27 Subtle Signs You’re Actually “Burned Out” at Work
No, it's not normal to feel overwhelmed by the thought of sending an email.
Nowadays, a five-day, nine-to-five workweek is a mere dream for many people in the workforce. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that a staggering 31 percent of people with full-time jobs worked on the weekends, putting in an average of 5.4 hours of work every Saturday and Sunday.
Naturally, then, it’s no surprise that an increasing number of workers feel like their jobs are causing them anxiety. And this anxiety isn’t confined to the workplace: In one survey from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some 79 percent of men and 61 percent of women noted that their work stress affected their personal relationships, primarily with their spouses.
So, what can you do if you think your job is the root cause of your stress? Well, you can start by reading up on the most common signs of burnout at work to determine whether it’s time to reevaluate your situation.
You feel helpless.
People like to feel like they are in control of their situation, especially at work. Therefore, it is often the case that when employees think that their work situation is beyond their control, they start to feel burned out to the point of depression.
“The core delusion that causes depression, and therefore burnout, is the belief that we’re powerless to solve the problems that we view as direct obstacles to our happiness,” explains Dr. Alex Lickerman, MD, author of The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness. “So if we feel unable to perform our jobs well, if we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities at work, or if we feel we’re failing in some important way and we feel unable to course correct, we’ll feel a sense of powerlessness that can lead to symptoms of burnout.”
Just the thought of work makes you stressed.
Of course, even the happiest of employees is going to get stressed at work every now and then. However, if you find that just the mere thought of going to work has you feeling anxious every morning, then Gina Curtis, SHRM-CP, aPHR, an executive trainer and career coach at Employment BOOST, says it might be time to consider taking a step back.
“One common sign of burnout is having constant feelings of anxiety and stress toward work,” says Curtis. “[And] professionals need to take burnout seriously, or it can start to affect their health and relationships.” And if you’re wondering why you’ve been packing on the pounds ever since you’ve started to feel burned out, then read up on Why Work Stress Makes Women Gain So Much Weight.
You’re eating more (or less) than you used to.
Stress eating is very much a thing. So too is a loss of appetite due to feeling overwhelmed and anxious all the time. If you notice that your appetite has changed to the point that you’re either hungry all the time or can’t stomach more than one meal, then Briana Hollis, a licensed social worker and life coach, notes that this could be a sign that you’re feeling burned out.
You can’t concentrate on anything.
Anyone who says that they don’t look at their Facebook and/or Instagram while at work is simply lying. However, there is a difference between the occasional scroll and being glued to your phone all day—and if you find that your phone usage falls into the latter category, it might be a sign of burnout at work. As Curtis notes, “not being able to concentrate” on your assignments is a pretty strong indication that something’s up with your motivation to get your work done.
You’re overly pessimistic.
Do you find yourself venting to coworkers and friends about your job more than most people? Well, according to Hollis, this “negative outlook” could be one of the signs of burnout that you should pay attention to. Of course, the occasional rant is only natural (and even healthy), but too much pessimism is a clear indication that there’s something unhealthy and bad for your mental and physical health at play.
You struggle to make small talk.
Smiling in meetings. Waving hello when coworkers walk by your desk. These things should be easy—and yet recently, you find that they’re about as hard as the math portion of the SAT. Why? Well, when you’re burned out at work, it’s often “too hard to do the little things like smile or make small talk,” says Melanie Katzman, PhD, a psychologist and author of Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work. “What should take little effort takes a lot.”
You’re having trouble sleeping.
Your job, and the stress it’s causing you, should not be keeping you up at night. If it is, then Dr. Bryan Bruno, medical director at the depression-focused Mid City TMS in New York, warns that this could be a sign of burnout.
“Stress physically affects the body in negative ways,” says Bruno. Among other things, he notes that it can result in “sleep issues,” ones that keep you up all night and only end up exacerbating your issues at work.
And you’re constantly exhausted.
You’re getting the suggested amount of sleep every night—and yet, the second you show up to work, you feel like you didn’t sleep a wink. This, notes Dr. Bruno, is one of the many signs of burnout that should never go ignored. “Feeling uninspired or exhausted when you show up to work is a red flag,” he says, “and over time, it could cause you to shut down.”
You feel physically ill all the time.
Ulcers. Headaches. Teeth grinding. Chest pain. All of these are physical ways by which burnout can manifest, says Dr. Bruno. Of course, if your workplace stress gets to the point that it’s affecting both your physical and mental health, then it’s high time to take a vacation and reevaluate your position.
You’re always in a bad mood.
“If you can’t help but feel negatively toward your workplace and coworkers for no good reason, you should take a break,” says Dr. Bruno. But how? One of the ways he suggests overcoming burnout is by taking up a new hobby. “Having something to look forward to after work does wonders for stress.”
And you take it out on other people.
People who tend to take their anger out at work are often burned out. As Nicole Wood, CEO and co-founder of career coaching company Ama La Vida, notes, “a buildup of work-related stress over time can often lead to lashing out on those around you. [When you are burned out], you may find yourself acting in ways that are completely out of character, shocking, and embarrassing.”
You don’t care about the quality of your work.
Most employees will go the extra mile to make sure that their work is flawless—not just because it bears their name and impacts their reputation, but also because it could be the difference between a promotion and a pink slip. Therefore, if you find that you couldn’t care less whether there are myriad errors in your work, that’s probably a good sign that you’re burned out to the point of total apathy.
“Burnout takes a toll on the quality of work that you do as well as your personal life,” says Samuel Tang, the co-owner and big boss behind jewelry company Joy Creations. “You lack the energy or the motivation to complete or do good work—which is not ideal for anyone or anything.” If you find yourself in this situation, Tang recommends “incorporating some sort of self-care routine into your daily schedule.” Even going to bed a little bit earlier or taking a bath every night will help you destress and reset on the daily.
You’re constantly missing deadlines.
People who are burned out tend to not only submit work that’s poor quality, but also do so in an untimely manner. As Michael Tomaszewski, a career expert at resume and cover letter advice company ResumeLab, explains, burnout often translates into “missing deadlines,” often in people who “used to strive for overachievement.”
You feel like your boss doesn’t care about your success.
“While your career path is yours to own, you need the support of others for guidance, opportunities, personal growth, and to achieve your potential,” says Wood. Therefore, if you feel like the higher-ups don’t care one way or another about your career, this could be both a reason for and one of the signs of burnout. And if you’ve reached out to the people in charge of your company and they still don’t seem to want to invest their time or money into you, then Wood suggests looking elsewhere for a job at a company that actually cares about you and your success.
You don’t chime in during team meetings.
When you first started at your job, your coworkers couldn’t get a word in edgewise because you had so much to say and so many ideas to contribute. Nowadays, though, it’s easy to forget that you’re even at most meetings, seeing as you prefer to sit silently in the corner and keep to yourself.
Sound familiar? If so, then you might be dealing with a bad case of burnout, says Tomaszewski. The career expert notes that one of the signs of burnout is “having a distant attitude toward your work” and “[not] getting engaged like you used to. You lose your creative powers and become a passive observer rather than an active member of your team.”
Even the most menial of tasks stresses you out.
Nobody should feel stressed about something as simple as filing a few papers or throwing a few numbers into an Excel sheet. If your boss asks you to perform a trivial task like this and you immediately become anxious and overwhelmed, then you might want to evaluate your general feelings about your job.
As Tomaszewski notes, many people who are burned out at work find that “most tasks start to feel like a challenge and exhaust [them] to the point that [they] are unable to handle even the small stuff.” If you think that you are experiencing this kind of burnout, then Tomaszewski suggests taking a few days off to “indulge in something you love” and even considering “planning a job or career change.” At the end of the day, your happiness is the most important thing, and you should never put your work before your wellbeing.
You have no energy for fun things after work.
If the only thing you ever have time for anymore—or really, the only thing you ever make time for anymore—is work, then you either really love your job or, more likely, you’re burning yourself out. Ashton Burdick, MA, NCC, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in North Carolina, notes that one of the common signs of burnout that he sees in his patients is “feeling drained during and at the end of [the] work day.”
You feel like your contributions are irrelevant.
One of the other common signs of burnout that Burdick sees often is “feeling hopeless or like nothing you do matters.” In other words, if you’re unmotivated to complete your tasks because you feel like it doesn’t matter either way, then that’s probably a pretty clear indication that you’re both overworked and underwhelmed by what you’re doing.
You drink a lot of coffee.
Believe it or not, one of the signs of burnout is an unhealthy reliance on caffeine just to get through the day. “The first sign [of burnout] I see in people, and the first question I ask those that I mentor is, “How much coffee are you drinking daily?” says career coach Nick Glassett. “When we’re burned out, we usually turn to caffeine as a way to give ourselves that false sense of passion back.”
You’re increasingly impatient.
At work, patience is more than just a virtue. Without it, you risk lashing out at your boss, rushing projects and handing in work that is subpar at best, and overlooking mistakes that should’ve been caught simply for the sake of getting things done quickly.
Unfortunately, though, impatience is one of the common signs of burnout. That’s because, as Ben Barrett, LLMSW, CAADC, a licensed social worker and addictions professional, puts it, “when we are not managing our stress, we become agitated much quicker. Our patience dissipates.”
You twitch a lot.
One of the easiest ways for both you and other people to tell whether you’re burned out at work is via your body language. For instance, Maryann Karinch, a human behavior expert and author of The Art of Body Talk, notes that people who are “not focused and energized” tend to “twitch nervously.” So be careful about playing with your pen or twirling your hair all the time—it could be a sign that you need a mental health day.
You put physical barriers between yourself and coworkers.
Every now and again, even the social butterfly of the office needs to find a quiet place to escape and get some work done. However, if you’re the type of person who is constantly looking for ways to put physical barriers between yourself and your coworkers, it’s probably because you feel overly stressed and burned out at your job.
“If you always put your phone, laptop, desk, table, coffee cup, or stack of printouts between you and a coworker or manager you need to work with, you could be experiencing burnout,” says Karinch. “These barriers indicate you feel your personal space is being invaded and that you want to remove yourself from the interaction.”
You frequently show up late to work.
Running late for work every day isn’t just inconvenient for your coworkers who rely on you. It’s also one of the signs of burnout, according to Ron Auerbach, MBA, author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job-Hunting Guide to Success. He notes that people experiencing burnout often find themselves “arriving late to work more and more” as it’s one of the manifestations of their apathy.
You’re talking slower (or faster) than usual.
“If you find yourself talking either unnaturally slowly or unnaturally fast and your throat is kind of clenched, you are feeling stress—and that stress may be burnout,” says Karinch. So, the next time you’re chatting with a coworker, pay attention to the speed of your words; it could be saying, so to speak, more than you realize about your level of burnout at work.
You’re wearing inappropriate outfits to work.
“Burnout can lead to poor judgment and doing things that are unhealthy or not professional,” says Auerbach. One of the ways in which this unprofessional rears its ugly head is through a person’s wardrobe, often in the form of inappropriate or just unclean clothes. If you find that your work wardrobe has gone from freshly ironed button-downs to stained slogan T-shirts, then it’s time to talk to someone—namely, a therapist or other professional—about how you feel about your job.
There are significantly more errors in your assignments at work.
When “you’re making mistakes you never used to or messing up more often,” it’s time to take a hard look at just how much your job is actually stressing you out, says Auerbach. Of course, a spelling error here and there is a harmless oversight—but failing to find so many spelling errors that the text you’re turning in doesn’t even look like English is the result of pure indifference and is one of the clear signs of burnout.
Nothing feels exciting anymore.
The company is sponsoring an open bar holiday party? Oh, cool. There are free bagels and donuts in the conference room? Eh, no thanks. If these are the types of responses you’ve been giving lately in response to pieces of news that should be exciting, then business coach Heather Gray, MSW, warns that you could be suffering from burnout. “[People experiencing burnout] won’t get as excited as they used to and their good moods will look more like the momentary exception rather than the baseline.”
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