9 Unexpected Signs Of Burnout, Because It Doesn't Always Make You Unproductive
People have been telling me for years that my work schedule is a recipe for burnout, but because I've remained super productive, I've always thought I was the one exception. But it turns out burnout doesn't have to decrease your productivity. There are other signs of burnout that are less noticeable or measurable but just as damaging.
Burnout is "a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress," according to Helpguide.org. "It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give."
Since society rewards productivity at all costs, people who experience burnout without productivity loss don't always address their burnout — and that's a problem. We're not machines; we're human beings, and we're here to live our lives, not just produce things. Even if you're doing excellent work, making great money, and perpetually pleasing your boss and coworkers, it's still a good idea to cut back on work if your mental or physical health is suffering. If you've been dealing with an absurdly packed schedule or stressful job all while insisting you're not burnt out, here are some signs you actually have burnt out without realizing it.
1. Nothing Makes You Happy
When you're burnt out, you have so little energy that everything feels like a chore — even the things that used to bring you joy, Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. You may actually start to avoid things like jogs or nights out with friends because when they don't make you happy, you see no point in exerting the energy. You might also get super particular about things like what bar you go to or what time you jog at because you've become so hard to please, and you're afraid that otherwise, the time spent won't be worth it.
2. You're Super Indecisive
Even when you're getting all your work done, your burnout may come out in tasks that require decision-making. You may be great at rote tasks like editing a paper, for example, but buying a plane ticket will feel like performing brain surgery. Making decisions requires an awake, alert, clear mind, says Hershenson. When your mental energy's depleted, that's one of the first abilities to go.
3. You're Always Doubting Yourself
Indecisiveness resulting from burnout can also make you question major things in your life, like whether you're in the right job or relationship, says Hershenson. Burnout can also make you negative, since you're experiencing so much stress and lack the energy to combat it. Combined, these symptoms can make you feel like everything's going wrong.
4. You're Hard On Other People
The same criticalness that makes you doubt yourself can also be directed toward other people, says Hershenson. Plus, exhaustion can leave you with a short fuse and limited patience, making you blow up easily.
5. You're Always Looking Forward To Things Being Over
If you find yourself constantly looking at the clock to reassure yourself that lunch is in an hour or the end of the workday is in six hours or you'll finally get to sleep in 12 hours, your energy could be seriously dragging. "If getting through the day feels unbearable even if you've had adequate sleep or you feel like you don't have the mental capacity to deal with life, these are symptoms of burn out," says Hershenson.
6. Things Upset You More Than Usual
Excessive tiredness gives us less control over our thoughts, which means little things can get to us more easily. "If you find yourself upset or stressed out over something that normally wouldn't have bothered you, such as a friend rescheduling lunch plans, and it feels like your world is collapsing rather then a life annoyance, this may be another sign," says Hershenson.
7. Minor Annoyances Ruin Your Day
When our work defines our lives, we may be reluctant to blame our unhappiness on it, because if we admitted we were unhappy there, we'd lose our identity, says licensed clinical social worker Allison Johanson, LCSW. So, we might suddenly find ourselves super annoyed with tangentially related things like the traffic on our commute or the temperature in the office.
8. You're Withdrawing Socially, Especially At Work
Exhaustion makes it difficult to present yourself well, so you end up staying behind your screen to avoid expending the energy. "You may feel like you are far from burnt out because you would rather finish your report then go to the company happy hour," says Johanson. "However, this is a huge sign you are burnt out. A first sign of burn out is wanting to disengage from fellow employees and social gatherings."
9. Your Heart's Not In Your Work
Even if you're still getting a ton of work done, your burnout could come out in a lack of enthusiasm. You may create an informative, well-thought-out presentation but deliver it in a dry way. Or you might write an article with perfect spelling and grammar but no emotion. In this way, burnout can hurt your work even without hurting your productivity.
"I often see people disengage from their work due to burnout and feelings of overwhelm," says Johnason. "Often times, people do not notice burnout until it is too late." Even if your work remains good, addressing burnout will probably make it even better. And even if it doesn't, it's still worthwhile — because we are more than our work.