Am I Experiencing Burnout?


Life has stressful periods for all of us, but sometimes it goes past a simple need for a breather.

The term “burnout” has been around for a couple of decades, and the phenomenon is very common.

If think you may be experiencing burnout, know that you’re not alone and that there are options for not only preventing this level of overwhelm but also for managing it if it does arise.

Topic Of Discussion

What is burnout?

The term “burnout” was first coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. Simply put, it refers to a place of exhaustion — which can be both mental and physical — that’s the direct result of consistent or prolonged stress.

There are three primary types of burnout:

  • overworked
  • underchallenged
  • neglected

Other types of burnout include:

  • social burnout, which may particularly affect introverts
  • burnout related to chronic illness
  • burnout associated with the COVID-19 pandemic

What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?

General stress due to life circumstances or work is common but isn’t the same as burnout.

The primary difference is that those experiencing burnout may find it difficult to feel as if their stress has subsided. Burnout looks and feels different from a stressful day or week in that episodic stress is typically followed by recovery and returning to a sense of equilibrium. While the experience of burnout may vary, people do not typically return to homeostasis during the burnout experience.

Homeostasis refers to the ability to stay balanced and self-regulate, even if the environment around you changes.

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Burnout symptoms can affect you both physically and mentally.

Physical Burnout Symptoms

When you experience burnout, your body will often display certain signs. Research indicates that some of the most common physical burnout symptoms include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor immune function (getting sick more often)
  • Reoccurring headaches
  • Sleep issues

Because burnout is caused by chronic stress, it’s helpful to also be aware of how this stress, in general, affects the body. Chronic stress may be felt physically in terms of having more aches and pains, low energy levels, and changes in appetite. All of these physical signs suggest that you may be experiencing burnout.

Mental Burnout Symptoms

Burnout also impacts you mentally and emotionally. Here are some of the most common mental symptoms of burnout:

  • Concentration issues
  • Depressed mood
  • Feeling worthless
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Suicidal ideation

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

The Stages of Burnout

Freudenberger proposed a set of 12 stages of burnout — from first signs to more severe outcomes. Though these stages haven’t been formally studied, they’re often cited.

The proposed 12 stages of burnout include:

  1. excessive drive or ambition
  2. pressure on self to work harder
  3. neglect of your own needs
  4. dismissal of your problems (“displacement of conflict”)
  5. lack of time for your needs outside of work
  6. denial and impatience
  7. withdrawal
  8. behavioral changes, including impatience or aggression
  9. detachment from reality (depersonalization)
  10. inner emptiness or anxiety
  11. depression
  12. mental or physical collapse

Who is affected by burnout?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently changed their definition of burnout in relation to the workplace to “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Burnout is most commonly associated with work, especially direct service jobs, burnout can occur for anyone who’s in a stressful environment, including school or an emotionally draining romantic or platonic relationship.

Ways to Handle Burnout

It can be difficult to address the feelings of burnout once they’ve begun, but there are options for dealing with burnout, even if you’re in the thick of it.

Take a break

If possible, you should schedule a break or a vacation to create some space between you and your stressful environment.

In terms of work-related burnout, if possible, communicating your experience of burnout to your superior is important in order to get support and discuss possible changes to your workload.

Talk to a therapist

Confronting burnout isn’t easy, especially when it’s already taken a toll on your personal relationships and quality of life.

A therapist can offer professional guidance by helping you identify causes, explore possible coping methods, and navigate any life challenges contributing to burnout.

Burnout can provoke feelings of helplessness and can also play a part in feelings of depression, so it’s particularly important to talk with a therapist if you:

  • feel hopeless
  • have a persistent low mood
  • experience thoughts of hurting yourself or others

If you’re unsure whether you can afford therapy, know that there are ways to receive mental health support at a lower or no cost. Options include:

  • therapists with sliding scale options or reduced rates
  • therapists in training
  • community mental health centers
  • employee assistance programs
  • support groups
  • faith and religion-based help

Using your car as a place of transition

Try allowing “all of the “sticky” work experiences to fly away from you as you drive.

This may look like:

  • listening to your favorite music and singing (or screaming) along
  • listening to an audiobook or podcast that you find engaging
  • calling your best friend to vent

While singing aloud may not be feasible if you’re using public transportation, listening to something you enjoy or calling a friend are still viable options.

Whether you’re in your own car or using public transportation, try to keep in mind that these transition practices will likely be most effective if they include something that’s meaningful to you.

Take a minute before going inside your home

Before you walk through the front door, take a few deep breaths and set your intention for how you want to enter your home. This may allow you to leave work behind and shift focus to what lies ahead, whether that’s alone time or time with your family.

Set boundaries

Setting limits on the time you give to others can help you manage stress while recovering from burnout.

Accepting too many commitments can be overwhelming.

Learning to set limits in your life and keep healthy boundaries both at work and at home will also set the stage for decreasing burnout. The three core tenants for setting boundaries are:

  • saying no when something is too much
  • communicating your needs
  • standing up for yourself

Setting boundaries at work and not taking on more than is necessary is essential. This may mean saying no if you’re asked to cover someone else’s shift and making the choice to keep work in perspective by using a mantra.


Burnout is common and can severely impact the way that our relationships and work are approached, but there are options for both managing and preventing burnout.

Navigating the effects of burnout is extremely common in work settings, especially those that are “helping professions” or within the direct service field, but these aren’t the only folks who can find themselves burnt out.

Whether it’s from an emotionally draining relationship, school, or job, consider taking the time to discover which boundaries you need to really maintain inner peace and balance.

If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout, Tri-Star Counseling is here to help. We accept a variety of EAP benefits and would love the opportunity to help you over the come the stress causing you burnout. Consider booking an appointment with us today.

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