Every year, millions of people in the US experience burnout. And the numbers have only gone up since the start of the pandemic: According to an Indeed study, more than half of full-time employees currently feel burned out — up from 43% before the pandemic.
Furthermore, women (and mothers, specifically) are disproportionately taking the brunt of this extreme job-related stress.
While not technically recognized as a medical disorder, burnout is a serious condition that can have a significant negative impact on every major aspect of your life. Burnout is proven to cost billions of dollars in productivity, severely impact your mental health (triggering conditions like depression and anxiety), and even cause heart disease.
The best way to combat burnout is to identify it early on and address the underlying causes — not the symptoms. Here’s how you can spot the signs of burnout and the steps you can take to address it before it has serious consequences.
What is burnout?
The first step to identifying and addressing burnout is understanding what it is and isn’t.
The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and goes on to specify that burnout is specific to the workplace — not personal, emotional or other disruptive experiences.
Burnout shares some symptoms that may be similar to anxiety, general stress, or depression. But it is not the same. If you’re feeling burned out, you will experience a unique set of characteristics, some of which may overlap with common mental health issues — and it may affect other areas of your life, like relationships and hobbies. But again, burnout is directly tied to your work.
Signs of burnout
Have you felt bleh about your work at any given time? Congratulations! You’re just like the rest of us.
However, when this feeling of apathy becomes a constant rather than an exception, red flags are flying. No job will be 100% fun all the time — there are annoying or uninspiring tasks everywhere —, but a sense of excitement is crucial to staying motivated and engaged.
If you’ve lost this excitement, it might be a sign that things aren’t going well and you’re either on your way to burnout or already there.
Feeling burned out is a constant tug between what you have to do and the thing you dread most — both piled into one. This internal struggle leaves you feeling depleted of energy regardless of whether you’re sleeping a full 8-hour night and waking up feeling worse or simply can’t fall asleep at night.
This lack of energy may result in taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks, having a hard time making seemingly simple decisions (have you heard of decision fatigue?), or feeling unable to face new projects altogether.
Heightened emotional states are also common when it comes to experiencing burnout.
If you’re getting irrationally mad or feeling unable to control your emotions in the workplace, this may be a sign of a deeper issue you need to address before it escalates.
Pent-up emotions are also a sign that you’re holding things in, which may be due to feeling unable to express yourself safely. Suppressing your frustrations or opinions out of fear of retaliation, for example, is adding fuel to the fire.
Changes in habits
Another telltale sign of burnout is a drastic change in your daily life. If you’re experiencing burnout, you may suddenly find that you’re:
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Binge drinking or eating
- Avoiding social activities
- Abandoning hobbies
These changes are usually unintentional and used as a way to avoid “real life,” but in reality, they put you at risk of making a bad situation worse.
Feeling apathetic about your work will likely lead to performing below your typical standards.
Similarly, other common causes of burnout (an increased workload, frustration or resentment toward authorities or the company culture, and feeling diminished or underappreciated) can also have a negative impact on your performance.
How to recover from burnout
The first step to recovering from burnout is discovering the root causes. Feeling underappreciated, stagnant, directionless, and/or unengaged are common examples.
There’s no easy fix to recover from burnout. It won’t improve unless you address the reasons it came up in the first place. Which is why identifying these signs early on is essential to improving your leadership and achieving sustainable success.
To start recovering from burnout, you’ll need to first slow down and let go of unimportant work — which is work that doesn’t support a solid goal. Next, you need to carve time for self-care — and not the cute, candlelit-bath type of self-care, but the therapy, ugly-cry, force-yourself-to-move-and-eat type of self-care. Burnout leaves you in survival mode, so taking these basic steps to care for yourself will allow you to replenish your reserves.
Once these baseline activities are covered, it’s time to find a purpose to focus on. I often see a misalignment between entrepreneurs’ vision and values and the work they’re actually doing. This disconnect can leave you feeling torn and prevent you from achieving satisfaction. So going deep into your values and exploring what truly matters will help you prioritize, restructure, and streamline your work to feel fulfilled and aligned.
Are you at risk of experiencing burnout? Book a discovery call with me to find out how you can prevent this awful condition by improving the way you work.