Burnout – How to spot it and what to do next

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, typically associated with work-related situations. It occurs when an individual feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands, leading to a sense of reduced accomplishment and detachment from work responsibilities.

The key features of burnout often include:

  1. Exhaustion: Feeling depleted of energy, both physically and emotionally.
  2. Cynicism: A negative or cynical attitude toward work, colleagues, or the people they serve.
  3. Reduced Efficacy: A sense of decreased professional efficiency, productivity, and accomplishment.burnout burning out COVID work from home work life balance depleted help

Burnout Signs and Symptoms:

Burnout can sneak upon us. It is unreasonable to expect the same productivity and normalcy when we are in a circumstance that is far from what is normal. Take a moment to check in with yourself to see if any of these signs apply to you. Ideally, keep this page handy near your workstation and check in with yourself daily. 

  • Impaired functioning – physical, mental, and emotional. This can show up as exhaustion, being short with others, mood swings, and all around fatigue. 
  • Cynicism
  • Increasingly negative outlook
  • Feeling ineffective
  • Feeling a lack of accomplishment
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Increased social isolation
  • Increased substance use (alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or other substances)
  • Increased spending habits
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Difficulty empathizing
  • Reduced creativity
  • Easily startled (if you weren’t before)
  • Increased tv/movie consumption
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Changes in bowel movements

What are some contributing factors to burnout?

  1. Deadline and workload expectations. I’m going to reiterate this one: it is unreasonable to expect the same work output during this time. Sure some days you might be killing it, finishing tasks left and right. But we are not in the same world we were pre-COVID. Tasks take longer when you have to communicate electronically. The collateral benefits of work have decreased – the social aspect, the space from home, being in a different environment, and more easily separating work from home. Employers I’m especially talking to you here: manager support helps protect against stress and burnout. Check-in with your employees. When employees feel supported, they are 70% less likely to experience burnout!
  2. Working with distressed people. We are social creatures, and part of that is being in tune with others. When you are working with others in person, you are likely to be picking up on their stress. This is applicable to grocery store clerks and baristas, and especially applicable to hospital workers and police officers. 
  3. Unfair treatment at work. This can be favoritism, unfair compensation, mistreatment from coworkers, or discrimination. It is unsurprising that with these factors your motivation is likely to decrease. Same with your mood and opinion of your company. 
  4. Lack of clarity about your role or projects. When your role or projects aren’t clear, it can be exhausting figuring out what you are supposed to be doing. So this exhaustion is setting in before you even start the task. Discuss with your supervisor what your responsibilities are and what the performance goals are. Work together to make sure you have a clear understanding of expectations. Supervisors have check-ins with your employees. Ask what the employees need from you to help reach these goals. 
  5. Blurred work/home boundaries. This can be especially difficult when you work from home. If you don’t have a clear boundary between work and home, you are much more likely to be “taking your work home” and thinking of these stressors into your night. You need to be present in your home life to do the activities that reinvigorate you. 
  6. Ignoring the signs. Trying to push yourself through just depletes you even more. When you start to pay attention to your signs of burnout, you can act faster to help combat it and take care of yourself.  

What to do about burnout:


Having a general self-care practice helps ward off burnout. Self-care includes meditation, special treats, making time for hobbies, exercise, and social engagement. Self-care can be as simple as taking a long shower. You can learn more about self-care here. As you check in with yourself and start to notice signs of burnout, take time to do self-care catered to the burnout. This will be individualized for you. However, some examples include alone time for those whose work centers around interactions with others. This could be having a “positivity journal” if you are becoming increasingly cynical or pessimistic. This could be incorporating exercise throughout your day if sitting for X hours at a desk is contributing to your burnout. Finding activities that are away from the screen can be especially useful at this time when our worlds are online. 

Speak to your supervisor

No one can read your mind, and your supervisor likely doesn’t know if there is an area you need support in unless you bring it up with them. Speak up if you need a change in workload, work content to break up monotony, or need support in another way. There’s a good chance you’re not the only one struggling with something. Nothing can change if you don’t talk about it. Supervisors be open to feedback, be flexible, and check in with your employees. Remember, fighting burnout is good for employees well-being and productivity for the company. 


Remind yourself that work is just a part of your life, not all of it. You need a work/home life balance or you’ll end up burning out. You can get an idea of work and home boundary statements here. These boundaries also include the transition and separation from work to home. If you are working from home, you are no longer commuting. So, you need to come up with another ritual to help signal to your brain that you’re changing modes. This could be a walk around the block, enjoying a cup of tea, or listening to a podcast/album like you would on a drive home. This also means strengthen your interpersonal boundaries with others. If it feels exhausting to try to socialize after a long day of work, keep your plans for the weekends. Pay attention and prioritize your needs. 

Know that you are not alone in facing burnout. By making some adjustments to your work-day you can have lasting results to feel motivated, energized, and accomplished. Make an effort to be in communication with your supervisor and colleagues, especially as we continue to work from home. If you need additional support, set up an appointment with a therapist. Whether you are looking for a few sessions to be back on track, or something more long-term. 

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Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)

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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

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