Burnout is a serious issue for people of all ages and stages of life, from students coping with competitive school environments to young professionals consumed by work and full-time caregivers struggling to find time for themselves. This complex mental health problem can strike anyone at any time, but there are common behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that can help you diagnose burnout in yourself or others. Early intervention is key to keeping your life on track and getting back to feeling your best. If you or a loved one are experiencing one or more of the following, you may want to consult a mental health professional:
Loss of Interest
Burnout is often caused by an unsustainable amount of stress surrounding personal responsibility. This stress can lead to emotional blunting, where activities that used to bring satisfaction are now seen as even more tasks on an already overwhelming to-do list. Someone facing burnout may find themselves turning down invitations to spend time with friends, stepping back from romantic relationships, and decreasing or eliminating time spent on hobbies, exercise, and other activities that they usually enjoy.
While the stress of burnout can manifest as muted emotions, it can also show itself through heightened emotions. Individuals facing burnout may find that they can keep their stress under control at work and then have inappropriately strong reactions to small issues in their personal lives. This may manifest through internalized emotional outbursts like panic attacks over things that are not typically triggers or through externalized outbursts of anger or frustration toward others.
Burnout can appear through impulsive, seemingly irresponsible actions as well as in outsized emotions. Someone facing burnout may not be able to properly weigh the potential consequences of their actions; desperate to escape their situation, they might do things ordinarily considered too high risk, such as gambling, making high-value purchases, using substances irresponsibly, and even damaging personal relationships. “Mid-life crises” can often be burnout in disguise.
Burnout can also show itself through physical symptoms. Tension in the body can lead to muscle aches while tension in the jaw can lead to headaches and teeth grinding. Difficulty sleeping associated with anxiety can lead to fatigue and worsen chronic health conditions. On the more extreme end, the heightened stress associated with burnout can lead to major health events like heart attack and stroke. These risks are all compounded by the fact that burnout can make health-promoting behaviors like regular exercise, preparing and eating healthy food, and other forms of self-care more difficult.
If you or a loved one are showing signs of burnout, your first step should be evaluating the main things in your life that could be contributing. Are you feeling trapped at work or school? Do you have caregiving duties that are leaving you little room for self-care? Identifying where your burnout is coming from and taking practical steps to relieve those burdens can help, whether that looks like setting better work-life boundaries, getting regular sleep and exercise, or distributing caregiving duties more equitably with family. Exploring your options with a trained mental health professional is also a useful choice. Treatment for burnout is always possible.