What Does Burnout Feel Like? Signs, Causes and Prevention

What Does Burnout Feel Like? Signs, Causes and Prevention

Employee productivity in Canada and the rest of the world is rising, thanks to flexible work schedules, remote work options, and more. Unfortunately, this rise in productivity comes at a high cost—worker burnout.

What does burnout feel like? Let’s explore that a bit, define burnout, and discuss its causes and symptoms. We’ll also look at how to avoid and overcome burnout so you can live a healthy life and stay productive at work.

What is Burnout?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is chronic work-related stress that manifests as exhaustion, cynicism about work, and reduced professional efficiency. This exhaustion isn’t just physical but also mental and emotional, and it is often due to work overload and job dissatisfaction.

Herbert Freudenberger created the term burnout and first mentioned it in his 1974 book—Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Freudenberger defined burnout as losing your motivation because your efforts have failed to produce desired results.

In simple terms, if you suddenly hate your job and constantly feel tired and unmotivated, you are probably experiencing burnout. According to a recent report by Cision, 96% of Canadian managers believe their staff has some degree of job burnout.

Signs of Burnout

Experiencing burnout takes a significant toll on your physical and mental health. It also reduces your workplace productivity, which affects your ability to earn an income and support yourself and your loved ones. Loss of income can further exacerbate your mental condition and complicate your recovery.

Avoid the long-term effects of prolonged stress by knowing the early signs and symptoms of burnout so you can deal with it right away. These signs include:


When asked, what does burnout feel like? Exhaustion is usually the first answer. Fatigue leaves you constantly feeling spent and unenthusiastic about work or anything else.

Lack of Motivation

Exhaustion or frustration caused by your work may leave you feeling unmotivated. Lack of motivation affects productivity because you no longer have the drive to pursue personal or work goals.

Cognitive Problems

Burnout affects your focus, creativity, ability to process information, and even your memory. Such cognitive problems arise from overworking your brain and heightened stress levels.

Frustration or Cynicism

Do you feel cynical about work or just don’t care anymore? Your disillusion and pessimism may be a sign of burnout.

Reduced Job Performance

Your workplace performance suffers when you become less keen about work. You start missing deadlines, and the quantity or quality of your work reduces. If you’ve developed cognitive problems due to stress, your work performance will suffer even more.

Home and Workplace Interpersonal Problems

Have you grown increasingly irritable with everyone around you? Withdrawing from others or getting into more conflicts may be a physical manifestation of your internal dissatisfaction and frustration.

Developing Bad Habits

Some people combat stress by becoming over-reliant on coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, or even drugs. Others develop unhealthy eating habits or begin neglecting exercise. If you have developed an unhealthy lifestyle to cope with your work, it’s time to take a step back and de-stress.

Sense of Failure and Self-Doubt

As your work starts to take a negative toll on your mental health, you may begin feeling unsatisfied with your life or questioning your competence and purpose. Continuing in this state will eventually devolve into burnout and possibly depression.

Health Problems

According to Mayo Clinic, burnout can trigger health issues such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Substance abuse
  • Reduced immunity to illness
  • Type 2 diabetes

As you can see, all the symptoms of burnout are interrelated. If left untreated, the condition triggers a domino effect that negatively impacts every aspect of your life. Fortunately, some health insurance plans cover therapy and psychological treatment for burnout.

Stages of Burnout

Burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It occurs gradually and worsens if left untreated. People who experience burnout may go through these phases:

Honeymoon Phase

During the honeymoon phase of burnout, you still feel excited about your job and tasks, but you also notice the stress of the work you are doing. You can avoid becoming overwhelmed by maintaining a healthy work-life balance and applying positive coping strategies.

Stress Onset

If you failed to manage the stress signs experienced during the honeymoon phase, your enthusiasm for work, job satisfaction, productivity, and creativity will gradually dwindle. When that occurs, actual stress sets in, leading to symptoms like:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Reduced sleep and social interaction
  • High blood pressure
  • Procrastination
  • Fatigue
  • Self-neglect
  • Headaches

Chronic Stress

By the third phase of burnout, chronic stress sets in, and recovering from your mental and physical fatigue takes longer. Coping with your work also becomes harder, leading to:

  • Anger or aggressive behaviour
  • Cynical attitude
  • Lack of hobbies
  • Missing deadlines
  • Constant fatigue
  • Resentfulness
  • Decreased libido
  • Social withdrawal
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling pressured or out of control
  • Increased caffeine, alcohol, or drug consumption

Full Blown Burnout

Actual burnout occurs at this point, and things that were easy to do suddenly feel like monumental tasks. Everyone’s degree of tolerance is different, and the time it takes to reach complete burnout varies between individuals. During this stage, you may develop a desire to escape from your life and experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Pessimistic outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Frequent headaches and bowel problems

Continued Burnout

Finally, burnout becomes a part of your existence. You feel it every minute and come to believe it’s your new normal, but you still want to escape from it. When you have habitual burnout, you may experience:

  • Ongoing sadness and depression
  • Chronic physical and mental fatigue

Four Ways to Cultivate a Positive and Productive Work Environment

The efforts you put in to cultivating a happy and productive work atmosphere has a direct impact on the quality of work you receive from your employees.

What Causes Burnout?

Now that you have a better idea of what burnout feels like, let’s look at the factors that cause it.

Heavy Workloads

The most demanding professions have the highest number of burnout cases. For example, employees in legal, retail, medical, teaching, and sales fields often deal with heavy workloads, as do small business owners and independent contractors. The constant grind leads to daily weariness, which accumulates and leads to burnout.

Poor Work-Life Balance

The risk of burnout skyrockets when your life outside work is nonexistent. If you are working around the clock, seven days a week, and you don’t have time for anything else, stress takes over, leading to disillusionment with your work.


Your lifestyle can cause and worsen burnout. For example, if you don’t sleep enough or have supportive relationships, your work will consume you. Taking on too many responsibilities and substance abuse can further exacerbate the situation.

Personality Traits

Are you a perfectionist or a high achiever? If so, you are more likely to experience burnout. That’s because constant attention to detail takes a toll on your mental health. Perfectionists also tend to have trouble delegating to others, leading to handling more work than they can manage.


Monotony in the workplace can lead to low morale. When you don’t feel motivated, it’s easy to become frustrated with work, which triggers stress and burnout.

Unhealthy Work Environment

An unhealthy work environment may mean unsafe working conditions or constant exposure to distressing materials or situations. It may also mean bad managers, toxic coworkers, low pay, or unfavourable and unethical work policies. As long as you don’t feel safe, happy, supported, and capable of doing your best at work, it can lead to stress, which may deteriorate into burnout.

Are Stress and Burnout the Same Thing?

Stress and burnout may seem similar, but they are not the same thing. Burnout is typically preceded by prolonged stress. The constant drain on your mental and physical faculties will transform from physical weariness to emotional and psychological tiredness.

Feeling stressed is your body warning you that you are about to experience burnout. Other notable differences between stress and burnout include:

  • Stress leads to loss of energy, while burnout leads to loss of energy and motivation
  • Stress may cause anxiety, while burnout triggers feelings of detachment and depression
  • The damage caused by stress is primarily physical, while burnout causes emotional and psychological problems
  • Burnout makes you feel helpless and hopeless, while stress creates a sense of urgency

Diagnosing Burnout

Medical practitioners use several tests to identify burnout. The most common being:

  • The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI): Uses surveys to evaluate your emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (the degree to which you’ve stopped empathizing with others), job satisfaction, and confidence in your competence. Various versions of the MBI test exist for students and people in care, teaching, assistance, management, or guidance roles.
  • The Job Diagnostic Scale (JDS): The test identifies the likelihood a job will cause employee burnout. Studies indicate that jobs with low motivation potential are the most likely to cause burnout.
  • The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES): Tests your level of work engagement. If your work engagement score is low, you are likely experiencing burnout. The UWES test also verifies employee engagement by measuring a subject’s self-esteem, confidence, and the quality of their work environment.

How to Treat Burnout

There are no medical treatments for burnout, but you can manage it and recover by:

Knowing the Signs of Burnout

You can’t treat burnout if you don’t know you are experiencing it. Instead of pushing through the exhaustion to do your job or achieve your goals, take some time off to de-stress and develop a healthier work life. Pushing through the condition and energizing yourself with stimulants will only worsen your health.


When experiencing burnout, your problems may feel larger than you can handle. Trying to overcome that state of mind on your own can be daunting. Speed up your recovery by getting assistance and emotional support from your friends and family.

Taking time off work to spend time with those closest to you reduces burnout by taking your mind off your stressors. You can also reduce the risk of burnout at work by being friendly with your colleagues. The friendlier you are with coworkers, the more likely they are to help when you have more work than you can handle.

Changing Your Work Mindset

Is your job frustrating you? Consider switching to a job that better fits your personality, likes, and long-term goals. If changing jobs isn’t feasible, make the best of what you have by finding value in your current job.

The value could be contributing to the company’s growth or spending more time with your favourite people at the company. Making and having friends at work eliminates monotony and gives you something to look forward to every day.

Lastly, don’t let your work dominate your life. Take time off as frequently as necessary to completely break away from work and do something you enjoy.

Putting Yourself First

Set boundaries at work by learning when and how to say no to certain requests. That way, you avoid overextending yourself and burning out. Use relaxation techniques, such as yoga and deep breathing, at home and work to de-stress throughout the day.

Don’t neglect your sleep schedule either. Sleep is the best way to reset your body and mind before each day of work.

Prioritizing Exercise

Exercise may seem stressful, but it’s a great way to get your mind off work and relax. Pick your favourite form of exercise and plan to set aside at least 30 minutes every day for physical activity. It will keep both your body and mind in good shape. Rhythmic exercises, such as dancing, running, or swimming, are especially effective for boosting mood, energy levels, and focus.

Eating Well

The right foods can give you more energy for work and improve mental health. Avoid foods that contain refined sugars and carbs. Such foods cause sudden and short-lived spikes in energy, followed by a crash in your mood and vigour. The same goes for alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, and edibles that contain chemical preservatives and unhealthy fats.

Instead, eat more fatty fish, nuts, and other foods that contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids. They are great for your brain and body.

Seeing an Expert

Speed up your recovery from burnout by seeing a therapist. Your therapist can guide you on ways to avoid stress and introduce you to lifestyle changes that improve your quality of life. Seeing a therapist can be particularly helpful if you don’t have friends or family that can emotionally support you during burnout.

Does Your Insurer Cover Burnout Care?

If you have a tasking job and your insurer won’t cover the cost of seeking therapy for burnout, it’s time to get a new policy. Research your provincial healthcare plan, or better yet, contact our team here at Group Enroll. We help business owners, independent contractors, and the self-employed find the best group benefit plans possible.

Just fill our quote form, and we will call you to learn more about your options. Then we’ll contact top insurers on your behalf and send you the most competitive proposal for the coverage you need.

Our office is at 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 0K7, and you can email us at [email protected]. Fill our quick quote form today to get the best insurance plan at the best price.

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