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5 signs you're burnt out and what to do about it

By Fi Darby

Struggling with workload? Failing to perform at work? You could be suffering from career burnout. Career burnout or professional burnout is a particularly unpleasant form of workplace stress. Left untreated it can disrupt your career prospects and family life. It can also adversely affect your mental and physical health.

What is career burnout?

There's no medical definition of job burnout but it's generally seen as stress brought about by factors related to workload. Adjusting to lockdown and working from home has had a negative impact on the mental health of many Australians. 

Adapting to change and seeing the lines between work and personal life blurred can be a stressful experience. This type of stress exhaustion can show itself in lots of different ways so it's important to recognise symptoms when your coping mechanisms start to fail.

If you're burnt out at work, you might feel physically exhausted and less productive. As well as emotional symptoms such as depression, low mood, and anxiety. Stress and burnout can cause physical problems like headaches, insomnia and excessive tiredness. We look at some more symptoms below.

5 signs you're burnt out from work

man sitting on steps looking stressed

The symptoms of workplace burnout vary between individuals. We all suffer from occasional workplace stress but the longer lasting issues caused by career burnout can be more damaging. If the statements below sound like you, your career fatigue may be catching up with you.

1. You're always mentally and physically exhausted. 

Mental and physical exhaustion are classic signs of professional burnout. These could also be disrupting your sleep. Carrying on in this state is counter-productive. It's time to focus on some self-care.

2. You're becoming more emotional than usual. 

Feeling sensitive at work is as natural as feeling it at home but excessive anger or crying can be an indicator of career burnout. These reactions are part of a bigger picture so don't be too hard on yourself.

3. You're unable to focus and concentrate at work. 

You need to feel connected to a task to concentrate on it. This connection can be difficult to achieve when your mind is overloaded. As you start to take action on your career burnout, your concentration will return.

4. Your appetite has increased due to high stress levels. 

Although short-term stress can cause appetite loss, the long-term stress you experience in career burnout often has the opposite effect. Unhealthy food and alcohol can initially help you relax but both soon increase anxiety levels.

5. Work is no longer enjoyable. 

Career burnout can have an upsettingly negative effect on work performance. Once this happens it can be difficult to motivate yourself to complete even regular tasks. It's important to recognise that this one could be both a symptom and a cause of career burnout.

What are the causes of career burnout?

Although individual factors can cause workplace stress, career burnout is often the result of combined influences. For example, swapping to working from home might be stressful enough but add in existing depression or a workload increase and it's easy to see how the debilitating symptoms of burnout can take hold.

Once you start to feel stressed about a job, even the simplest of changes or demands can combine to cause burnout. These causes are individual but we've listed a few examples below: 
  • Being unable to control circumstances
  • Lacking in training or study opportunities
  • Ignoring the need for self care
  • Working with difficult colleagues
  • Experiencing sudden changes in work practice
  • Being given unrealistic goals
  • Feeling isolated or bullied at work
  • Not being given credit when it is due
  • Taking on a promotion that feels beyond you
Being able to recognise the reasons behind your burnout won't just help you find your way back to health, it'll also help you to avoid future problems.

How to handle career burnout

father working from home with son

As well as negatively impacting your career and family life, professional burnout can have serious health consequences. These include heart disease, high blood pressure and even type two diabetes. The good news is that your good health and a happy work situation can return. Burnout won't go away on its own but there are some key actions you can take to help.

1. Understand the causes of your burnout.

Once you have a list of possible causes, don't try to sort everything out at once. Ask for help then deal with individual issues one at a time.

2. Ask for support.

Ultimately, you'll need to discuss your concerns with your manager but help can also come from other directions. Talk to friends and colleagues and investigate company support schemes. Counselling sessions can help you to understand your issues better and see a way forward.

3. Rebuild your work/life balance.

Overwork can be a key factor in burnout. Put your feelings of inadequacy to one side and make a bit of space for yourself. Stick to a timetable for your working day and build in time for breaks, exercise and regular meals.

4. Give your body a fighting chance.

A healthy body means a healthy mind so take a close look at your eating and exercise routines. Eat regularly and drink plenty of water. Start gently with the exercise. Just like after a physical illness, your body needs time to recover from burnout. 

5. Learn when to say no.

As you ease yourself back into work after burnout, don't take on too much too soon. Set realistic boundaries. Saying 'no' to requests for work can be difficult but you might be surprised how much can be achieved by a positive but firm approach.

You're important so look after yourself

The best colleagues are the people who are honest about what they can and can't achieve. Once you've experienced burnout, you won't want to go through it again so make sure your career is heading in the direction you would like it to go. 

Take some time to consider how small career tweaks or learning a new skill might turn your recent experiences into opportunities. Online study with Upskilled is super-flexible and our wide range of nationally recognised courses can be a great way to rebuild your self-confidence. Give your existing career a chance but now you understand yourself better, don't be afraid to consider the wider possibilities.
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