Burnout Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Even – and sometimes, especially – individuals with the strongest passion for what they do can fizzle out, and get "burnt out." Burnout runs deeper than daily stress, as it's typically the result of chronic stress that's permeated into different areas of an individual's life.

By understanding what burnout looks like, you’re empowering yourself to seek help if, and when, you need it.

What is burnout?

Burnout is an advanced degree of stress or fatigue. It occurs when we have experienced stress and fatigue for a longer time.

Dr. Christina Maslach, a social psychologist and pioneer in the field of burnout, points to three different components to burnout:

  1. Emotional exhaustion: Feeling chronic tiredness; being emotionally overextended; depleted; and/or lacking motivation.
  2. Detachment: Feeling less connected and less invested with work, clients, or bosses; increased irritability. This detachment can bleed into home life as well.
  3. Reduced personal accomplishment: Feeling less able to recognize and validate your work; lower confidence in yourself; reduced efficiency in your productivity.

People tend to notice their symptoms after many months, sometimes years, of feeling stuck and overwhelmed, because burnout creeps up on you. Especially if in a work environment where burnout is common, we ignore the signs, thinking they're just part of the job. With thoughtfulness and training, we can learn to notice symptoms suggesting early signs of burnout as early as 2 weeks in and take steps to get more clarity on what you need (e.g., more dissatisfaction with your day, unable to get replenished by activities as easily).

The severity of burnout depends on the duration, the intensity, and the impact it has on your quality of life. When untreated, burnout can develop into anxiety and depression, so it is important to address it when you notice some of the symptoms.

What causes burnout?

Many different factors impact burnout. I typically categorize them between personal and systemic factors:

Personal factors that cause burnout

Within-person characteristics, such as your:

Systemic factors that cause burnout

These factors are about the systems you negotiate, such as:

Burnout vs. stress: What's the difference?

Whereas daily stress is, typically, a short-term state with a clear end in sight (e.g., a work deadline, hosting your in-laws for the weekend), burnout is the culmination of chronically-building stress without release. Here's how this difference breaks down in everyday life:

How to treat burnout syndrome

There are many ways to address burnout syndrome on your own and with a trained professional.

Ways to recover from, and prevent burnout in the future include:

Related: Recovering From Burnout: Moving Forward When You're Stressed & Exhausted

When to seek professional support for burnout

If symptoms of burnout are persisting, professional support and treatment are recommended. A trained professional can help you address burnout issues both psychologically and systematically, and offer an objective perspective.

Since I operate from a mental wellness lens, I think that it’s better to take steps as soon as you notice symptoms.

Consider seeking professional support if you:

What to look for in a therapist for burnout

When looking for a therapist for burnout, consider a professional who is well-versed in burnout treatment and can help you through both reflective and solution-oriented elements of burnout recovery.

Characteristics to look for in a therapist for burnout include:

Just as burnout takes time to set in, it also takes time to recover. Be patient with yourself as you move forward – setting unrealistic demands of yourself to recover only adds more pressure.

By recognizing the symptoms of burnout, you've taken an empowering first step towards recovery!