Burnout: What It Feels Like [Symptom Assessment]
In this article, I explain burnout symptoms in-depth, and share a quick self-assessment you can take. So You’re Wondering “Am I burned Out?”
If you find yourself asking “Am I burned out?” chances are… yes.
How do I know this without knowing you? The term is intuitive. Even if you haven’t done a lot of reading on burnout, you know in your body when you are burned out. Bodies are kind of magical like that. The problem is, we often don’t slow down enough to notice our body’s subtle (or even not-so-subtle) cues. By the time you get around to asking yourself “Am I burned out?” you are likely already there, if not well on your way.
I’m going to explain burnout symptoms in-depth below, but first, here’s a quick self-test (Dolan et al., 2015) for my fellow Type A’s who just want a test to tell you the answer. 😉
Burnout Symptoms Test
Q: Overall, based on your definition of burnout, how would you rate your level of burnout? (Pick the answer from 1-5 that fits best.)
 I enjoy my work. I have no symptoms of burnout.
 Occasionally I am under stress, and I don’t always have as much energy as I once did, but I don’t feel burned out.
 I am definitely burning out and have one or more symptoms of burnout, such as physical and emotional exhaustion.
 The symptoms of burnout that I’m experiencing won’t go away. I think about frustration at work a lot.
 I feel completely burned out and often wonder if I can go on. I am at the point where I may need some changes or may need to seek some sort of help.
A score of 3 or more suggests you have at least one burnout symptom and you could benefit from talking to a mental health professional.
Yes, the self-test is that ridiculously simple. Since burnout is intuitive, the question asks you to consider your definition of burnout. But, just so we’re on the same page…
What is Burnout?
The World’ Health Organization’s (2018) International Classification of Diseases for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics (11th ed.; ICD-11) defines burnout as a syndrome (i.e., a collection of symptoms) resulting from chronic, unmanaged workplace stress.
Symptoms of Burnout
There are three components of burnout according to the ICD-11: disconnection from work, emotional exhaustion, and decreased personal accomplishment. These three burnout symptoms can show up in different ways at work and in your everyday life.
DISCONNECTION FROM WORK
Disconnection from work, also known as cynicism or negativity toward work, refers to decreased motivation and disengagement (Converso et al., 2019). It’s about your relationship with work. For those those in helping or customer service professions, disconnection also shows up in your relationship with your patients, clients, or customers.
Here are some signs of disconnection/negativity toward work:
- Decreased empathy
It’s not that you don’t care about your clients or customers, you just don’t have the same capacity for empathy right now. This also relates to the emotional exhaustion part of burnout.
- Decreased frustration tolerance
You’re more easily annoyed by co-workers, workplace policies, and other work-related stressors. Things that might not have bothered you before feel unbearable now.
You’re more apt to close your office door, eat lunch alone at your desk, and avoid social interaction, even if you’re usually social.
You don’t volunteer as much or take on additional duties. Instead, you focus on the bare minimum to get your job done each day.
- Work dread
This feeling follows you home from work. It’s the anticipation of facing tomorrow’s stressors. You might feel dread in the evening close to bedtime; it might keep you up when you’re trying to sleep; or it can show up in the morning when you know you need to get ready, but you can’t seem to get out of bed. You can also feel dread over the weekend as Monday draws near.
Emotional exhaustion refers to depleted energy (Conversa et al., 2019). This symptom is kind of the hallmark of burnout. Emotional exhaustion goes beyond your relationship with work; it bleeds into your everyday life.
Signs of emotional exhaustion include:
- Extreme exhaustion
You still feel tired after a full night’s sleep, a weekend off, or even a week or more away.
- Operating on autopilot
You go through the motions, but your days blend together and your weeks are a blur. You might wonder how you’re still getting the basics accomplished.
- Feeling numb
You feel “like a zombie” when you get home from work. You space out when your loved ones are talking to you. You don’t feel much of anything at all.
- Seeking instant gratification
You’re habitually “unwinding” with alcohol/drugs or gravitating toward “yummy,” comfort foods for a pick-me-up.
You mindlessly stare at multiple screens simultaneously, not really focusing on any of them.
People experience emotional exhaustion for other reasons too, so remember this is just one of the necessary symptoms for identifying burnout.
DECREASED PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT
Decreased personal accomplishment is more formally known as reduced self-efficacy. That’s a psych term for feeling less capable (in this case, less capable of accomplishing your job). Decreased self-efficacy might not be the symptom that sent you Googling to learn about burnout, since exhaustion and negativity can feel more urgent. This symptom is more of a slow burn — lol, I couldn’t not ;).
Some researchers believe reduced self-efficacy is the result of the other two symptoms, while other researchers argue that all three symptoms happen together (Converso et al., 2019). Either way, if you’re feeling negative about your job and emotionally exhausted, you’re also likely to be feeling less capable at work.
Some signs of decreased personal accomplishment include:
- Self-doubt at work
You doubt your abilities, your effectiveness, and your value at work.
- Questioning your job/career
If you’re doubting your ability to do your work, you might start to question whether you want to continue doing it at all.
- Existential crises
Self-doubt and questioning your job can lead to questioning your purpose and perhaps the meaning of life all together. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, it’s just that burnout can become all-encompassing.
- If you’re dealing with daily workplace stressors and feeling either emotionally exhausted, disconnected from work, or less capable of doing your work, you may be suffering from burnout.
- You are your greatest resource when it comes to answering the question of whether or not you’re experiencing burnout. Hint: listen to your body.
- Burnout differs from stress in that symptoms of burnout don’t alleviate after a night’s sleep or even a short vacation. I talk about this more in my article 5 Tips For Preventing Burnout — visit https://drsamantharae.com/blog/what-is-burnout-why-and-how-it-occurs to learn more about the differences between stress and burnout.
SOURCES CITED IN THIS ARTICLE
- Converso, D., Viotti, S., Sottimano, I., Loera, B., Molinengo, G., & Guidetti, G. (2019). The relationship between menopausal symptoms and burnout. A cross-sectional study among nurses. BMC Womens Health, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-019-0847-6
- Dolan, E.D., Mohr, D., Lempa, M. et al. (2015). Using a Single Item to Measure Burnout in Primary Care Staff: A Psychometric Evaluation. J GEN INTERN MED 30, 582–587. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-014-3112-6
- World Health Organization. (2018). International classification of diseases for mortality and morbidity statistics (11th Revision). Retrieved from https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/enf