Identifying burnout

Identifying burnout

You could be suffering from burnout if you feel helpless, completely worn out and disillusioned by stress. Recent government figures indicate that a total of 9.9 million working days were lost in 2014 due to stress and burnout, and that stress and burnout accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases. Stress and burnout was also the cause of 43% of all working days lost due to ill health. When burnout hits, it can be challenging to gather up energy to care because everything looks bleak and your problems will appear insurmountable. Burnout will lead you to feel unhappy and detached from your own life, and this can often result in a negative impact on your health and your relationships with others. The good news is that burnout does not need to represent a permanent state, but can instead be healed. By seeking professional support, making time to yourself and reassessing your priorities you have the ability to regain a healthy work-life balance.

What is burnout?
Burnout can be described as a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. People experience burnout when they have been exposed to prolonged or excessive stress, for instance by working in an emotionally and physically draining job for a long period of time. Burnout can also occur if you work hard and then fail to achieve the results that you expected or if your efforts at work are not recognised despite all your hard work and effort. Such experiences might cause you to feel deeply disillusioned, overwhelmed and unable to meet future demands. You might have originally felt enthusiastic and motivated when you first begun your job, but as the stress continues, you may start to lose interest and your motivation to keep going is reduced. Burnout causes your energy levels to drop and with that your productivity reduces. This change can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, resentful and cynical about your future, and you might eventually feel like you have given all that you can. In today’s society we are constantly under a lot of pressure, for instance by meeting work-related targets or juggling multiple roles as an employee, parent, partner, or multiple careers. It is not uncommon to have days when we feel overloaded or unappreciated, especially if the effort that we are putting in is not recognised, let alone rewarded. Understandably, on these days it can feel like a challenge to get out of bed and face our responsibilities. If you feel like this on most days you might, however, be suffering from burnout.

You might be facing burnout or be on the road to burnout if:

  • You feel that every day at work is a bad day
  • You feel hopeless about your work or your life at work
  •  You’re exhausted all the time
  • You find it hard to care about your home or work life and often feel hopeless
  • You think you spend most of your day completing tasks that feel completely overwhelming or mind-numbingly dull.
  • You lose your patience with others easily
  • Your responsibilities in life feel overwhelming and fill you with dread.
  • You have lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • You experience physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, chest pain, sleeplessness or shortness of breath.
  • You engage more frequently in escapist behaviours, including excessive use of substances or other activities that provide a temporary relief.

Distinguishing between stress and burnout
Although burnout is often caused by experiencing relentless stress, it is important to understand that burnout is not the same as experiencing too much stress. When we are stressed it can often feel like there is too much of something, for instance by there being too many tasks, people or activities that are demanding too much of us psychologically and physically. However, when people are stressed they still have the ability to imagine their situation improving, for instance by regaining control of everything. In contrast to there being too much when people feel stressed, when people experience burnout it’s because there is not enough. Being burnt out brings with it a reduction in motivation, a sense of emptiness, and a lack of caring. People are usually aware that they are experiencing a lot of stress, whilst burnout can often sneak up on you without you noticing it. In contrast to stress, where people still can see the light at the end of the tunnel, people who face burnout are often devoid of hope, and they do not believe that positive changes can occur in relation to their situation.

Here are a few more points to help you identify whether you might be suffering from stress or burnout:


  • Results in reduced energy
  • Can result in anxiety disorders
  • Triggers hyperactivity and a sense of urgency
  • Causes overactive emotions
  • Can be defined by over-engagement
  • Severe physical symptoms and damage
  • Could result in premature death


  • Results in reduced motivation and hope
  • Can result in depression and detachment
  • Triggers hopelessness and helplessness
  • Causes blunted emotions
  • Can be defined by disengagement
  • Severe emotional symptoms and damage
  • Could result in in thoughts that life is not worth living

If you think you are suffering from burnout or would like to learn more about how we might be able to help you recover from burnout, contact City and West Psychology for a free 15 minute consultation here.

Author: Dr Torstein Stapley
Read more about the author here

1 thought on “Identifying burnout

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