11 Warning Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout does not happen abruptly; it occurs due to continuous stress. Burnout is not restricted to affecting only your job performance, but also your home life, and mental and physical well-being. Due to persistent stress, the immune system of a human body weakens and makes it more vulnerable to infections like fever, flu, colds, and many other problems. This means that burnout is often something that can be seen as progressing over time since the sufferer does not wake up in the morning and all of a sudden have job burnout. It takes its time and slowly creeps up on the sufferer, making it hard to stop but still noticeable at the same time.


The three major symptoms that are commonly accepted by all include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced performance. Similarly, the Mayo Clinic’s website also points out the personal symptoms of burnout, which are depression, insomnia, anxiety, and excessive stress. These are signs that you will be able to watch out for when you think that you or someone else is going through job burnout.


According to Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for the insurance company AXA, such developments are not unexpected after a long downturn. “People have been on big adrenaline rushes in the last few years,” Dr. Winwood says. “It gets to the point where they feel very unwell.” This condition has a name, you guessed it, burnout.


Knowing the signs and symptoms of job burnout can help you to catch it early on and treat it before it becomes a more serious issue.


You may feel surprised if you ever get a chance to see the profile of an employee that suffers from burnout. It is mostly people that care deeply about their job and want to make a difference in the world through their abilities, but when they hit a roadblock somewhere in their life, they simply stop caring about anything in their life. So it is often the rising stars within the organization that are at the greatest risk for burning out. But it is possible that anyone can go through burnout depending on the workload, stress, and other factors that are going on in their lives.


The following are signs and symptoms that one should be on the lookout for to determine if they, or others around them, are experiencing job burnout.


  1. Exhaustion


Realize that not all movement is progress. When stress and tension and chaos surround you, pause for a moment and relax. The best time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it – Melchor Lim. Just because you are running around with your head cut off does not mean that you are actually getting things done. You might be taking on more projects to be impressive, but this does not mean that you will get the promotion or even any recognition; this could lead to exhaustion really quickly.


Feeling tired all the time is one clear sign of burnout. Being exhausted means that the individual lacks any sort of energy for any tasks. It can leave them feeling spent. Exhaustion can manifest itself emotionally, physically, or even mentally. These people might get enough sleep during the night, but because of all the stress they are under they will be susceptible to job burnout. Others might have so much work to do and so little time that the exhaustion is going to slowly creep up on them and they will soon be working on empty. Either way, the person is going to find that they feel just as exhausted after sleep as they did before.


This exhaustion is going to make the job burnout even worse. They will continue to work with even less sleep than they had before the onset of burnout and still have the same workload. Their work might become sloppy, be handed in late, or other issues can arise simply because they are not getting the rest and recharge their bodies need in order to work at an optimal level. Until the job burnout can be taken care of, the exhaustion is going to progress to that employee’s detriment.


  1. Lack of Motivation


Feeling unmotivated or quickly losing their motivation can be a sign of job burnout. If an individual used to feel excited about their work, but now they no longer do, this could be a sign. Lack of motivation can transfer into one’s personal life as well. If one is left feeling as if they are dragging through the day, pushing themselves to complete tasks, or even forcing themselves to get out of bed in the morning to go to work, it is likely that job burnout has something to do with it.


If you know a person who used to be very motivated about the things that were going on in their lives – whether that is about their family, a project at work, or just happy with how life has been going – who then turns around and seems not interested in anything, you should look for other warning signs. It is very possible that they are dealing with the issues of job burnout and that is why tasks that used to keep them interested and happy are now not able to motivate them or keep their interest for long.


  1. Odd Behavior


Feeling or displaying negative emotions can be another sign. Negative emotions can sometimes be healthy. It is good to get those feelings out from time to time. However, once the individual begins experiencing those feelings all the time, then it is becoming a problem. If they find themselves becoming more cynical or frustrated throughout the day, then job burnout may be to blame. Knowing the difference between healthy negative emotions and the point when they are no longer beneficial is critical.


Sometimes you will notice a person is having issues with their emotions. He or she might get upset about the little things in life and not be able to control his or her anger or other emotions when it matters the most. He or she might start crying at times that are the most inopportune, break out yelling because someone said the wrong thing, or  act in a way that is not conducive to affective work. If you begin to notice some of these unusual personality traits in someone you know – or in your own self – it is a good idea to get them the help that is needed so they can get back on track with their lives.


  1. Cognitive Problems


Cognitive problems can be a sure sign of mental stress. Cognitive issues can cause an individual to forget tasks, to have a hard time paying attention, to lack concentration, or to have a hard time remembering things. These are signs of stress on the brain. Being stressed leaves the brain focused on the negative issues that the individual is facing. The human body is only designed to handle stress for only short periods of time. If one finds that his or her stress is prolonged, then he or she may begin to experience the cognitive problems listed above. Remember, job stress also leads to job burnout. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association explained that the brain’s design makes it capable of handling only short bursts of stress. “When stress becomes a constant then we will stop paying attention to other points in our lives,” he says.


Stress is one of the things that can really affect the memories that you have, the way that you think, and other things with the functioning of your brain. You will find that it is easier to forget simple things and that remembering conversations and other things that go on in your life is going to become difficult. When you are able to get rid of some of the stress in your life and avoid job burnout, it is much easier to get your memory to work the way that you would want it to.


  1. Slipping Job Performance


Comparing your current job performance with the previous years’ performance may help you to find out whether you are going through burnout or not. A gradual degradation in performance and quality of work may lead you to a burned out state. Those who are dealing with job burnout will find that they just do not care or have the motivation in order to get the work done like they are supposed to. Looking back over a couple of years of bad performance can help you to catch if job burnout is occurring.


If you see that there is a decline in your work performance over time, it is likely that you are dealing with job burnout. At first, your poor job performance might start lagging because you are stressed out and not able to keep up with the workload that you have been given. If the situation does become a case of job burnout, you will slowly start to notice that the instances of bad performance continue and often get worse to the point that it does not even look like you are trying anymore. This is because you slowly go from caring about the job to being too stressed out, and then eventually you hit the point of burnout and simply do not actively care about it all anymore.


One thing to keep in mind though is that not everything can lead to burnout. What this means is that just because you have one or two bad marks on your job performance over a few years does not mean that you are dealing with burnout. It is normal to have periods of stress come up or to take on too much work and then get a poor review at that time. You might have problems at home; have a loved one that died or some other personal problem, which prevented you from getting a report done. You do not need to see each and every problem as a red flag for burnout; the issue is going to come when there are a lot of bad performance reviews and they are steadily getting more frequent as well as worse over time.


  1. Social Problems


Job burnout can also affect an individual’s personal and home life. If the individual finds that they are becoming more withdrawn at home or causing more conflict within their social relationships, then that may be a warning sign. Also, if a person either tends to argue too much or to become isolated from society, both conditions are signs of burnout. Many who are burned out on their jobs find themselves physically, but not mentally, available.


If you are suffering from burnout, you might have trouble recognizing some of these social signs in yourself. You might have to take a step back and look at your life in order to see if you match up with some of the social problems listed above. In addition, it is often easier for someone who is close to you to catch the signs of a problem before you do. If you are suspecting that burnout is something you are suffering from, it is best to turn to someone who is close to you and will answer you honestly. Ask them some questions about how you have been acting and if it has changed gradually over time. You might not like some of the things they have to say, especially if you were not aware of the problem, but it can make a difference in determining if you are going through burnout and what you can do to fix the problem.


  1. Unusual Eating Habits


Those that are under a lot of chronic stress in their work environment may find that they are coping in unhealthy ways. Some may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb those feelings. The Mayo Clinic asks potentially burned out workers if they are using food, drugs, or alcohol as a crutch. Others may use cigarettes, caffeine, or stimulants to push them to keep going. Using downers or sleeping pills to relax or de-stress from the daily work routine can also be unhealthy signs. Others suffering from chronic stress may find that their eating habits change. They may begin to eat more unhealthy foods, eat more than normal, or even find themselves not eating enough throughout the day.


It is much easier to go through an unhealthy eating schedule than it is to deal with the issues that are actually bugging you at home or at work. Take a look at the different habits that you have gained over the past year or two and see if anything has changed. Have you started to eat out more than you used to? Are you on more medications than you used to take and are you really using them for a problem or more as a coping mechanism in order to get through the day and all the work that you have to do? Have you taken up drinking and smoking as habits that you did not have before and are your use of them healthy? These are some of the questions that you should be asking about your habits and overall health in order to determine if you might have a problem and if burnout is the reason.


  1. Feeling Anxiety Due to Working All the Time


Another sign of burnout is when a person cannot stop thinking about the burdens of work, even if he/she is not at the workplace. This interference of work disturbs the ability to relax in one’s spare time. Focusing on work-related issues while not at work can be unhealthy. During one’s down time, they should be able to relax and focus on other things outside of work. If a person finds that they are unable to focus on anything but work while at home, then work is interfering with their home life. By allowing work to interfere with their home lives, they are not allowing themselves to mentally decompress from the stress of the day, which can bring on burnout.


Those who are always working are the ones who cannot seem to put their phones down when they are at the table, are constantly checking emails or answering calls that come their way, and if they do happen to put down the work for a few seconds, they are either talking about the work or fidgeting around because they need to check something but know they shouldn’t. Work is not something that should be taking up a large piece of your life. Rather, it is supposed to be something that you go and do in order to make a paycheck before going home and spending time with those you love and having some fun. This current world has made the opposite true with many people barely seeing the ones they love and instead spending their free time working.


  1. Decreased Satisfaction


A person always feeling discontent and less happy with their professional career, as well as with their personal life at home, may be going through burnout. At work, they may find themselves less interested in reaching goals or maintaining social relationships with co-workers. At home, that individual may find that they no longer enjoy social situations and their relationships may suffer. They may find the activities they once enjoyed participating in outside of work no longer bring them the same happiness and fulfilment that they once did.


You are not always going to be satisfied with your life. Things can go wrong, you might miss out on a promotion, have family problems or many other things. This is normal in life and you are not going to feel the most satisfied with how things are going. However, this should be something that is temporary and you will get back on track in no time at all. The issue comes when you are never satisfied with the things that are happening in your life, even if they are good things that you should be happy with. This is from the burnout, and an issue that can be fixed once you realize what is going on and take the right steps.


  1. Health Problems


Health problems can manifest in those individuals that are experiencing a lot of chronic stress over time. Job burnout can affect your physical being by causing depression, anxiety, and digestive problems.


This was touched on in previous chapters, but there are a great deal of health problems that you can experience from burnout. Since it is likely that you received the burnout from the stress that is in your life, it is just as likely that you will have many of the same health problems that come with stress. Some of the health issues that you may have to deal with when it comes to burnout include things like ulcers, problems with memory, issues with digestion, heart conditions such as stroke and heart attack, obesity (because of the poor diet you are consuming), poor circulation and much more.


  1. Frequent Mood Changes


NASW Assurance Services, Inc., published a report, which revealed that burnout may make a person emotionally weak and tired. It destroys the sense of personal accomplishment and therefore leads to depersonalization, alienation, and depression.


Mood changes are easy to see when it comes to someone who is dealing with job burnout. They are already stressed out about the things that are going on around them and so they may lash out, be moody and irritable, or act annoyed when someone else is bothering them. They are on a tight schedule and anything is able to make them tick. As they progress more into the burnout phase rather than just being stressed out, some of these feelings might change. It is more likely that they will feel tired all of the time, moody, do not care about what is going on around them, an inability to feel motivated, and even depressed. Watch out for these signs if you suspect that you or someone you know is going through job burnout.


Burnout is something anyone is able to go through at some point in one’s career. They might be working so hard and something catches up with them. The thing is, just because you are stressed does not mean that you will reach burnout; there are many people who seem stressed out quite a bit that never go through job burnout. While stress is an important factor, it is not the only one. However, as this guidebook has shown there are many symptoms and issues that can come up if you are not careful if job burnout occurs. Taking the proper precautions – as will be discussed in the following chapters – can help you avoid this job burnout and stay on the right track.

 Be on the lookout for these burnout warning signs:

    • exhaustion,
    • lack of motivation,
    • odd behaviour,
    • cognitive problems,
    • decreased job performance,
    • social problems,
    • unusual eating habits,
    • feelings of anxiety,
    • decreased satisfaction in work,
    • health problems, and;
    • frequent mood changes.

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