Why Work Burnout Happens, And How To Cope With It

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you believe you are feeling the effects of work burnout, you are not alone. There are various ways to deal with work stress to prevent it from becoming a long-term issue. Understanding the symptoms of work burnout, how to catch it before it becomes severe, and how to cope long-term may be beneficial if you believe you’re experiencing this challenge. 

Are you showing signs of burnout from work?

Overview: What is career burnout? 

Work burnout is a unique type of work-related stress and a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that can involve a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. The time it takes to realize that you are experiencing work burnout can vary. However, when you realize you are experiencing burnout in the workplace or seem disengaged from work life, try to take it seriously. Work burnout can have a significant impact on all areas of life.

While not yet considered a medical condition, the revised version of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases considers burnout an occupational syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. In short, burnout is a type of work-related stress caused by a poorly managed workplace. 

Symptoms of this job-related syndrome can include:

  • Energy depletion 
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism, negativity, or apathy at work 
  • Reduction in professional efficacy and productivity
  • Job disillusionment
  • Unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, and pain
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating

Work burnout can occur when a person experiences a lack of control at work, a lack of resources, and unclear expectations about responsibility. Stress may also occur from workplace bullying or micromanagement from a manager. Working too much and not having enough social support can also lead to burnout.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the prevalence of burnout is at an all-time high. APA’s most recent Work and Well-Being Survey reported that 79% of survey participants experienced work-related stress the month before they took the survey, and three out of five reported signs of burnout. These signs included a lack of interest in work, reduced energy and motivation, and diminished effort at work.

Signs you’re experiencing work burnout 

If you can relate to these statistics, it may not be a sign of poor work ethic but of burnout and stress. Work burnout can affect your home, social, and work-life balance. Whether you work from home, in a corporate office, or as a full-time parent, you could be experiencing work burnout. Below are a few signs this response is occurring. 

You feel exhausted 

There can be several dimensions to burnout, including emotional exhaustion, a manifestation of extreme fatigue that can make you feel like you cannot cope with or complete your work. You may also experience increased weariness and low energy due to overworking to the point of physical exhaustion. Both types of exhaustion can happen by working excessive hours or because a job is exceedingly stressful and requires significant physical or mental effort. 

Exhaustion can happen quickly or occur after consecutive days or months of pressure, making you feel like you have no more energy to put forth. This lack of energy might cause you to feel you’re “running on autopilot” or “just surviving.” 

It can be a sign of an unhealthy dynamic if your work life makes you feel you’re using all of your energy to survive and pay your bills. A healthy dynamic can involve a desire to thrive and feel content with appropriate energy levels at the end of the workday. While it can be normal to have a bad, exhausting, or challenging day occasionally, feelings of being consumed or trapped at work are signs of burnout.

You are consumed at work and home

Another cause of work burnout is being all-consumed at work to the point that you bring it home. If you find yourself overthinking about work after you have left the building, you may be experiencing burnout. You may be distracted at home by your grievances or worries from work, causing you more stress than usual. Feeling trapped and pulled down by your work life can spill over into home life, which may affect your relationships.  

People in your workplace can also be contributors to job burnout. They may act harshly toward you or underperform their job, which may increase your workload and cause feelings of resentment. You may also be expected to carry on work when not on the clock or asked to log overtime when you don’t want to. This type of pressure can lead to working more often than you spend time at home. Whether you are trying to enjoy your weekend or are out of town on a family vacation, you might notice your mind is full of thoughts about your job. 

If your home life is as stressful and consuming as work, you may feel you never get a break from stress. A harmonious and peaceful home life can be essential for a stressful job. If your home life is the reason you struggle to move forward, it may be beneficial to ask for help from a mental health therapist to identify how to reduce these stressors.  

You want more from your workday

Are you satisfied with your work? Do you get in your vehicle every day after work wishing you could have done more? Are you yearning for more responsibilities or more ways to use your talents? If you feel this way, you might be dissatisfied with your job. 

Job burnout can occur if you don’t enjoy your work, leaving you with an urge to have something more or look for jobs outside your current one. You may believe your potential is wasted or going unnoticed if you are overqualified for your current job and not receiving a promotion. Feeling fulfilled at work can be essential for long-term happiness.

You don’t practice self-care  

If you are experiencing work burnout, you may feel so exhausted that you neglect to care for yourself outside of work. Maintaining your health internally and externally can be vital for survival, happiness, success, and peace of mind. Regular self-care can help you recover from the pressures you are experiencing while refreshing your mind and body for the work week ahead. 

Self-care does not have to be elaborate or costly. It could involve taking time out of your day to gift yourself with an activity or moment of mindfulness that invigorates you. Some people go for a walk for ten minutes after work. You could also try the following: 

  • Reading
  • Putting on a face mask
  • Running a bath 
  • Exercising
  • Practicing mindfulness 
  • Getting dinner with a dear friend 
  • Making yourself a home-cooked meal 
  • Taking a more extended lunch break

Self-care is defined on an individual basis. If you step back and notice that you have not attended to your needs lately, it may offer a chance to look for self-care strategies to add to your schedule. Putting yourself first can help you take a deep breath and take a momentary break from work thoughts. 

You have a pessimistic state of mind

As defined by the American Psychological Association, pessimism is an attitude or expectation that a situation will go wrong and that your wishes or aims will not be fulfilled.  In contrast, optimism is characterized by hopefulness and expecting positive events. While some people land between these outlooks on life, some may perceive life through purely optimistic or pessimistic lenses. If you tend to choose a pessimistic outlook, it may contribute to burnout. 

Believing that nothing will work out, that your worth amounts to nothing, or that the worst is coming can lead you to be negative at work and not strive for new opportunities. Try to notice areas of your work that you excel in and which parts of your job you love most. If you have found that you perceive every situation through a negative lens, take a break and restructure these thoughts. 

You have dwindling motivation

Motivation can be a crucial indicator of job satisfaction. Job burnout can happen because you are not motivated to meet performance standards or complete tasks effectively. If you dread waking up in the morning to go to work or returning to work after lunch, you may have low levels of motivation. 

Your internal drive to accomplish tasks can also be related to seeking approval from your boss. According to an article from Time Magazine, a boss showing their appreciation for an employee’s work on mundane tasks is impactful on motivation. If no one is telling you that you’re on the right track or excelling at work, you might not feel the need to keep trying, which can lead to burnout and a low mood. 

You don’t like your job 

Some people experience burnout when they don’t enjoy their job. You may have outgrown your job, changed needs, or only applied for the money. Perhaps your schedule has changed, or there’s a new manager you don’t like. Regardless of the reasons you don’t enjoy your job, looking for a new position or finding ways to reignite your interest in your work may be beneficial. 

How to cope with work burnout

To cope with burnout, you may benefit from taking a break for self-care. At times, the remedy to feeling overworked, tired, or not like yourself is to recharge. A break could consist of catching up on sleep, taking a vacation, going on a date, or taking vacation days. Consider what type of break would fulfill you and reenergize you for work. Below are a few other ways to cope. 

Release your feelings

Internal challenges may lead to the adverse impacts of suppressing emotions. If you are experiencing this impact, talking to someone else about how you feel may be beneficial. Whether you talk to your boss, spouse, or friend, tell them you need someone to listen and offer validation. When you bottle up your emotions, they may come out at inopportune times, such as a stress-related emotional breakdown. 

Another method of expressing feelings is journaling. With a journal, you can release emotions by reflecting on your day, thoughts, and feelings. Reading your journal entries back to yourself may clarify the wounds that need mending to improve motivation and work-life balance.

Find your reason “why” 

Ask yourself why you work. Realizing why you choose to work in the first place may help remind you what makes you happy. Many people work to provide for themselves and their families, but others may work to satisfy their need for a creative outlet. Why did you choose your specific job? 

Reminding yourself of the reasons you chose your job may inspire you to become a more active participant at work. Maybe you have been caught up in deadlines and forgotten the tasks that make you happy. Work burnout can come from your passions getting blurred within the chaos. If you consciously think about your “why” while you work, you may have a more positive outlook on the job. 

Find ways to change your routine 

If you feel bored with your job, consider mixing it up with a positive change. Depending on your situation, a change of routine could include rearranging your workspace or altering your work hours. A new and refreshed perspective can reignite creativity or drive for some people. Humans are often creatures of habit and quickly get settled into a routine. You may notice an improved mood if you try to implement a new element into your life or career. 

Are you showing signs of burnout from work?

Seek support from a professional 

If you struggle to find your motivation to work, you might benefit from talking to a therapist about burnout. If the idea of traditional therapy stresses you out further, you might also benefit from online therapy with a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapy can allow you to attend therapy from any location with an internet connection on a schedule that works for you. Some therapists also offer scheduled slots outside of standard business hours for people who work long daily shifts. 

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health investigated the benefits of online mindfulness program for caregivers experiencing burnout. The study participants reported experiencing less burnout, reduced perceived stress, anxiety, and loneliness, and improved mental well-being. The study also confirmed the benefits of online therapy, including flexibility and affordability. 


If you are emotionally or physically exhausted from work, you’re not alone, and support is available. Recognizing you’re experiencing burnout can be the first step to coping with these symptoms. If you struggle to cope with this burnout alone, you can contact a therapist anytime for further guidance and compassionate support.
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