Your to-do list is a mile long, but you just can’t seem to find the energy to get anything done. Sound familiar? If so, you might be dealing with burnout.
A little bit of stress is normal — and it can even be a good thing!
But if the stress just keeps piling up, it can eventually start to wreak havoc on your mood, your motivation, and your productivity.
“In small amounts, stress can be helpful because it can actually increase focus, motivate us to use healthy coping skills, and inspire us to rise to challenges in life,” says Matthew Welsh, MS, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Illinois and Kansas.
“However, burnout is different because it is an excessive amount of unhealthy stress that depletes our resources, pushes us beyond our capacity to handle daily challenges, and often leaves us withdrawn, isolated, or overwhelmed,” Welsh adds.
If you’re under a ton of stress right now, be on the lookout for these signs of burnout.
1. Your Productivity Has Screeched to a Halt
It’s a vicious cycle: When you’re burnt out, your productivity can take a nosedive. You may end up falling even further behind — which makes you even more stressed.
“When burnt out, motivation and productivity tend to really suffer,” says Jolie Weingeroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in RI and NY. “It can be difficult to access the enthusiasm or drive that leads to your most productive states.”
2. You’re Slacking on Your Healthy Habits
It takes mental strength to push through a tough workout or resist a junk food craving. But when you’re well past your stress threshold, you might not feel like you have any mental energy to spare.
“Your usual workout routine and other healthy habits tend to go out the window, and that may be one of the earliest signs of burnout,” Weingeroff says.
“When we are burned out, our capacity to make healthy lifestyle choices is greatly diminished,” adds Lauren Cook, PsyD, a therapist, speaker, and author. “We go into survival mode, and this typically includes making choices that include the least path of resistance — sitting on the couch, eating processed foods, etc.”
3. You’re Short on Creativity
If you feel like you don’t have the brainpower for tasks that require creativity and problem-solving right now, that can be a sign of burnout.
This can happen when you work past the point of exhaustion on a regular basis.
“If your brain and body need a break, forcing them to work will zap your creativity,” says Michele Leno, Ph.D., LP, a licensed psychologist and founder of DML Psychological Services, PLLC, in metro Detroit, MI. “If you’re trying to avoid burnout, know when to step away.”
4. You’re in a Funk
Can’t shake a bad mood? Burnout may be to blame.
“Emotionally, burnt-out individuals might notice they feel discontented, frustrated, impatient, or irritable,” says Sharon Grossman, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The 7E Solution to Burnout.
Burnout can also turn you into your own worst critic. When you’re experiencing more stress than you can cope with, you may start to feel like you’re incapable or out of control — and that can translate to negative self-talk.
“You may notice a shift in your thinking to more self-critical and rigid thoughts like ‘I just can’t do this’ or ‘Maybe I am not cut out for this,'” Weingeroff says.
5. You’ve “Checked Out” Mentally at Work
When work stress gets overwhelming, you may start to feel disconnected from your job, even if you usually love where you work or what you do.
“You may notice yourself unable to connect with the reasons you chose your career in the first place, and a lack of positive feelings toward your work,” Weingeroff says. “You may start to avoid interactions with colleagues, or notice yourself having less of a sense of belonging.”
6. You’re Feeling Aches and Pains
“Operating at consistently high levels of stress takes a toll on your body,” Weingeroff says. Some physical symptoms of burnout may include:
- muscle tension
- neck or back pain
- gastrointestinal issues
7. Your Anxiety Is Through the Roof
If you’re stuck in overdrive, your usual stress-relief techniques might not do the trick, which can make you feel like you’re constantly on edge.
“Your baseline anxiety will likely be much higher than usual,” Weingeroff says. “This will lead to getting more easily overwhelmed and finding yourself snapping at others, rushing, and making out-of-character mistakes.”
8. Self-Care Is Just Not Happening
If you’re dealing with burnout, self-care is vital. But when you have way too much on your plate, your self-care routine is probably one of the first things you let slide.
“So just when you need to take care of yourself the most, you may eat poorly, reach for more caffeine and alcohol — which can disrupt sleep — and exercise less,” Grossman says. “That’s how you become stuck in the burnout experience.”
The good news?
If you know how to spot the signs of burnout, you can take simple steps to fight it — like adjusting your routine or asking for social support.
Most importantly, allow yourself time to rest and recharge, so you can break the cycle of burnout and regain the motivation and energy you need to tackle your goals.