Last Updated on December 24, 2020

7 Common Signs of Work Burnout And How To Deal With Them

7 Common Signs of Work Burnout And How To Deal With Them

Are you worried that you might be suffering from work burnout? When seeking out signs of work burnout, it’s natural to immediately consider your energy and mood during work hours or how you feel about your profession overall. Dissatisfaction, slipping job performance, and escalated frustration at work are common indicators that your job is stressing you out beyond your capacity to deal with them.

What Is Work Burnout?

A deeper look yields symptoms of work burnout in some surprising places. Studies have shown a direct correlation between professionals’ feelings of work burnout and their level of satisfaction with their work-life balance.[1]

Imagine yourself standing centered on a balancing scale, personal life on one side, and professional on the other. Pressure starts to build on the professional side, so you jump over there to resolve it.

Meanwhile, with nothing left to ground your personal side, those responsibilities and needs are neglected. You jump back and forth trying to get each side settled. It’s not only ineffective—it’s downright exhausting.

While this back-and-forth dynamic probably sounds familiar, it’s also an overly simplified description. In reality, the lines between work and home are not so clear-cut. The nuances encompassing these parts of our lives are multifaceted and complex.

This is true even in the best of times. With the current climate of socioeconomic stressors and the compounding factor of work-from-home chaos, it is more important than ever to address the elements of our lives that may be leading us toward—or definitively causing—work burnout. (This is especially relevant if it is not feasible to make changes to your work situation right now.)

So, what can you do to relieve work burnout without overhauling your entire life?

7 Common Signs of Work Burnout

First, we’ll take an honest look at common signs of work burnout that may signal a lopsided work-life balance. Then, we’ll cover some powerful steps toward ending this cycle. The good news is that with a deeper awareness and a few simple shifts, we can feel more centered and satisfied in work and life.


1. Fatigue Not Resolved by Extra Rest

Physical exhaustion is usually the first symptom we notice. Feeling tired all the time can lead us into a downward spiral of added stress and trigger many of the other symptoms listed below.

However, our physical, mental, and emotional energies are all interrelated.[2] In the case of burnout, sometimes the reason extra sleep doesn’t bring relief is that the root causes of mental-emotional fatigue are not being addressed.

If you believe the issue is purely physical, seek medical guidance as this may be a sign of depression, sleep disorders, nutrient deficiencies, or other issues requiring professional treatment. Stress-induced insomnia may also be part of the problem.

It’s important to understand some sneaky obstacles here that could keep you stuck in a cycle of mental-emotional exhaustion.

The first is comparison. What might be stressful or overwhelming to one person can be a total non-issue for another, so try not to make yourself wrong for struggling where others seem not to.

The second is expectation. Major life events or catastrophes are not the sole conditions related to work burnout. Ongoing stressors—even those that seem insignificant at first glance or a combination of several types—can wear us down over time and eventually create a powerful wallop of stress-driven fatigue.

These obstacles can cause a snowball effect of exhaustion because we’re fighting our internal judgment instead of using that energy to deal with the core issue at hand.

2. Postponing Basic Self-Care Needs (Whether Intentional or Not)

One of the most easily recognizable signs of work burnout is busyness, and it doesn’t help that our culture is consistently preaching and rewarding the “hustle at any cost” lifestyle. Unfortunately, this often results in people wearing their busyness like a badge of honor.


Sometimes, this looks like proudly announcing that you’ve been too busy working to take a lunch break. Other times, you might sacrifice hours of sleep by putting off bedtime to work on a project or try to catch up on unfinished tasks.

Whether intentional or not, the “busyness is best” mindset leads to self-neglect—a major contributor to work burnout and a core component of lopsided work-life balance.

3. Moodiness and Irritability

It’s common for a stressful work environment to trigger crabbiness. Unfortunately, it’s also highly likely that your snappy reactions aren’t being limited to professional situations.

One sure signal of emotional distress that may be leading to work burnout is when we find ourselves lashing out at people and circumstances that are not directly responsible for our mood. Unexplained grumpiness may be a secondary sign that you are also struggling with signs 1 and/or 2 above.

4. Lack of Focus or Concentration

These signs of mental fatigue can be caused by physical or emotional overwhelm as well as self-neglect. This means if you’re struggling with fatigue or stagnant self-care, as mentioned above, you’re likely to find yourself suffering from this symptom as well.

Being short on focus means you require more energy to complete even the most basic of tasks. Feeling like you don’t have enough time or energy to do what needs to be done is a catalyst for overwhelm and burnout.

5. Minor Unexplained Physical Ailments

When it comes to burnout, tension is high on the list of underlying culprits. It’s common for stress to manifest as physical discomforts that can’t be attributed to any medical condition. This can be frustrating, especially when we are absolutely suffering the symptoms but unclear on the links between them and tension-induced burnout.

Some of the main physical symptoms of tension include headaches, neck and shoulder pain and tightness, and digestive issues (heartburn, stomach-ache, bowel irregularity). Frequent random aches and pains, stiff jaw, and inexplicable weight variations can also be symptoms.[3]


People in this situation often go from doctor to doctor seeking an explanation without resolve. Unfortunately, this is at least in part because burnout is not a diagnosable medical condition. It was, however, finally added to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) with a rigid definition as an occupational phenomenon in 2019, after decades of debate.[4]

If you experience these signs of work burnout and stress, try addressing the root causes described here. If you give an honest effort and continue to suffer, take this information to your doctor and keep advocating for your healthcare.

6. Self-Medicating, Numbing, or Escapism

When life feels stressful, one human tendency is to escape. Instead of dealing with our issues head-on, we look for an easy diversion to avoid the discomfort.

Food, alcohol, and drugs (prescription or not) release feel-good chemicals in the brain. This effect reinforces the behavior for us so that whenever we feel stressed or unhappy in a situation, our subconscious automatically signals us to reach for that quick fix to help us feel better.

Other examples of numbing and escapism include excessive busyness, video game addiction, and other mindless activities such as bingeing TV shows or endless scrolling of social media. To a certain degree, these behaviors are typically considered normal in our society. However, if you find you’re engaging in them to avoid certain tasks, situations, or emotions, this can be a sign that something is misaligned in your life.

7. Lack of Satisfaction in Activities or Tasks You Used to Enjoy

This symptom is also commonly associated with depression. There are several components of depression and burnout that overlap, but that doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive. You can have both simultaneously, or you can have one without the other.[5]

In the case of burnout, you tend to feel too exhausted, stressed out, or preoccupied with worries to be present in the activities. It’s hard to enjoy something when your mind and heart are too distracted to be fully involved.

Another aspect of this is not really knowing what activities you do enjoy. When your main focus has been work and/or taking care of others for the majority of our lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple things that bring you pleasure.


What Is at the Core of Your Work Burnout?

Sometimes, these symptoms of work burnout are a sign of misalignment in our work, meaning we might be best served to pivot in a new direction. However, one of the most dangerous things we can do is to try to resolve work-related causes without digging deeper into the underlying problems.

Symptoms are exactly that—external evidence of an internal issue.

Mismanaged time and energy, trying to be everything to everyone, and lack of social-emotional support are some examples of the root causes of work burnout. When we bypass these by focusing on surface-level fixes, we risk repeating these patterns of burnout no matter what our work situation.

A simpler, more effective solution is to recalibrate our work-life balance—an approach that can serve us well in any work climate. Having a solid baseline of harmony and resilience helps us avoid and/or recover from burnout.

3 Steps to Recalibrate Work-Life Balance

  1. Create spaces in your schedule that are dedicated to both personal and professional endeavors to ensure you are incorporating a good mix of both. Include a variety of activities and tasks you enjoy.
  2. Take intentional relaxation breaks periodically throughout the day. When you make it a priority, it’s easy to manage just a few minutes to stand up and stretch, rest your eyes and focus on your breath, or take a quick walk around the block. These simple activities alleviate tension, refresh energy and focus, and boost your mood.
  3. Focus on “musts” first. These are your foundational, bare-necessity tasks and responsibilities both at home and work. Anchor these into your schedule, followed by your lower priority tasks and projects. Unexpected extras (such as taking over the school fundraiser or fulfilling favor requests from colleagues) need only be allowed to fill in the spaces surrounding these, not take up the majority of your precious time and energy.

Final Thoughts

I know it feels counterintuitive or cliché, but we need to take care of ourselves first. When we do this, we start building momentum toward feeling good. We have more energy and feel more vibrant and alive in our work—more connected in both our professional and personal relationships.

We can’t maintain good work if our work is all we do. When you begin to notice signs of burnout, remember that when we feel better, we can do better—and then balance accordingly.

Part of the reason behind the WHO’s limited definition is the fact that some of these symptoms also fit the diagnoses of anxiety and depression. If you continue to experience any of these symptoms despite lifestyle changes and tips mentioned here, please seek the support and guidance of a qualified medical professional.

Featured photo credit: Samuel Bourke via


More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Last Updated on January 18, 2021

How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better

How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better

Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “If I only had (fill in the blank), I wouldn’t have to worry anymore”? It’s hard to overcome those deeply ingrained beliefs around stressors in life.

“You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” -Wayne Dyer

We all have stressors in life, things we worry about that keep us awake at night. Everyone experiences stress due to life events, but chronic stress can compromise our health. It can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. Stress can even weaken our immune system and make us more susceptible to illnesses.

In this article, I am going to discuss the 5 most common stressors in life[1], and give you some suggestions for dealing with them more effectively, so you can live a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

1. Workplace Stress

Workplace stress is the most common stressor in life for many people. It can come from tensions with co-workers or a boss, work overload, or simply the nature of the work, such as law enforcement. Whatever the case, there are things you can do to reduce the stress.

Here are some effective strategies.[2]

Start Your Day Off Right

Many of us are stressed out before we even arrive at work. We may have children to get ready and off to school, other responsibilities to tend to, and traffic with angry drivers to deal with.

Start your day off right by getting up early enough to take care of your responsibilities, eat properly, and cultivate a positive attitude. This reduces the likelihood of feeling all out of sorts when you arrive at work.

Know Exactly What Is Expected of You

Many of us are not entirely clear about what our boss expects from us. This usually happens in smaller companies that may not be as organized as larger companies. It’s important to know what’s expected of you, so you can avoid unnecessary tensions.

Communication is the key to avoiding this type of conflict. If you’re not sure what your boss expects of you, there is nothing wrong with asking your boss to clarify his requirements. In fact, it demonstrates that you are conscientious and sincerely interested in doing a good job, which your boss will appreciate.


Stay Organized

A disorganized work environment creates a great deal of stress and negatively affects your mental health. You always feel rushed because you’re not sure where things are, you misjudge the time required to perform tasks, and you’re not clear on your goals and objectives.

To reduce stress, organize your work environment a little. Start by organizing your work area, so you can easily find your tools and papers.

Then, organize your time by determining how long it should take you to perform certain tasks, and try to dedicate the necessary time and avoid unnecessary distractions.

Forget multitasking, as the efficiencies of multitasking are a myth. Studies have shown that people are more productive when they focus on one task at a time.

Stay Away From Unnecessary Conflict

Much of the day-to-day conflict at work is unavoidable. Each person has his/her own responsibilities, which may conflict with those of others. However, workplace drama is unnecessary and counterproductive.

The best thing to do is to avoid this kind of conflict and stressful events and save yourself the aggravation and stress. Treat everyone with respect, avoid gossip, and avoid sensitive topics like politics and religion.

With conflicts in responsibilities, a good strategy for dealing with them is to communicate your goals and objectives when they seem to conflict with those of co-workers. Remember, you’re all on the same team trying to achieve the goals of the company.

2. Financial Stress

Finances are another of the common stressors in life. We worry about paying the rent, a mortgage, car loans, utilities, and food. We also worry about our investments, especially if we’re nearing retirement.

You may think that simply having more money will take away these worries, but that isn’t necessarily so. Even wealthy people worry about finances.

Here are some suggestions for reducing financial stress.[3]


Live Within Your Means

One of the biggest mistakes people make is spending more money than they have. Credit card companies are quick to give you credit cards with high interest rates, so it’s easy to overextend yourself.

To avoid this mistake, keep track of your finances, and avoid the temptation to buy things you can’t afford. Set some money aside for unexpected expenses, such as car or home repairs. It’s a good idea to put money in a savings account every month, even if it’s a small amount.

Educate Yourself on Finances

For those of you who do not have a background in finance, handling money responsibly can be a challenge. Professional football players were notorious for making millions during their short careers, and then ending up broke when they could no longer play[4].

Now the NFL gives rookie players a course in financial management so that they invest their money wisely. This is a good strategy for everyone. Some important things to learn are:

  • Managing a checking a account
  • Using credit cards wisely
  • Borrowing money
  • Making large purchases (home, car)
  • Investing for retirement

Learning basic finances isn’t all that complicated. Once you have some understanding of finances, you can avoid the stress that comes from the unknown.

Ask for Help

If you feel lost or unsure about making financial decisions, it’s ok to ask someone for help. Make sure it’s someone you trust, as there are many unscrupulous people eager to take advantage of others.

I would suggest consulting a loved one or a trusted friend. Parents are a great resource, as well. Learn from their mistakes, instead of yours.

3. Health-Related Stress

For many people, health problems like illness and injury are some of the biggest stressors in life. This is more common when we get older, when our body begins to decline. When we’re young, we’re more resilient, and we can recover much more quickly from injuries and illnesses.

Experiencing an illness is frightening because, until we get it diagnosed and treated, we usually don’t know what is happening to our body, or if we will recover. However, there are things we can do to reduce the stress associated with health issues.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle

The approach I’ve taken to reduce health-related stress is to avoid poor health as much as possible. Since I was in my early 20s, I’ve tried to live a healthy lifestyle. I’ve eaten healthy foods, and in moderation. I’ve also exercised regularly and maintained an active lifestyle, so I’ve never been overweight.


I’ve also avoided abusing my body with risky activities. For example, when I was younger I was involved in bodybuilding in order to stay in shape. I wanted to compete, but I realized that would entail taking training and supplementation to an extreme that would compromise my good health, which I wasn’t willing to do.

Know Your Risks

Many of us have certain risk factors that are unique to each of us. Some may be genetic, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, or cancer. Whatever the case, learn your family history of health issues.

It’s important to talk to your parents. Sometimes they don’t want to talk about sensitive issues, but it’s necessary for your good health.

4. Relationship Stress

Relationships are one of the greatest stressors in life, especially for younger people. We usually aren’t explicitly taught how to have good, healthy relationships. This is something we learn through experience and a lot of heartache, which can lead to having a stressful life for a long time.

When we’re inexperienced with relationships, we usually let our emotions make our decisions for us. We get involved with people that we’re not compatible with, but who we care for deeply. If we’re not compatible, then we engage in power struggles, each person trying to exert his or her will in the relationship. This leads to a lot of stress because we feel like we lack control.


One of the keys to less stressful relationships is communication. It’s important to be open about how we feel and what we’re looking for in the relationship. Sometimes you can work things out, and sometimes you can’t. If you can’t, then you need to move on before each of you has too much invested in the relationship, which makes it harder to end later.

Practice Maturity

Another key to less stressful relationships is maturity. It takes wisdom and mature emotions to not create unnecessary conflict and drama. These take time and experience to develop, but by being aware of how you’re acting, you can begin to learn these skills.

5. Poor Nutrition

Another stressor in life is poor nutrition. Most of us are not fully aware of how the things we consume can raise our stress level. Here are a few examples[5]:

  • Drinking Too Much Coffee: While coffee has many benefits, too much can increase stress by raising the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Eating Foods That Increase Cortisol Levels: There are other foods that raise your cortisol levels, such as refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, red meats, fried foods, and other foods high in fat.
  • Skipping Meals: In addition to providing us with the proper nutrients to maintain good health, stopping to eat gives us a break from our busy day, which allows us to relax and de-stress.
  • Not Drinking Water: Our body needs water to function properly, and stopping to take a drink gives us a short break.
  • Eating Compulsively: We sometimes eat as a reaction to stress, and we usually make poor choices of what to eat when this happens.

Educate Yourself on Basic Health and Nutrition

You can eliminate a lot of health related stress by knowing what is happening in your body. Nowadays, there is a wealth of good information on the Internet about almost every health issue you can think of.

In order to live a healthy lifestyle, you don’t have to follow such a strict diet and exercise regimen. Mainly eat foods that are healthy, in smaller meals, and more often. Also, try to stay physically active.


Keep in mind that healthy food isn’t necessarily bland and tasteless. I eat lots of delicious foods and desserts. And by staying physically active, I eat as much as I want without gaining any weight, even as I’ve gotten older, and so can you.


When it comes to dealing with stressors in life, mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool.

Meditation doesn’t necessarily solve your problems, but it does enable you deal with them much better. In addition, it calms your mind, which leads to calmer emotions.

Mindfulness meditation is easy to practice, and you don’t have to meditate for long periods to get the benefits. If you’re new to meditation, just sit quietly for 5-10 minutes following your breath. Do this several times a week, and you’ll notice a difference in the way you feel, and you won’t react so much to things that trigger your fears, anger, or anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Most of us long for peace and tranquility in our lives. When we’re young, we tend to think that once we get or achieve certain things, we’ll be able to relax. Those of you who are middle age or older have probably realized the fallacy of this way of thinking.

“By changing your attitude, you also change your perspective and change your life.” -Roy Bennett

We all have stressors in life, things that cause us to worry about our future. That’s natural, but it is the unpredictable nature of the stressors that make us feel insecure and not in control.

However, it’s not really those things that cause us the stress, but rather how we view them. Therefore, if you want to lower your stress level, you need to change the way you mentally process the circumstances in your life. To accomplish this, you basically need to do three things:

  1. Choose wisely the things that are truly important in your life.
  2. Arm yourself with information about your stressors, so you have more control over your future.
  3. Learn to live with the remaining uncertainty.

If you can do these three things, then you can enjoy your life to the greatest extent possible.

More Tips on Handling Stress

Featured photo credit: Ivan Aleksic via


[1] The American Institute of Stress: What Is Stress?
[2] Very Well Mind: 9 Simple Ways to Deal With Stress at Work
[3] American Psychological Association: Dealing with Financial Stress
[4] Forbes: NFL Players Need A Playbook When Managing Their Financial Future
[5] Exploring Your Mind: Stress and Poor Nutrition

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