol you’ve been consuming has increased recently, that may be a sign that you’re facing burnout. People who are burnt out often fantasize about an impossible escape 一 and turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to get closer to that feeling of escape.
Of course, an increase in drugs and alcohol could be a sign of other mental health problems too, including clinical depression and substance use disorder. Tell your doctor or therapist about your drug or alcohol use; they can help you figure out how much substance use is healthy, and when it crosses the line.
Related Podcast: 15 Minutes On The Couch: "Substance Abuse and Mental Health"
You can’t focus.
When we’re under a lot of stress, our ability to concentrate takes a hit. If you’ve found it harder and harder to maintain focus at work (or on other tasks), that may be a sign that you’re approaching burnout. Especially if you don’t typically have a problem with concentration, and you now do, this is something to pay attention to.
This symptom of burnout is interlinked with some of the other ones. For example, maybe you can’t concentrate because you’re fantasizing about escape. And your inability to focus may be affecting your effectiveness and productivity at work.
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You fantasize of escape.
Finally, you might find yourself dreaming about escaping your life. It doesn’t matter what your fantasy looks like: maybe you daydream about quitting your job without notice, or escaping to an island somewhere, away from corporate life. Some people may have more extreme fantasies, like fantasizing about getting injured so that they can take time off work without being judged.
If you’re having fantasies about harming yourself, call your local emergency line or 1-800-273-TALK.
Preventing and Coping with Burnout
The easiest way to cope with burnout is to prevent it from happening to begin with. If you’re starting to observe some of these signs in yourself, get some support right away 一 whether it’s from a therapist, your boss, or a loved one. Figure out what practical changes can be made to manage your stress better at work. Do you need to take on less overtime? Get more feedback from your manager? Take a stress management class?
With the right support, you can start to weed through the stress and start making beneficial changes in your life.