6 Signs of Burnout—and How You Can Take Action
My favorite part about doctor office visits as a kid were pointing to the pain scale. I know, it might sound odd—but there was something so clarifying about picking out a number from 1 (no pain) to 10 (excruciating pain) and learning exactly where I stood. Being able to point out a cartoon face that mirrored what I felt helped me understand whatever it was I was going through.
But as an adult: There aren’t kind nurses holding up a series of emojis to help me understand where I’m at when it comes to my mental health.
For better or worse, that’s up to me to determine now—but it can be hard to decipher when so many things feel like major factors to a healthy life, and they're all under siege.
This is particularly the case when it comes to feeling burned out.
Research uncovered that burnout doesn’t happen to someone suddenly, but rather over time—but it’s hard to notice the symptoms in yourself.
To help you pinpoint your own feelings, we gathered six of the most common feelings that are tied directly to burnout and what you can do to cope with them.
1. You feel overwhelmed by day-to-day activities
To-do lists can be stressful, and it’s totally human to feel overwhelmed by the day ahead of you. One of the reasons you might be experiencing stress is because you’re doing too much at the same time.
Multi-tasking might sound productive in theory, but research shows that it actually can decrease our productivity because of the "switching cost" we endure by ping-ponging between tasks.
Adding too much to our plates and the stress that comes along with juggling a lot at the same time is a sign that you might be experiencing burnout, too. There is such a thing as good stress, but burnout has a lot to do with unrelenting stress—and recognizing when you haven't had time to take a step back is key to curbing burnout.
What You Can Do: Try taking on one thing at a time. Sandwich those "ugh" tasks with ones that take up less energy—and if you need to take breaks, that’s OK. Different to-do list hacks (like the 1-3-5 rule) can help ease some pressure, too.
2. You’re starting to resent people and feel disconnected from others
If you feel a bit of consistent dread creeping in when it comes to people you’re close with or things you’ve normally been interested in, that’s a key sign of burnout.
This can look different for everyone. For me, it might look like avoiding friends and family or certain social situations, even on Zoom. I can also get resentful if I spend too much time on social media and get stuck in a comparison trap.
What You Can Do: While burnout is experienced by so many people, it’s easy to feel like you’re in it alone—which might make you try to isolate yourself even more. Try finding at least one person to connect with safely about the symptoms you’re feeling. That can make a difference in regards to how you interact with those in your life despite feeling burned out.
3. You find yourself getting easily irritated with people
Ever have those days where just the smallest thing can set you off? A quick-to-anger moment is never fun to deal with, especially if it isn’t part of your normal disposition.
Anger is a normal part of life, but burnout can make you feel irritated with those around you more often than usual.
What You Can Do: The first way to get through this feeling is to acknowledge it. Once you’ve sat in your feels, try pinpointing the bigger picture of what’s getting you worked up. Is it something external, like a comment made? Or is it something internal, like some negative self-talk? Boost your morale by diving into a gratitude exercise to remind yourself of the small things that make you feel good.
4. You feel extremely tired all the time
Research shows that insufficient sleep is a big factor when it comes to burnout, so taking steps to make sure you’re getting enough Zzzs can really help you curb stress. But we get it: Diving into sleep when you’re thoughts are at work or in a worry spiral isn’t fun.
What You Can Do: One thing you can do before you hit the hay is create a healthy space for your relaxation. That might mean not doing work from the comfort of your bed, and making your room a “sleep only” place with some comfortable blankets and essential oils. Diving into rituals before you sleep can also help your brain understand when it’s time to snooze. Try listening to a Shine Nightcap story to lull you to sleep, or do a quick stretch to relax your mind and body before you slide into the sheets.
5. You feel like you’re losing joy and motivation
Not sure of your "why" or purpose any longer? Burnout has a tendency of stealing that from you, and, in turn, stealing any motivation you might have.
What You Can Do: To combat this, first start by trying to do things without the expectation that you’ll be good or bad at it. Build up the muscles of doing things with a sense of mindfulness, and work your way to doing things that once made you happy. It can be as small as wearing your favorite socks or eating your favorite breakfast. But intentionally savoring small joys can increase your "joy frequency," and ultimately, bring back a little motivation in your life.
6. You’re experiencing physical symptoms
There are a few symptoms that you might not realize have to do with burnout—like a loss of appetite, headaches, or nausea. These can be easy to mistake as normal physical ailments, but the remedy to them all lie in the answers above—particularly sleep.
What You Can Do: Taking time to give yourself mental health breaks and space to recharge can do wonders when it comes to letting your body heal from the effects of burnout. And if you can: Consult an expert—like a general physician or a therapist—to get even more support in coping with the symptoms of burnout.
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