man journaling while sitting on couch

Burnout is a term that is frequently used, and can be applied to both professional and personal setting. But what does “burnout” really mean? The term was first used in 1975 and was defined by 3 components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased sense of accomplishment.

Let’s explore each of these components and what they look like.

Emotional Exhaustion:

  • We reach emotional exhaustion when we get “stuck” in an emotion for a long period of time
  • Sometimes we call this feeling “drained” or even chronic stress
  • Being stuck in an emotion can look like not getting a break from the emotion, or experiencing that emotion frequently without any resolution


  • Depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion
  • We can feel disconnected from work, life, other, or ourselves
  • This can look and/or feel like “robot mode,” just going through the motions of the day or life

Decreased Sense of Accomplishment:

  • Feeling that nothing you do matters. For example “no matter how hard I try…I will do it wrong, boss won’t be happy, etc”
  • No internal drive due to external stressors for an extended period of time
  • Can happen when things feel out of control and/or unpredictable
  • Can happen when your workload feels seemingly never-ending, or never sees to decrease
  • Feelings associated with a decreased sense of accomplishment can be feeling helpless, or feeling trapped

Workplace Burnout Conditions and Triggers

Burnout can happen to anyone, and everyone experiences it differently. Different circumstances will lead different people to experience burnout, or not. You cannot compare your experience to someone else! There are several workplace conditions that are more likely to lead to burnout than others. A few examples of these are the following:

  • increased workload
  • low morale
  • low support
  • feeling that things are not fair
  • low pay and high stress
  • perceived lack of control
  • perceived unrealistic expectations
  • unpredictable change
  • long hours
  • poor boundaries
  • high-pressure deadlines

Any and all of these can lead to someone experiencing burnout if they continue over a long period of time. It is important to consider your own workplace dynamics and circumstances in order to increase awareness of your potential for burnout, or the burnout of others.

woman at work

woman at work

Symptoms of Burnout

As mentioned previously, everyone experiences burnout differently, and under different circumstances, but the following are some common signs and symptoms to look out for within yourself that can be an indicator that you may be experiencing burnout:

  • having difficulty sleeping and/or waking up in the morning
  • feelings of dread about the work day
  • work performance decline
  • feeling tired all the time
  • finding yourself cutting corners
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • lack of motivation
  • changes in appetite

Burnout tends to happen slowly, over time, which can make it difficult to detect within ourselves. It is important to increase your awareness of what you are experiencing in your brain and your body in order to be able to either prevent burnout, or catch it before it becomes a significant problem in your life. How do you know that you are stressed or headed towards burnout? Get to know yourself and your warning signs. If you need help with this, therapy is a great place to start!

Julie Killion, LCMHC

Julie is passionate about helping people move from “surviving” to “thriving” in life. She is fascinated by human behavior, the way our brains work and how we interact with each other and the world. She works to empower her patients to enact positive change in their life and finds it incredibly rewarding and humbling to be a part of that ... Read Full Bio »

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