3 Signs That You’re Burnt Out at Work

A burnt out employee staring at a computer screen

A burnt out employee staring at a computer screen | Thinkstock

We often hear about how workers are disengaged. A Gallup poll found that only around one out of every eight employees worldwide are actually fully engaged in their work, and the remaining seven are disengaged, at least to some degree.

Sometimes, this lack of engagement results from a lack of interest in what you’re doing. “I dreamed of being a photographer my whole life, but I took this job as a secretary because it pays well,” or “I always wanted to be an artist, but I work at this dentist’s office to pay the bills” — those stories are all too common. It’s not often that we hear about people who dreamed their entire lives about becoming astronauts, doctors, or musicians, and how they are actually successful in those particular career paths.

Even if you have your dream career, you can only give so much of yourself to your job before it starts to take a toll. Sure, give 100% while you are at work, but when it’s time to go home, work should be done until the next work day. There are some really great companies out there these days, ones that know attracting and keeping talent means giving a little to get a lot. Some companies have onsite daycare, some allow their employees to telecommute, and others have recreational facilities onsite so that employees can get some time away from their desks to stretch their legs and have a little fun.

No matter how many perks are offered, how much an employer tries to set you up for success, or how much you like what you’re doing, at the end of the day, it’s partly up to you to manage your own work-life balance. Work can be addictive. Checking emails during off-work hours, reviewing reports at night, and logging into systems because you just want to check “one thing real quick” can be unhealthy.

After a while, the line blurs, and work life and home life are really no different. This can be so unhealthy that Germany was actually considering passing a law prohibiting people from sending work-related emails after 6 p.m. “There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness,” Labor Minister Andrea Nahles told the Rheinische Post.

What do you think about Germany’s potential future decision to make emailing after 6 p.m. illegal? Do you think you’re working too hard? Here are three signs you may be so stressed out that you’re becoming burnt out.

1. Coffee does nothing

Man drinking coffee from the pot

Stressed worker drinking coffee | Thinkstock

More than half of American adults drink coffee on a daily basis. You may be thinking, “I’ve become kind of immune to coffee because I drink a few cups every day.” But coffee should still affect you to some degree, no matter who you are. So if you can drink a cup or two of Joe and then easily nap afterwords, you may be so stressed out that you just want to zonk out.

“The EEG machines that show increased brain activity post-coffee don’t lie — but some people swear that caffeine doesn’t affect them. What’s probably happening with these caffeine denialists, says [study author Michael Breus], is that they’re so exhausted that their levels of calm-inducing neurotransmitters are very high. These neurotransmitters help override caffeine’s effects, or they set to work on a different area of the brain to kick-start the sleep process — so the caffeine is working, but the coffee drinkers aren’t reacting to it. In other words, they’re not superhuman; they’re just super-tired,” according to data published in a Huffington Post report.

2. You’re experiencing physical symptoms

Woman with back pain at the office

Back pain at work | Thinkstock

According to WebMD, the physical symptoms of stress include the following:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear
  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Excess sweating
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth.

Burnout can effect more than just your ability to put your best face forward — it can actually make you physically sick. That’s not to mention all of the emotional and mental health-related problems you can experience as a result of too much work stress, as well. These emotional symptoms range from feeling frustrated and overwhelmed to avoiding your loved ones.

3. Success doesn’t feel like success

Man with crumpled papers at desk

Feeling bad at work | Thinkstock

When you do well at your job — when you receive accolades from your superiors, clients, or coworkers — does that rejuvenate you, or does it feel like you don’t deserve the praise (or that the praise doesn’t really matter)?

If you are a high achiever, you may be particularly susceptible to this symptom. At first, you give 200 percent of yourself — you over perform and everything is going really well. Except, there’s one big problem: You’re overdoing it, putting way too much into your job and seeing it as a sprint instead of a marathon. This sets you up for short-term success that cannot be maintained over the long run.

Because you excelled so much in the beginning, you place more and more pressure on yourself. And, according to Psychology Today: “Irritability often stems from feeling ineffective, unimportant, useless, and an increasing sense that you’re not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did. In the early stages, this can interfere in personal and professional relationships. At its worst, it can destroy relationships and careers. … Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which often results in incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list. At times, it seems that as hard as you try, you can’t climb out from under the pile.”

If any of these signs or symptoms sound like you, it’s time to take action. “Take some time to honestly assess the amount of stress in your life and find ways to reduce it before it’s too late. Burnout isn’t like the flu; it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life,” says Psychology Today.

Pace yourself. If you value your job, care for it like you would anything else that you care about — work evenly and at the appropriate pace. It’s unwise to give it an abundance of attention for several months, get burnt out, and have to neglect portions of your work, and then start the cycle all over again.

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