What is Burnout?





Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.

What Causes Burnout


Burnout is not simply a result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks, though those both play a role. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy that are characteristic of burnout most often occur when a person is not in control of how a job is carried out, at work or at home, or is asked to complete tasks that conflict with their sense of self.

Equally pressing is working toward a goal that doesn't resonate, or when a person lacks support. If a person doesn’t tailor responsibilities to match a true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, they could face burnout—as well as the mountain of mental and physical health problems that often come along with it, including headaches, fatigue, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as increased potential for alcohol, drug, or food misuse.

How do you know if you’re burned out?

Physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of dread about work, and frequent feelings of cynicism, anger, or irritability are key signs of burnout. Those in helping professions (such as doctors) may notice dwindling compassion toward those in their care. Feeling like you can no longer do your job effectively may also signal burnout.

What’s the difference between burnout and stress?

By definition, burnout is an extended period of stress that feels as though it cannot be ameliorated. If stress is short-lived or tied to a specific goal, it is most likely not harmful. If the stress feels never-ending and comes with feelings of emptiness, apathy, and hopelessness, it may be indicative of burnout.



How to Deal with Burnout


While some work environments may be especially grinding—such as the medical profession or law enforcement—anyone who’s running out of gas can take steps to alleviate the deleterious effects of burnout and, if necessary, reevaluate their work life.

To counter burnout, having a sense of purpose, having an impact on others, or feeling as if one is making the world a better place are all valuable. Often, meaningfulness can counteract the negative aspects of a job. Other motivators include autonomy as well as a good, hard challenge.

Should I quit my job if I’m burned out?

Maybe, but it’s not the only option. Speaking up about your concerns or restructuring your work environment to address burnout may be less risky and equally effective. Nurturing your relationships, adopting self-care habits, and focusing on hobbies outside of work can also help restore your sense of self and mitigate stress.

How can I draw better boundaries at work?

When you have too many conflicting responsibilities, simply saying “no” to new tasks is an important (albeit challenging) way to reduce your workload. Scheduling regular breaks, starting and stopping at set times, and minimizing multi-tasking can all help maintain boundaries and reduce feelings of burnout.




 Romantic relationships can be as taxing as a full-time job and may cause similar feelings of burnout. If you don’t look forward to seeing your partner, feel cynical about your future, blame them for whatever goes wrong, or often fantasize about leaving, your relationship may be burning out.





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