Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
March 9, 2022

The Best Way to Know How to Recognize Signs of Burnout

Burnout is real and runs rampant in our current societal work culture. You may not realize you’re experiencing burnout or find it hard to tell the difference between stress and burnout. You may be asking “how long does burnout last?” and wanting to learn how to recognize signs of burnout.

One of the best ways to know how to recognize signs of burnout is to look at what your body is telling you. Burnout has both psychological and physical symptoms that happen as a result. There are a bunch of ways to tell if you’re burning out if you know the signs. 

When you’re experiencing burnout your mental health is shit. You don’t take care of yourself. Your emotional needs aren’t being met. You may be physically unwell. And you’re trying to do everything on your own. 

An important piece to solving the burnout puzzle is learning how to practice effective self-care. Self-care isn’t just bubble baths and candles. There are a lot of ways you can practice self-care. But the key is in the name itself – self-care is learning to take care of yourself.

difference between stress and burnout

How to Know If You’re Experiencing Burnout

If you’re in a high-pressure job, you need to learn how to recognize signs of burnout. It can be really easy to let work take over and burn you the hell out. When this happens, everything in your life is impacted. Your relationships suffer. Your physical health suffers. Your mental health suffers. There’s a lot of suffering. But there doesn’t need to be.

If you’re experiencing burnout, you may feel angry when you think about opening your email. Maybe you’re more tired than normal. If you’re feeling less enthusiastic about work than you used to, see what’s underneath that. You can talk to a therapist like me who works with a lot of people experiencing burnout. I’ll help you unpack what’s beneath the unenthusiastic response to work.

Here are some symptoms so you can learn how to recognize signs of burnout:

  • Insomnia
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Change in eating habits
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches

Depression and anxiety are byproducts of burnout. Depression can cause insomnia, exhaustion, muscle aches, and changes in appetite. Anxiety can cause headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath, among other things.

Burnout happens over time. It can result in withdrawal and emotional exhaustion related to work stress. The main difference between stress and burnout is that stress is acute and burnout happens over a long period of time. It’s a “slow burn” (yes I did just go for that pun).

If you notice yourself feeling more irritated or angry lately, stop and wonder why. Is your partner really making too much noise in the kitchen or are you burned out over work and aggravated by every little thing?

You might also notice that your confidence has taken a hit. Or you might be feeling a diminished sense of purpose. If these things start coming up for you, it’s important to start seeing a therapist. If you already have one, make sure you’re talking about how you’re feeling. Your therapist can help you recognize signs of burnout and figure out how to manage it before it becomes a huge problem.

Regardless of your profession, you can experience burnout. It’s sneaky and really hard to tell that it’s coming if you don’t know what to look for. After it picks up momentum it can steamroll you, leaving you sick and tired and emotionally unhealthy and unsure how to climb out of the burnout hole.

If you’ve already been visited by burnout, you probably feel like you’ve completely crashed. Your nervous system is dysregulated, which means that it’s harder for you to concentrate and do what you need to do. Your mental health took a huge hit when you burned out. Why didn’t you see the signs before you hit rock bottom?

Well, as I mentioned before, burnout is a sneaky little shithead. It comes on slowly and gets worse over time. What might seem like normal work stress, in the beginning, can turn into crippling anxiety and depression that have you calling out of work because you literally can’t do anything. Burnout can leave you feeling like a shell of your old self, one that has lost the joy and a grasp on how dire the situation is.

how long does burnout last

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

How long does burnout last? There is no one answer. However, the main difference between stress and burnout is that stress is usually an acute problem, and burnout is ongoing. You can be stressed about a particular project at work but when it’s done you feel relief and move on.

Burnout isn’t like that. It starts with stress that becomes pervasive. It takes over your entire self. You essentially become a different person. You don’t take care of yourself. You might snap at others. Maybe you feel worn down to the bone you’re so exhausted and you just can’t seem to get out of it. Perhaps the thought of work fills you with dread.

If this feels true for you, then you’re not just stressed. You’re burning out. The difference between stress and burnout is that burnout is a result of prolonged stress related to your job. Stress is normal – burnout is not. It’s become normalized in our society, but you should not be working so hard that your mental and physical health suffers.

Practicing Effective Self-Care

As I said before, self-care is more than scented candles and bubble baths (although there’s nothing wrong with those!) Self-care is about tending to all of your needs and taking care of yourself

One way to take care of yourself is to practice healthy boundaries. Sometimes self-care is saying “no.” Healthy boundaries can be difficult to set up if you’re not used to them. But a healthy boundary at work could be limiting the amount of time you check and respond to your emails. Another healthy boundary is making sure you leave at a reasonable hour. Or you could practice healthy boundaries by not bringing work home with you unless absolutely necessary.

If you work from home, boundaries could look like shutting the door to your office when you’re not working. If you don’t have an office, pack up your desk or workspace at the end of the day so that you’re not living where you’re working. If none of those is available to you, try going to a coworking space or a coffee shop. Removing your work life from your home life could be beneficial to you in multiple ways. It puts work in its own little box that you don’t have to open again until the next day.

There are many ways to practice self-care. You can exercise, go for a walk with your dog, join a club and meet new people, spend time with your friends and family, have date nights with your significant other, get a massage, meditate, or do yoga.

These are some of the typical things people think of when they hear “self-care.” But there are other ways, too, such as planning ahead. Schedule some time off in advance here and there. Maybe you take a long weekend every couple of weeks. Or perhaps you use all your PTO for one long vacation.

There isn’t one right way to practice self-care, but I recommend that you start with something small that feels attainable. Try a walk before work or during your lunch break. Listen to music on your commute. Cuddle with your pet if you have one. Cook a good meal after work. Do a few things and see what works for you. Your self-care will look different from someone else’s, and that’s ok. You’re a different person.

Therapy Can Help You Answer the Question “How to Recognize Signs of Burnout?”

Still not sure whether you’re dealing with burnout? Consider therapy – I can help you work through your symptoms and come up with coping strategies to manage symptoms of burnout and how they relate to anxiety.

During our work together, you’ll learn how to manage your stress and burnout. We’ll come up with coping skills to deal with your symptoms and help you step confidently into the world knowing what you’re dealing with and how you can manage it.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials manage their anxiety so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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