20 Signs of Stress and Work Burnout

  • Apr 10
20 Signs of Stress and Work Burnout

Imagine this – you’re on a road trip across the United States, hoping to see some of the best sights it has to offer. When you first start out, you have great snacks, plenty of fuel, and a great outlook. But somewhere along the way, you run out of food, the tank reads empty, and you become frustrated. That’s exactly what work burnout can feel like.

Unfortunately, many – if not most – people experience some form of burnout at least once in their career. However, the results vary from one individual to another. Someone might end up quitting their job, another might find a way to push through and discover a new motivator. But no matter the outcome, this type of experience can make life extremely difficult.

Interestingly, not every person caught in the middle of work burnout realizes that’s what it is. Sometimes, it can be difficult to pinpoint that job stress is the cause of other issues. But if you know what signs to look for, then it can be easier to recognize and deal with the problem. So, we’ve put together a list of twenty symptoms of burnout that you need to look out for.

Of course, you could have some of these telltale signs for reasons other than work-related problems. But multiple taken together likely indicate you need to take some time off to breathe and rest.

The Core Symptoms of Work Burnout

1. Feelings of Depression11. Substance Abuse
2. Noticeable Anger12. Excuses to Miss Work
3. Lack of Motivation13. Loss of Focus
4. Excessive Irritation14. Heightened Cynicism
5. Pervasive Exhaustion15. Reduced Satisfaction
6. Physical Symptoms16. Decision Paralysis
7. Questioning Your Value17. Increased Isolationism
8. Increased Conflict18. Loss of Interest Outside of Work
9. Insomnia19. Decline in Work Quality
10. Constant Worrying20. Suicidal Thoughts

1. Feelings of Depression

Unfortunately, many different life circumstances can cause depression – tragedy, illness, even chemical imbalances and a number of other factors. And whether work burnout is the core cause of an individual’s mental state or merely a contributing factor, the effect can still be damaging. For example, depression can itself be a gateway to many of the other negative and harmful signs of work burnout. It can lead to anger, worry, loss of interest, and even suicidal thoughts.

So, in a sense, feelings of depression are the initial issue from which many others grow. But at the same time, depression exists as a cyclical trap, where other symptoms also lead into further feelings of despair. That is, depression causes things like worry and anger, which then lead to deeper depression.

Ultimately, depression by itself isn’t automatically a signal for work burnout, but accompanying factors can point the finger at job fatigue.

2. Noticeable Anger

Naturally, feeling the full gamut of human emotion is an important aspect of mental health and wellbeing. Repressing anger is dangerous and can lead to relationship problems, issues with self-image, and even harmful physical symptoms. However, we must be careful to distinguish between normal circumstances that warrant anger and those which don’t.

One feature of work burnout is noticeable anger that tends to appear as outbursts both in and outside the workplace. This often spills over to family, coworkers, and even random individuals you encounter. For example, belittling and screaming at a food service worker for a simple mistake.

The level of control you exhibit over your anger also speak to whether some underlying factor might be influencing it. Annoyance and even short-temperedness can be extremely common, even in healthy work settings. But whenever those tendencies fall out of check, and you explode at the slightest provocation, there’s likely something going on behind the scenes. So, if you find yourself uncharacteristically angry and unable to control those harsh feelings, you might be experiencing work burnout.

3. Lack of Motivation

One of the most common signals of burnout is lack of motivation, which often expresses itself in different ways. Sometimes, it might mean continually coming in late to work, not driven to get there on time. Alternatively, it could mean wasting as much time in the breakroom as possible to avoid your tasks. This feeling can also become entirely internal, where you still manage to get things done but have no drive and must force yourself to go on.

Often, this occurs because burnout leads to boredom or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, feeling overwhelmed. And sometimes, it’s easier to ignore work than it is to deal with the complex and difficult tasks it presents.

A lack of motivation can lead to other complicating factors, such as reprimands, disciplinary action, and even job loss. But simply telling a burnt-out worker to be more productive isn’t exactly helpful either. So, if you’re needing some tips on how to stay motivated at work, whether for yourself or an employee, make sure that you carefully assess the situation first. Otherwise, you might end up causing further harm.

4. Excessive Irritation

Similarly to outbursts of anger, excessive irritation represents another hallmark sign of work burnout and stress. Where outbursts occur in large, explosive instances, irritation has more to do with the underlying mental tone that leads to these occasions.

Again, this sort of irritation can be relegated to the workplace, but more often than not it occurs at home also. Things which don’t normally annoy you might suddenly cause you to clench your jaw to keep from saying something harsh. You might find yourself constantly having to leave a room so that you don’t lash out at a person chewing loudly. The types of situations themselves are nearly limitless.

The point is, you might find yourself constantly on the brink of anger, annoyed with everything and everyone around you. And while for some people this might seem normal, it isn’t. So, if you’re feeling this way constantly, take a moment to reflect and assess what the root cause might be.

5. Pervasive Exhaustion

Fatigue is a normal response to stressful or difficult or physically demanding work. However, in most instances, this weariness should last only a short period. So, if you find yourself constantly exhausted, on a daily basis, and feel that you have no energy, something else is likely causing it.

Work burnout is one of many factors that could lead to this sort of excessive exhaustion. In fact, Harvard Business Review calls it the central symptom of burnout. That’s because it undermines an individual’s ability to function in normal ways and further contributes to negativity and ineffective work habits.

Furthermore, this type of pervasive tiredness makes it much easier for anger, irritation, and a host of other symptoms to manifest. So, it acts as a catalyst for many other harmful signals.

6. Physical Symptoms

The mental landscape is far from the only part of your health impacted by work burnout. Because it often causes stress and anxiety, it can lead to noticeable and harmful physiological impacts as well. While some symptoms, like hair loss, might seem relatively benign in terms of overall health, it can also cause:

  • Heart disease
  • Chronic stomach problems
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Respiratory issues

Putting too much stress on your body can, in effect, contribute to a number of detrimental outcomes. And if you notice some of these things happening without concrete explanations for their cause, first check with your physician. But then explore the possibility that you’re burnt-out, and that this could be a main reason.

7. Questioning Your Value

Of course, whenever you take a menagerie of different symptoms that effect the quality of your work, the natural outcome is questioning your value. However, this might go past simply doubting the value of the work itself and wondering whether your personal worth has somehow been mitigated.

After all, when you aren’t able to focus as easily, produce efficient results, and find yourself angry consistently, it could raise such questions. However, one key is to remember that a work slump doesn’t need to define you as an individual. Far from making work the entirety of your personality, you need to be able to look to other factors that demonstrate your personal worth.

Even so, saying to do so is much easier than actually doing this. We can at least acknowledge that unfortunate fact. If these thoughts start creeping in, it might be good to find a trusted friend or mentor to speak with. Sometimes, having an outside voice can help dispel the illusion of lowered value. And moreover, they might be able to help point out ways to combat work burnout.

8. Increased Conflict

Naturally, if you find that you’re angry and become more prone to outbursts, an increase in conflict will likely follow. Whether with family or coworkers, burnt-out employees often become involved in more interpersonal conflicts, even if they’re normally mild-mannered individuals.

Overall, you can probably see why this sort of symptom could prove overtly problematic. It can cost you your job, it can alienate a network of people who could otherwise help you. But worse, you could distance yourself from the people who care most for you and want to see you succeed.

So, this symptom, while understandable, can cause a great deal of damage. And if you find yourself constantly fighting with those who you’ve never had cause to before, do your best to address it quickly.

9. Insomnia

More than likely, you’ve experienced a night where you lie awake in bed, tossing and turning without finding much sleep. Hopefully, that only happens occasionally, whenever you have a difficult decision to make or, on the other hand, find yourself excited about something.

Unfortunately, long-lasting insomnia is a classic factor of work burnout, which can leave you suffering from exhaustion, stress, and both mental and physical decline.

10. Constant Worrying

If you haven’t noticed yet that each and every one of these symptoms has links to the others, then make sure you understand that now. Stress and anxiety lead to physical problems, depression, and performance mistakes. Such missteps can lead to loss of your job, anger, irritation, and a host of other factors. And every single thing we’ll discuss finds itself wrapped up in worry.

Constant worrying is trademark of work burnout, because that state leaves you unsure what the future will bring. When your family and personal life suffers alongside your work performance, you might find yourself isolated with no one else to turn toward for help. At least, it can feel that way sometimes. And when you feel alone, it’s easy to worry about almost anything.

  • Will I be able to provide for my family?
  • Is my coworker angry with me for not finishing this project?
  • Am I going to still have a job next month?
  • What happens if I don’t make this deadline?

All that worry turns in on itself and causes a host of other issues, many of which might not actually be problematic. And here’s something to remember – everyone experiences burnout at some point.

If you work for a company with a decent culture, then you should be able to talk to your managers about your worries. What’s more, they should understand if you tell them you’re simply burnt out. And that way, they can help you devise a recovery plan that works for you and allays your fears.

11. Substance Abuse

Sometimes, in an effort to cope with the difficulties of life, people turn to substances for help. Particularly ones which provide them a temporary high or escape from reality that dilutes the worry and fear they have about work. Of course, this sort of abuse can lead to major health complications and, in effect, make the situation much worse than it was at the start.

Moreover, individuals who get stuck in this rut of addiction often require outside help to escape it. So, if you or anyone you know struggle with substances, SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides a free, confidential option for treatment referral and information.

Simply call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

12. Excuses to Miss Work

When you’re burnt out, one of the last things you want to do is work more. Sometimes, finding excuses to avoid doing your job is one of the first signs that you need a break. Perhaps you call in sick more often than you should, taking advantage of time off. You might stand around in the office and try to fill your time with conversation instead of tasks.

In fact, even good reasons to miss work can still constitute various excuses. If you miss several hours each time your child has sports practice, that might be a valid reason to leave early. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an excuse to try and get out of working.

So, continually assess your reasons for missing work to determine if they’re rooted in burnout or something else entirely.

13. Loss of Focus

Closely related to missing work and lack of motivation, loss of focus makes it extremely difficult to accomplish anything. Akin to scrolling through Facebook whenever other tasks call, it exhibits an inability to home in on things you need to accomplish. Of course, in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with distractions, from social media to texts and other communication, losing focus doesn’t have to be linked to burnout.

In other words, you can have a difficult time accomplishing your day-to-day tasks without actually being burnt out on the work itself. However, as a symptomatic aspect of a larger problem, loss of focus does often appear as a part of a weakening work resolve.

14. Heightened Cynicism

Increased cynicism is yet another symptom of burnout. Of course, some people are naturally more inclined to cynicism than others. However, whenever a normally optimistic person takes a turn toward a more pessimistic side, it can indicate that something in their life has shifted. Admittedly, it need not be work fatigue that causes this sort of change. However, when coupled with other hallmark factors, increased cynicism can point toward burnout as the cause.

This sort of pessimism looks dismally upon different aspects of work and strategy, doubting their efficacy. It looks down upon coworkers and other peers, feeling their efforts won’t make a difference. Cynicism keeps you from reaching out and trying to succeed. And as a result, it can severely impede results.

So, if you find yourself falling into an unnaturally cynical mindset, consider that you need to take a step back. Then, when you’re able and ready, come back and try with a better outlook. Realism and skepticism can be helpful when formulating job strategies. But complete disdain surpasses these aspects and takes a nasty attitude toward the mere attempt to succeed.

15. Reduced Satisfaction

In a fairly ironic turn of events, work burnout can actually turn success bitter. That is, even if you do achieve goals and ends that you’ve worked toward, exhaustion and other negative effects can dampen the satisfaction. So, even if you power through and pour work in, even when you aren’t feeling able to, the end result may leave you feeling lackluster or disappointed.

If you constantly find yourself plagued with a negative outlook, even when things go well, it could be that you’re simply burnt-out on your work.

16. Decision Paralysis

If you’re in any position of leadership, whether it be over a team or a company, you have to be willing to make tough calls. However, when fatigue sets in, this aspect of your job becomes much more difficult. You might find yourself worrying unnecessarily over the correct decision to make. Alternatively, you might simply not have the mental bandwidth to carefully assess which route works best.

The results are generally the same – decision paralysis. You find yourself caught between different alternatives and unable to actuate a move forward. This, in turn, stagnates the team and, sometimes, the organization as a whole.

In these situations, it can be helpful to designate other decision-makers to step up alongside you and point out pros and cons of each route. But at the end of the day, you still need to address to root issue causing the paralysis. Otherwise, you might find yourself constantly behind the curve, eventually unable to catch up.

17. Increased Isolationism

Another harmful aspect of burnout is isolationism – the tendency to remove yourself from community and rely only on yourself. Perhaps this stems from the internal fear that you have nothing worthwhile to offer your peers or family members. And misguided as this sentiment might be, it is easy to fall into. Moreover, it’s difficult to escape it. Once down in this mental slump, it takes focused and intentional work to dig yourself out.

Sometimes, isolationism requires someone else to make the decision for you, that they come alongside you to help you out. But of course, you still need to retain a sense of individualism and personal agency in these situations. But because increased isolation can lead to a steep decline in mental health, it’s important to recognize these tendencies and do your best to combat them all along the way.

So, even when you feel like you have nothing to offer, do your best to remain part of the “group”. Don’t necessarily force yourself into a place you don’t belong. But make sure you take steps to surround yourself with people who can help and pick up slack where needed.

18. Loss of Interest Outside of Work

Every aspect of work burnout has the potential to impact your home life just as much as your career. And in many ways, these ramifications can become much more damaging than those in the workplace. After all, the toll that anger, frustration, and depression can take on a family has a much greater effect than it does on coworkers.

One of the primary symptoms of burnout in regular life is loss of interest. This might impact areas such as:

  • Hobbies
  • Religious beliefs
  • Family activities
  • Physical health and fitness

Of course, many other personal areas could suffer from loss of interest as well. But these represent a few of those which could be impacted most heavily.

19. Decline in Work Quality

Overall, the various symptoms related to work burnout could manifest in a noticeable decline in work quality. Loss of focus, lack of motivation, and a predisposition to conflict can all negatively hamper your effectiveness. And as with many other signals, these can end up contributing to a vicious cycle, where they feed off one another.

Work quality might not always suffer when you find yourself burnt out. However, the strenuousness that actually doing work requires could be a telltale sign that you’re nearing a breaking point. So, if normal, routine work becomes difficult to achieve well, remember to take a step back. That way, you can better assess the situation and come up with a healthy plan to get back on track.

20. Suicidal Thoughts

In some of the most extreme cases of work burnout, some individuals might experience suicidal thoughts. And while this topic can be extremely difficult to process and discuss, it needs saying. According to the National Institute of Health, people experiencing burnout are nearly five times more likely to attempt or successfully complete suicide.

That number is staggering, especially when considering the cost in human life. So, if you recognize that you’re nearing a breaking point, or if you exhibit any signs of burnout, don’t wait to get help. Make sure to surround yourself with people who care about you personally and professionally. Recognize that there are ways to get the care you need, and do everything in your power to fight against this sort of ideation.

On a personal note, no matter the work situation, you have worth and deserve love. If you find yourself struggling with mental health and suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone who can help. The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached around the clock at 988 through text or phone call.

Know the Signs of Work Burnout and When to Step Back

Obviously, we’ve ended on a serious note. Work burnout has a wide range of impacts from relatively insignificant seeming ones to life-altering effects. It’s vital that you recognize your habits, patterns and limits. That way, if you’re nearing the point of burnout, you can take a step back, find people to help, and come up with a viable plan.

Of course, knowing how employees matter and interact appropriately with the organization is a helpful first step to combatting burnout in yourself and others. So, if you want to know more, consider taking our course on Employees and the Organization. You might find some new methods for dealing with this common yet destructive issue.

Article written by Braden Norwood

Last updated April 10, 2024