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Spotting the Signs of Job Burnout and How to Deal with It

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Job burnout title graphic showing a burned out employee sitting at a desk with his head in his hands and an empty battery symbol to depict decreasing energy.

You let out a groan as you wake up to your alarm clock, remembering that you have to go to work yet again. Your heart drops to the floor and you wonder for the millionth time why you have a job that you dislike so much.

While this seems like a common reality for so many people, it’s not one that is healthy. It might be challenging to spot in the beginning, but you might find over time that your symptoms line up perfectly with those of typical job burnout.

But what exactly is burnout, how does it happen, and what do you do about it? Let’s dive right in so you can get back to feeling great and living a life you love.

What is Job Burnout?

Burnout is defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology as, “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others. It results from performing at a high level until stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion or an overburdening workload, take their toll.”

When this is applied to work, it means that your job is causing you to feel burnt out in many areas of your life.

Burnout can look different for everyone, but it often manifests as not feeling happy at work or when thinking about work. You might feel that you’re just not engaged anymore. Or your work environment might even feel emotionally toxic and harmful to your overall well-being.

Whatever the circumstances, a telltale sign of burnout is a lack of enthusiasm and perhaps even a sense of hopelessness around your experience of work.

Is there a Difference Between Stress and Burnout?

Stress is a common experience in our fast-paced, modern world. Sometimes short-term stress can be useful, like when you’ve got a looming deadline and it motivates you to complete a project in a timely manner. Other times, stress can build up and feel overwhelming.

Burnout is different from common stress. Stress is definitely a trigger for burnout but, by the time burnout has set in, people feel like they just can’t even function anymore. Burnout is the result of multiple factors, including long term stress that doesn’t let up as a significant contributor.

What are Some Common Signs of Burnout at Work?

A stressed out man holds his head in his hands in front of a window. Ongoing stress at work can become dangerous job burnout over time.

Everyone has had a bad day where they just don’t want to be at work. But if your everyday is becoming a long chain of bad days, you might be headed toward burnout.

Burnout takes a while to manifest. It’s a buildup of stressors that can come from many areas of your life. It’s important to watch for the signs of burnout so you can see what’s ahead and stop it before you hit rock bottom. Having a breakdown isn’t a fun experience, so knowing what to look for is important.

Emotional Signs

  • Feeling unmotivated and like you just don’t care anymore
  • Feelings of emotional exhaustion
  • Feeling jaded and negative about everything
  • Reduced confidence and increased self-doubt
  • Feeling antisocial or not as interested in engaging with others
  • Not feeling satisfied by finishing projects
  • A reduced sense of accomplishment

Physical Signs

  • Always feeling exhausted and drained
  • Issues with your appetite (either overeating or rarely feeling hungry)
  • Sleep cycles out of sync and struggling with insomnia
  • Getting sick often (chronic stress lowers your immune system)
  • Increased pain and headaches

Behavioral Signs

  • Wasting time and procrastinating
  • Forgetfulness and trouble concentrating on tasks
  • Missing work more often or dragging your feet so you’re always late
  • Looking for opportunities to leave early or escape in some way
  • Feeling easily frustrated and snapping at coworkers or family/friends
  • Not taking on increased responsibilities
  • Saying no to projects that used to excite you
  • Overdosing on caffeine
  • Using alcohol to cope
  • Turning to food and substances for comfort

Stages of Burnout

Graphic depicting the 5 stages of burnout: work wellness, beginning of stress, ongoing stress, burnout, and chronic burnout. Each stage is depicted with a battery symbol which becomes more empty for each stage.

Burnout doesn’t just suddenly show up one day. It sneaks up on you over time.

If you’re paying attention, you can start to notice when it’s happening. The best way to understand where you are in the process of burning out is to figure out which stage you’re in.

Stage One: Work Wellness

Work wellness is the first stage of burnout depicted in this graphic as a full battery with 5 bars on a green background.

This is usually when you first start your job or a new project. You might be excited to take on a new challenge and your mind is full of ideas and confidence.

You’ve got plenty of energy to devote to your work and you’re excited to collaborate with others. Waking up in the morning, your mind goes to what you’re working on and you can’t wait to get to it.

Stage Two: Beginning of Stress

The beginning of stress is the second stage of burnout depicted in this graphic as an almost full battery with 4 bars on a blue background.

As your job or project progresses, you might hit some snags along the way and start to feel frustrated. You might find that your coworkers are hard to communicate with or your boss has unrealistic expectations of your performance. Or your great idea flops and you have to start all over from scratch.

This is when you might start to have more bad days and feel your motivation for work waning. You might start drinking more coffee throughout the day to keep up your energy and wind down at night with alcohol. You might start having issues with sleep and find yourself more short-tempered at work and at home.

Stage Three: Ongoing Stress

Ongoing stress is the third stage of burnout depicted in this graphic as a half empty battery with 3 bars on a yellow background.

This stage is when your stress becomes chronic and you just can’t seem to get out of the loop of nonstop chaos. Your eating behaviors might become erratic or some of your dysfunctional eating patterns might reemerge. You might have an increased heart rate and heightened stress response.

You might also experience more health issues that come from chronic stress, including the onset of chronic illnesses, depression, and anxiety.

You might start to feel chronically exhausted and like you just don’t want to be engaged in anything. You also might start to participate in escapist behaviors and activities—anything that takes your mind off work and stress.

Stage Four: Burnout

Burnout is the fourth stage of job burnout depicted in this graphic as an almost empty battery with 2 bars on an orange background.

This stage is when actual burnout sets in and you might start to feel completely used up, worn out, and done with this stage in life.

As your stress levels rise, you’re likely to increase escapist activities and decrease your interactions with others. You might start to fantasize about getting away from everyone and everything so you can just be alone.

Motivation is nearly impossible and you might feel so emotionally drained that basic functioning feels challenging. This is the phase where getting help is super important to avoid long term damage to your mental and physical health.

Stage Five: Chronic Burnout

Chronic burnout is the fifth stage of job burnout depicted in this graphic as an empty battery with 1 bar on a red background.

This unfortunate stage is what happens when burnout isn’t addressed and it just continues to play out in your life, day after day.

You might start to feel like an empty vessel, repeating robotic motions each day. All meaning is drained from life and it’s hard to participate in nearly any activity.

You might suffer from mental health issues like chronic depression and anxiety, deal with chronic illness or other health problems, and have more acute health episodes. You’re also likely to feel chronically exhausted and like everything in life is so much harder than it used to be.

Possible Causes of Job Burnout

A stressed out woman massages her forehead while checking her phone at work. Distraction, irritability, and health issues are all signs of job burnout.

There are so many things that can contribute to job burnout. Often, it’s things in the workplace itself that lead down that road, but it can also be exacerbated by stressful experiences in all areas of your life.

Here are a few factors that contribute to a sense of burnout:

  • Not feeling “seen” by your boss/superiors and often being passed up for opportunities
  • Not having much control over your work and feeling creatively blocked by it
  • Working in a toxic environment with bosses and coworkers who interact in unhealthy ways
  • Doing work you dislike, don’t believe in, or find continuously frustrating
  • Working in an environment that is high-stress, chaotic, and unorganized
  • Accepting lots of responsibilities without much support
  • Working too much with very little downtime
  • Not feeling connected with coworkers and like you just don’t “fit in”
  • Chronic pessimism and inability to find positives
  • Being too much of a perfectionist and pushing yourself too hard to achieve unreasonable goals
  • Being unable to relinquish control and delegate to others
  • Not getting enough quality sleep
  • Unhealthy eating and exercise habits
  • Substance abuse, overdoing caffeine and using alcohol to cope with stress
  • Toxic relationships in your personal life
  • Poor management and unclear expectations
  • Lack of clear job role
  • Unreasonable expectations from supervisors
  • A job that is dull, monotonous, and doesn’t provide any mental stimulation

Some professions have more stressors in addition to the ones listed above. For instance, in healthcare settings, the emotional strain of patient care can lead to nurses suffering from compassion fatigue and nurse burnout. Teachers and moms—both stay-at-home and working moms—also suffer from serious burnout

Risk Factors and Possible Consequences of Burnout at Work

Burned out employees stand in a line arguing with one another or holding their heads in their hands.

When burnout hits, life can become a disaster for that individual and everyone around them. Relationships become an uphill battle for both the individual experiencing burnout and for their family, friends, and coworkers.

Tension becomes a central feature of the relationships, as burnout leaves the individual with very little energy to give to anyone else.

There might be a lot of fights, as family members and friends feel frustrated with having to deal with someone that seems to have given up on life. The person experiencing burnout will feel misunderstood and helpless, leading to deeper burnout feelings.

At work, the individual’s job performance goes down, as they find little incentive to achieve much of anything.

Coworkers will start to notice the change in behavior and might become frustrated that the individual isn’t holding up their side of commitments. Their boss might take notice and either become concerned or start to lay on pressure for them to fix their issues or get fired.

Overall, this can be a debilitating experience for the individual and a super frustrating experience for all the individuals connected to this person.

Without help, burnout can lead to deeper issues in all areas of life, both personal and professional.

Tips for Dealing with Burnout at Work

The first major step in dealing with burnout is being able to recognize the signs. It’s important to get a handle on your burnout trajectory before it becomes too serious to reverse easily. Once you notice the beginning of burnout feelings, you can start to reevaluate your lifestyle choices to figure out a path back to balance.

Lean into Relationships

One of the first things that many do when they’re feeling burnt out is to start to isolate themselves. This can actually exacerbate burnout and it’s more effective to instead get support. Tell a good friend who’s great at listening. If you work in a safe environment, let a coworker know. Talk to your boss to see if you can create some more realistic work patterns to help yourself climb out of burnout before it gets hold.

Focus on positivity and connection, while also limiting your contact with negative people. Seek out relationship experiences that nourish you, as this can directly decrease your sense of burnout. Get involved in your community in a way that takes you out of your life frustrations and into a feeling of service for others.

Spend Time Rethinking Your Priorities

Burnout is usually a sign of mixed up priorities that need to be adjusted and rebalanced. Put your health, wellness, and well-being first, then build out your goals and lifestyle around that. Without feeling well, you can’t achieve much, so it’s vital that you put yourself at the top of your list.

Set better boundaries with others, with your work/life balance, and with yourself. If you have a tendency to overwork yourself, set up structure in your life that reinforces balance. Take time out from your day to revisit activities you love and feel nourished by.

Restructure Your Relationship to Work

Work is a crucial part of our lives. It pays our bills, supports our families, and often becomes a significant identity for many. That said, it can be very unhealthy to over-identify with work to the point that you struggle to separate your job from your personal life.

Spend some time reframing your relationship to work, understanding where you need to set some boundaries so you can have a better work-life balance. Rekindle hobbies, friendships, and goals that are outside of work. Find ways to unwind from work that are healthy and supportive of your well-being.

Have a chat with your boss to make some changes to how you approach work so you can better balance your energy. A supportive boss will understand and want to work with you to shift things so you can be more productive and happy at work.

Prioritize your Wellness and Well-Being

A happy woman chops vegetables for a salad at home after prioritizing her well-being to manage work stress and prevent job burnout.

Your number one priority in life needs to be centering your wellness and well-being. Without it, everything else suffers. Taking good care of your body, mind, and spirit is essential for effective work performance and overall life satisfaction.

Make sure you’re eating as healthy as you can, while also saving space for grace and occasional joy-filled treats. Work on your relationship with food so that it’s mindfully eaten instead of used for emotional purposes.

Cut back on your reliance on caffeine for energy and instead focus on getting enough sleep every night and including daily exercise in your life. Find a mindful movement activity (or many!) that you love to do and look forward to doing every day. Make sure it’s sustainable and enjoyable so that you can integrate it into your lifestyle in the long run.

Manage your relationship with substances like alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs. If it doesn’t feel healthy or balanced, it probably isn’t. Get help, if you need it, and find new ways of unwinding and having fun that feel supportive and nourishing.

At the IAWP, we specialize in helping people go from burnt out to enjoying well-being once again. We have a few resources we’ve created just for you.

Start with our free guide Live Well Dream Big and read real stories from people, just like you, who escaped the deadly cycle of burnout and went on to live their best life.

Next, you might want to take 45 minutes of self care time and check out our free webinar Burnout to Bliss, where you will learn to holistically eliminate your burnout and get back to bliss!

Or, if you’re ready to take focused action right away, our Reclaiming You program pairs you with a wellness coach who can help you find your healthy footing once again.

What to Do if Your Job Is Still Causing Burnout

Discovering that you’re headed toward job burnout can be disheartening, but it’s helpful to understand that it’s not inevitable. You can turn this unhealthy train around with some self-care, supportive relationships, and boundary-setting!

Sometimes, working on your job situation isn’t enough. In fact, oftentimes the job itself is the problem. In these situations, it could be time for a career change altogether.

If you know that your job isn’t ever going to be good for your well-being and you don’t feel connected to it anymore, it could be the right time for a new job. You deserve to have work that feels personally meaningful, is supportive of your health, and allows you to live a life you love.

Stories from IAWP Graduates

“Through my training at the IAWP, I found the missing answers to aligning my purpose with the rest of my life.

Best of all, finding my purpose has meant being able to create a career I love and live life on my own terms. I don’t have to climb a corporate ladder or do something that doesn’t feel right to me. I get to decide. Today I can proudly say I’ve found my purpose – Wellness, coaching and empowering women.

This is a dream come true. I CANNOT believe just 6 months ago I was feeling so purposeless and down and out and now I’m taking on PAYING clients! I KNOW if I can do this, anyone can.”

Catherine Spriggs, IAWP Certified Holistic Wellness Coach

Listen to Catherine’s story →

“When I was let go from my corporate job, I had no doubt that this was my opportunity to finally be able to contribute something meaningful to the world. When I found the IAWP, I enrolled within 2 weeks of getting laid off.

I learned that wellness coaching is a real thing that people get paid for and it can be a lucrative career with the proper support, commitment, and business tools.

I also found a new community of like-minded people who want to make a real difference in their corner of the world using the power of wellness and coaching. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You have the power within you.”

Michael Dilorio, IAWP Certified Holistic Wellness Coach

Read Michael’s story →

“I was an anxious law school student. I worried about everything and my stomach was in knots all of the time. When I became a law school professor, I constantly had students coming to me who reminded me of myself. I could no longer ignore all of those other issues. A lightbulb went on one day and I knew I wanted to become a Wellness Coach.

The IAWP has exceeded my expectations and more! The quality of the program and the depth of the teaching is what has really impressed me. There are a lot of programs out there, but there are not a lot of programs where you feel the leaders are truly invested in your success and you’re getting the most out of the program…and that’s what IAWP does so well.”

Janet Thompson Jackson, IAWP Certified Holistic Wellness Coach

Listen to Janet’s story →

A new wellness coach meets with her client on a video call after leaving her job due to job burnout to start a new career as a wellness coach.

Is it Time for a Meaningful Career Change?

Now might be the right time to work toward becoming a Holistic Wellness Coach with the IAWP. We offer the support you need to make this meaningful career transition and boost your own wellness in the process.

If it’s time for you to step onto a new path to become the best version of you, schedule a time to chat with one of our friendly advisors. We’d love to help you move from burnout to Holistic Wellness Coach in only 6 months!

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About the Author

Suzanne Monroe

Suzanne Monroe is the author of Live Well Dream Big: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self and Living Life on Your Own Terms. She has also written and published The Holistic Cookbook & Lifestyle Guide: 12 Weeks to a Healthier, Happier You, the co-author of 101 Ways to Improve Your Health and the host of the Live Well Dream Big Podcast. Suzanne was inspired to create the IAWP Wellness Coach Training & Certification Program in collaboration with other leading health experts in order to inspire people to create meaningful careers and spread the message of wellness.

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