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What Are the Symptoms of Burnout?

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A woman addresses a table of two men and two women in a business meeting.

What Are the Symptoms of Burnout?

It’s 10 am, you sat down at your desk only an hour and a half ago, and you’re already looking at the clock waiting for your next break. Would people notice if you took a second lap to the coffee machine? Where did your energy and sense of purpose go? What happened to the highly motivated, driven, and enthusiastic employee you were when you first began this job? 

You begin feeling overwhelmed. Negative thoughts and emotions flood your mind. Your work and accomplishments might begin to feel meaningless, leaving you completely unmotivated and empty. 

This is what we call workplace burnout. 

Today we’re exploring burnout symptoms. Familiarizing yourself with these symptoms is a great preventative measure so that you can feel in control when stress presents itself in the workplace. 

What is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as intense stress that builds and builds, compounding over time. 

Burnout is most common in the workplace, which makes perfect sense because work is how we occupy a massive portion of our time. When you don’t know how to mitigate chronic stress at work, you’re left feeling physically and emotionally drained—your energy completely zapped. 

There are many different types of burnout: job burnout, career burnout, family care burnout, etc., and it’s all rooted in the same source: unrelenting stress. Anything that demands a lot of your time, energy, and passion with inadequate time for self-care, reflection, or celebration can lead to burnout. 

Work Burnout Symptoms 

To solve workplace burnout, we must explore all levels of your workplace: we must consider the integral domains of “I,” “We,” and “It” perspectives. All complex in their own ways, it’s helpful to break up work burnout symptoms across these lenses. 

The “I” (Individual) 

The “I” lens is about how the individual experiences and relates to burnout in their workplace. Addressing it requires personal introspection and reflection. 

Common burnout symptoms on this level include:

  • Feeling emotionally drained and mentally exhausted
  • Cynicism and withdrawal from work
  • Decreased effectiveness and performance
  • Feeling a lack of pride in your tasks
  • Feeling extremely overwhelmed by your to-do list
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling isolated from your peers
  • Being unable to balance your work and personal life

The “We” (Relational) 

Addressing burnout as it shows up within your team and organization requires exploration into how you and others relate to each other.

Common symptoms of “We” burnout include: 

  • Disorganization and dysfunction among your team dynamics
  • Feeling unclear about what people are expecting from you 
  • Feeling unable to speak and be heard
  • Feeling unseen 
  • Feeling psychologically unsafe
  • Feeling undermined or sabotaged

The “It” (Systemic) 

Burnout can also rear its head in the systems and structures across your organization. Here, it requires a zoomed-out lens to analyze the overarching mechanisms of how your workplace operates that may be encouraging and embedding burnout into everyone’s day to day reality. 

Common burnout symptoms on this level include:

  • Too many priorities and too little focus
  • Pressure to get tasks done immediately
  • Lean resources
  • Meeting overload
  • High turnover
  • Difficulty recruiting

If you relate to even some of these symptoms, you’re not alone. A study done by The Harris Poll in 2020 found that “roughly one in 10 (9%) employed Americans” were currently experiencing complete burnout. 

Burnout Prevention Techniques 

The first step to fighting workplace burnout is awareness of the symptoms attributed to burnout. 

Once you’re able to pinpoint the symptoms you’re experiencing, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this rooted in personal, cultural, or structural problems? 
  • What is the ideal outcome I am looking for?
  • What steps can I put in place to work towards this outcome? 

Time Management

A lot of the business professionals and leaders we work with are very passionate about what they do, which is great! However, it can be easy for passionate people to over-give their time and attention towards their work, leaving zero energy for other areas of their personal lives requiring attention, such as relationships, physical care, and mental health. If left neglected, these overachievers can find themselves in a state of burnout and wonder how they got there. 

Time management can help you manage your stress at work and at home. Understanding your priorities, incorporating self-care at work, and intentionally scheduling your day to mitigate to support your unique needs, energy, and renewal can help you feel in control and do what is best for you. 

Exercise and Sleep

Many people overlook the importance of exercise and sleep in mitigating stressors like burnout, but these two seemingly small lifestyle actions can have a huge impact on your mental headspace. 

Exercise is proven to improve your sleep, and sleep increases productivity. Additionally, leading an active lifestyle reduces your risk of disease, manages your hormones and brain chemicals, and promotes a positive headspace. 

Often, sleep is thrown out of the window when project deadlines approach, however, studies show that sleep deprivation decreases productivity. Additionally, sleep promotes mental health and overall wellbeing. It allows your mind to process emotions, create new neural pathways that can facilitate learning, and remove toxins that build up throughout the day. Restricting yourself of sleep, especially in days of high stress, can negatively affect your ability to regulate emotional responses, further compounding any negative emotions and attributing to even more stress accumulation. 

The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense activity or 75 minutes of vigorously intense activity each week (about 30 minutes each day). The Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between 18-64 years old get at least nine hours of sleep per night. 

Practice Mindfulness   

Mindfulness is the act of tapping into the present moment with intentional awareness, and time and time again, the practice of mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels. 

Mindfulness comes in many forms, but a quick, easy, and effective way to incorporate it into your workday is through a five-minute seated meditation. You can do this from the comfort of your desk. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and bring your awareness inward. Focus on your breathing, or do a body scan by focusing on individual parts of your body from the top of your head all the way to the bottoms of your feet. Notice the thoughts that might pop up in your head, but try not to judge them. Simply see the thought appear, acknowledge it, and let it go. Easier said than done, but think of mindfulness as a muscle—the more you do it, the stronger it becomes and easier it is to incorporate it into your day! 

There are also guided meditations and apps designed to help you develop and deepen your mindfulness practice. 

Work With Me

I am a business coach with over 15 years of experience working with leaders and teams to prevent burnout and create a thriving culture where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. 

High-achievers are always at risk of burnout, but I can help you develop the skills and structures needed to combat that risk. Ready to work together? I look forward to hearing from you.

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