Signs of Burnout, Burnout Treatment & Burnout Recovery

By Danielle Boland

Are you tired, or are you suffering from burnout? There are many factors that contribute to burnout, such as occupation, lack of self-care, feeling overwhelmed, financial stressors and more. Knowing what can cause burnout can help you prevent or recover from prolonged stress and anxiety. 

Article at a Glance

  • Burnout is a prolonged period of mental and physical fatigue due to unmanaged work or life responsibilities. 
  • Burnout differs from regular exhaustion or depression.
  • Burnout is treatable and preventable.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout in the workplace is the result of stress from one’s job that builds up over time and is not managed on a daily basis. Burnout is not classified as a medical condition or illness but as an occupational phenomenon that causes people to reach out for medical attention due to the mental and physical impacts.

The term burnout was originally created to describe the job fatigue that helping professionals such as doctors and nurses experienced. Burnout now applies to areas outside of the workplace that leave people feeling overworked, underpaid and unsatisfied. It’s important to note that exhaustion is not the same as burnout. Exhaustion turns into burnout when the stress of work is prolonged and unresolved. This can cause someone to not perform well at their job, as well as physical and mental fatigue and overall life dissatisfaction that affects all areas of someone’s life. 

The good news is that burnout is not permanent. With a regular self-care routine and support from friends, family or a mental health professional, burnout can be reversed and prevented from happening again. 

Who Does Burnout Affect?

Some roles have a higher likelihood of developing burnout, including caretakers and parents. The areas that have reported the highest rates are:

  • Nurse and Physician Burnout: Those in the medical field experience a very high level of burnout due to demanding hours, lack of support, repeated exposure to traumatic circumstances and very little time for rest.
  • Caregiver Burnout: Caregivers such as parents or those taking care of elderly or sick parents are at risk for burnout. The twenty-four-seven demand of being a familial caretaker is both physically and mentally exhausting with very little time off.
  • Autistic Burnout: Parents, teachers and caretakers of those diagnosed with autism experience varying levels of burnout. Increased responsibilities such as frequent doctor’s appointments, financial concerns and physical demands increase stress and exhaustion. 
  • Occupational Burnout: Certain job types report higher levels of burnout. Areas such as finance, healthcare, technology and the service industry have longer hours, less personal time and high-pressure responsibilities. 
  • Teacher Burnout: Teachers face a high level of burnout related to lack of support in their profession and low self-esteem or little belief that they are doing a good job. Many teachers face pushback from both parents and administration and feel they cannot do well regardless of how hard they try. 
  • Emotional Burnout: Those with emotionally demanding jobs or lives can experience this type of burnout. Being a new parent or caregiver or having extreme financial stress can contribute to emotional burnout. 
  • Parental Burnout: Parents show signs of overwhelming exhaustion, especially those with young children. Parents today are often working full-time in addition to maintaining a social life and a household, leaving their own self-care at the bottom of a to-do list.

What Causes Burnout?

Many causes lead to burnout, and they can be different for each person. Personality traits such as being “Type A” or perfectionist may also increase someone’s likelihood of experiencing burnout. The leading causes of burnout include:

  • Accessibility: There is an increase in access to people during “off” work hours due to email, cellphones and other communication tools. People are more likely to feel obligated to check work emails outside of their normal working hours. 
  • Information overload: Technology has made many things easier but also has increased the speed that work is expected to be done. There is more competition and pressure to do and be better.
  • Type of jobs: There are more service, technology and information jobs than ever. These types of jobs tend to have a higher level of engagement with co-workers and a lot of collaboration. This can mean very little independent work and overstimulation at work.
  • Culture: The “grind” culture that we currently have rewards people who are overworked. This reinforces the unhealthy pattern of doing more to feel successful and accomplished. 
  • Social Media: Being constantly exposed to other people’s lives and therefore their accomplishments can be emotionally exhausting. Social media has negatively impacted many people’s mental health and can cause emotional burnout. 

What Does Burnout Feel Like?

It can be hard to tell the difference between regular stress and burnout. The most important way to spot burnout is to pay attention to how you feel on a regular basis. You may be experiencing burnout if you feel:

  • Overwhelmed but don’t know why
  • Mental fatigue or inability to concentrate 
  • The need to isolate from friends or family
  • Hopeless
  • Increased aggression or hostility both in and out of work
  • Physical exhaustion regardless of sleep
  • Decrease in appetite 
  • Increase in anxiety or nervousness 

These symptoms are all normal to feel from time to time due to everyday stressors, but with burnout, they are long-term, unresolved experiences. 

What Are the 5 Stages of Burnout?

Burnout can occur in different stages with varying symptoms. How a person reacts to burnout depends on their own circumstances and coping skills. 

The first stage of burnout includes milder symptoms such as:

  • Feelings of dread related to work or responsibilities
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Frustration with daily tasks

During the second stage, if burnout is not managed, there will be a greater risk of experiencing:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and despair lasting outside of working hours 
  • Feeling trapped in the current situation
  • Longer lasting physical symptoms associated with burnout

If burnout continues to be untreated, the likelihood of long-term physical and mental health effects becomes greater. People who experience burnout long term are at high risk for:

  • Diagnosis of severe depression and anxiety
  • Job turnover
  • Low self-esteem
  • Higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes
  • Divorce

If measures are not taken to reverse burnout or have steps in place to reduce the effects of developing burnout, the long-term results can be devastating to a person’s life. 

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout affects people both physically and mentally. There are many symptoms that can indicate that someone is experiencing burnout. You may be suffering from burnout if you experience the following: 

  • Frequently feeling tired
  • Getting sick more often
  • Increase in head or body aches
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress
  • More reactive with less patience 
  • Less enjoyment during favorite activities
  • Inability to focus on tasks
  • Less productive
  • Feeling unfulfilled by work or school
  • Feeling unappreciated 

How to Prevent Burnout

The best way to prevent burnout is to have a good balance between work and life. Some helpful ways to maintain work-life balance are:

  • Self-care
  • Setting boundaries
  • Taking breaks
  • Adequate sleep
  • Daily movement
  • Asking for help
  • Setting clear expectations with work
  • Healthy diet

Implementing these techniques can help greatly reduce and prevent the impact of burnout.

How to Recover From Burnout

The first step in recovering from burnout is recognizing that burnout is happening. Fixing burnout involves many of the steps used to help prevent it from happening in the first place. Helpful ways to recover from burnout include:

  • Taking a break: Use paid time off or take a vacation if it is feasible. Time away to rest and get a break from the stressful environment can help reduce the effects of burnout.
  • Getting support: Confide in friends, family or professional support from a licensed mental health professional. 
  • Creating healthier habits: Self-care is an important part of recovering from burnout. Self-care includes eating healthier, sleeping more, spending more time doing enjoyable activities and prioritizing one’s needs above their job. 
  • Making a change: As a last resort, sometimes the only way to reverse burnout and prevent it from happening again is to leave the situation causing the burnout. If it is a job, you may consider looking into a career or company that has better work-life balance. 

What Resources Are Available to Me?

If you’re looking for an easy way to access tools that can help support the symptoms of burnout you may be feeling, the Nobu app is for you. This free-to-use app has plenty of resources, including mindfulness tools, mental health lessons, journaling and goal-tracking. For an added fee, you can also use the app to connect with a licensed therapist to get even more support.

Edited by – Abby Doty

Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor’s in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. She is passionate about removing the stigma around mental health and recovery. In her free time, Abby loves reading, painting, and petting dogs… Read more.

Written by – Danielle Boland

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health. Danielle is passionate about empowering people of all ages and hopes to use her writing skills to provide more resources for those looking to improve their mental health… Read more.

dr angela phillips

Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.