3 Signs You May Be Experiencing Burnout at Work, from a Licensed Therapist in Castle Rock, CO

Burnout has become one of those buzz words, especially since 2020, as the world started to collectively recognize the effects of chronic stress, particularly at work. But what is burnout, really? 

Burnout is generally defined as chronic stress symptoms that often start in one particular situation (such as work or caregiving), but then spread to any and all areas of a person’s life. It often looks like ongoing emotional exhaustion, prolonged frustration, and depression-like symptoms. And burnout doesn’t typically resolve from your normal self care routine. 

At work, burnout is often related to “the system.” This might include being overworked and underpaid, having difficulties with management or work culture, dealing with cumbersome bureaucracy, or having a lack of resources to do your job well. 

Burnout often resembles depression, with symptoms like feeling more down, chronic fatigue, increased apathy, wanting to isolate yourself, and losing interest in things you usually enjoy. So how can you tell if you’re experiencing burnout specifically? Here are a few key signs to look for.

Increased cynicism at work

Cynicism is a key component of burnout, and one that often differentiates it from clinical depression. You may notice that you’re becoming most distrustful of leadership at work, or perhaps feeling pessimistic about your job or company in general. I also often observe a darker sense of humor. While I personally think that humor, even dark humor, goes a long way in relieving stress, this is somewhat different. If you make a comment and think, “oof, that was pretty dark even for me….” that’s what I’m talking about! 

A significant change in boundaries

Having healthy boundaries around work is really important to maintaining a sustainable work/life balance. When people are experiencing burnout, they tend to struggle to maintain their boundaries, which then exacerbates the burnout itself. And that could go to either extreme! 

Some tighten up their boundaries. They become more aloof, isolated, and stop participating in work activities at their typical level. Maybe you find that you have absolutely no interest in volunteering for that thing this year, even though you usually love it, because you’re just so sick of work. Maybe you find that you’re a little snappy or short in conversations with coworkers or while on the phone. These kinds of things can represent a change in boundaries. 

On the other hand, some people experiencing burnout loosen their boundaries much more than usual. They become preoccupied with work, think about work long after hours, or constantly feel anxious about work. Maybe you’re having work-related stress dreams. Perhaps you find yourself making careless mistakes, or sharing information that violates others’ boundaries, when you normally wouldn’t do either of those things. When looking back on these moments, people often state that at the time, maintaining the boundary just felt like too much effort and required too much mental energy.

Feeling ineffective at your job 

People in the midst of burnout often feel like they’re not good at their jobs, aren’t making a difference, or can’t accomplish anything at work, even though that’s often not true. This has little to do with a person’s actual performance at work, and is much more connected to cynicism. When you start to feel like the work you do doesn’t matter or has no value, that is a big red flag for burnout. 

Is burnout affecting your life?

If any of these are resonating with you, it could be helpful to look more about possible signs and symptoms of burnout, and how you can start to recover. Working with a therapist experienced in treating burnout is a great way to do this! Burnout really does resemble clinical anxiety, depression, and even PTSD, and therapy can absolutely help. 

The therapists at Authentic Connections Counseling Center in Castle Rock, CO are here to help with burnout, chronic stress, and finding a work/life balance that truly works for you.