Burnout can happen to anyone. When you’re feeling constantly worn down or overwhelmed at work, flooded with too many requests or demands in your personal life, or simply feeling like you can’t keep up with everything — burnout can take hold and cause devastation in your mental health.

Looking for the signs of burnout, in both you and your loved ones, can prevent the problem from getting worse and help you find treatment and intervention options to alleviate many of your burnout symptoms.

But first, it’s critical to understand what burnout is, how it’s caused, and the effects it can have if left unaddressed.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a term used to describe a sudden loss of energy, empathy, and motivation. Typically, burnout is associated with the workplace, but it can happen in nearly any aspect of your life that places high demands upon you.

Along with the loss of motivation, people experiencing burnout can feel callous, emotionally detached, or cynical. You may begin to ask yourself questions like:

  • “Why do I even bother?”
  • “What difference am I making?”
  • “How important is my role, really?”
  • “Why am I giving this so much of my energy?”

While burnout is typically associated with one activity — such as work — it can have a ripple effect throughout your entire life. Burnout doesn’t stay at the office but causes people to feel demotivated and uncaring at home, with their friends, and even in the hobbies and activities they enjoyed prior to feeling burnt out.

Causes of Burnout

Several different elements can contribute to the experience of burnout. Importantly, burnout doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, it builds over time from experiencing these factors day after day. Several factors most commonly contribute to burnout.

Strenuous Workloads

Struggling to keep up with the demands of the workplace is a common cause of burnout. A strenuous workload can sap your energy reserves, leading to fatigue, loss of motivation, and ultimately becoming disenchanted with the work itself.

If you are struggling every day just to meet your deadlines, and it seems like you can never get ahead, burnout may be just around the corner. Many people in this state will eventually begin to wonder whether it’s worthwhile to keep up with this workload at all when it causes so much stress or anxiety.


Boredom or routine is another common contributing factor. When your work is mindless and repetitive, it can feel as though your talents are being wasted. This is amplified if your routine or unengaging work still comes with strenuous deadlines or time constraints, further contributing to the feeling of burnout.

Lack of Control

People can often get frustrated when they have little control over the work or tasks of the day. When you are at the whims of a manager or supervisor, it can begin to feel as though your workplace is taking away your autonomy as a person. This can be further amplified if you try to make a change in the workplace and are shut down by your boss.

A lack of control can make people feel like they are just a cog in a machine, rather than an independent thinker or actor. This frequently leads to the feeling of burnout, as people cannot see the impact of their work.

Lack of Meaning

A sense of purpose and meaning are frequently associated with a higher quality of life and better mental health outcomes. But when people lack meaning, they can start to flounder in their careers or personal lives.

This isn’t to say that you need to find work that’s meaningful to be happy. A paycheck is a paycheck. But finding a greater purpose for your life, even if that lies outside of the workplace, can be incredibly beneficial in preventing burnout.

Lack of Recognition

Working hard without being recognized or rewarded for your efforts can be incredibly draining. People crave recognition, and toiling away without anyone recognizing the effort you’ve put in can often lead to the early signs of burnout.

Being Treated Unfairly

Being treated unfairly is perhaps the quickest reason people start feeling burnt out. When you put in just as much effort as your colleagues but get singled out for not doing enough, it can make you wonder why you’ve bothered to put in so much effort to begin with.

Not Having Enough Time to Recover

Many of the causes of burnout are unavoidable. But adequate recovery time can go a long way towards blunting their effects on your mental health. When you are well rested, have plenty of downtime, and have space to pursue meaningful or enjoyable activities outside of the workplace, you can often manage these causes without ever developing burnout.

But if you never have that time to rest and recuperate, these stressors can quickly become too much to bear. That is when people first begin to show the signs and symptoms of burnout — and when you may need targeted mental health support to get back on track.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

When you are exposed to these causes repeatedly, you can quickly start to show the symptoms of burnout in both your work and everyday life. Burnout can cause several mental health challenges throughout your day, but there are three specific hallmark signs of burnout.

Lack of Motivation

Losing motivation is a critical sign that you may be experiencing burnout. When you’re struggling to start the next task or finding yourself losing motivation in the middle of your work, it could be because the feeling of burnout is getting to be too much to handle.

With burnout, a lack of motivation isn’t simply transient. It is a chronic loss of motivation that won’t go away until the burnout is addressed.

People experiencing burnout can often still do all the tasks they need to throughout the day. The difference is that they lack the drive to do them — everything becomes a slog or effort of extreme willpower.

If you used to approach the challenges of the day with panache and vigor and find yourself instead trudging through monotony at a certain point, burnout is the likely culprit.

Feeling Detached

Similarly, feeling detached from your work is another indication of burnout. If you’re beginning to lose sight of why you’re working, and you feel as though you’re not making a meaningful difference anymore, burnout is a likely cause.

This can be particularly true for people in the helping professions, such as:

  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Paramedics
  • Teachers
  • Firefighters
  • Counselors

In these professions, where empathy and compassion are critical to your work, the feeling of detachment or callousness can not only be personally troubling but also impact your ability to help your patients or clients.

A doctor experiencing burnout, for example, may shift their focus from caring for their patients to simply getting their paperwork done and completing their shift. This inevitably leads to a lower quality of care.

Chronic Fatigue

Loss of energy is the third defining factor of burnout. When you get to the office and wonder how you’re ever going to get through the work of the day, it’s an indication that burnout is causing excessive fatigue.

The fatigue from burnout means you don’t have the energy to put in your best work. You may still be able to accomplish the various tasks of the day, but it can leave you feeling drained and worn out. Ultimately, this fatigue comes with you into other areas of your life, stopping you from enjoying your life to the fullest.

Depression vs. Burnout

The symptoms of burnout can often seem parallel to the symptoms of depression. However, depression and burnout are distinct entities, as academic and clinical research have shown.

Depression is a clinical condition that happens within an individual, though it can be triggered by circumstance. People experiencing depression carry it with them throughout the day, and research has linked the causes of depression to certain changes in the brain, stress response, and genetic factors.

A key indicator of depression is a loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities. People who feel depressed can struggle to feel any sense of joy or pleasure at all, even when they’re doing things they used to love, such as playing sports, spending time with loved ones, going to a party, or playing video games.

In contrast, burnout results from the interaction between an individual and their workplace. People experiencing burnout are often struggling against a system that is stifling them, not allowing them to perform at their fullest, or overworking them to the point of exhaustion.

As such, it’s important that when you begin to experience these symptoms, you seek out a mental health professional who can distinguish these two similar experiences and provide you with the best course of action to achieve recovery.

Steps to Overcoming Burnout

Working through burnout can be a difficult and nuanced process. People who are struggling with burnout need to sift through both the symptoms that are arising within them and the circumstances of their work environment to find a solution that helps them recover from this uncomfortable condition.

This can be incredibly difficult to manage on your own, but working with a team of mental health experts can vastly simplify the process.

Mental health professionals have an extensive suite of tools and services available to help people identify the source of burnout, take actionable measures towards relieving the cause, and treat any uncomfortable symptoms in the process.

At Plus by APN, our team uses a wide range of services and techniques to help people achieve their mental health goals. These include anything from traditional talk therapy approaches to innovative interventions and techniques to help you work through your challenges.

Overcome Burnout at Plus By APN

Burnout can be incredibly difficult, but you can break free from it with the help of Plus by APN. To get started with treatment, reach out to our mental health experts by calling 424.644.6486, using the live chat function on our website, or filling out our confidential online contact form for more information.


  • Maslach, Christina, and Michael P. Leiter. Understanding the Burnout Experience: Recent Research and Its Implications for Psychiatry, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2024.
  • Pizzagalli, Diego A. “Depression, stress, and anhedonia: toward a synthesis and integrated model.” Annual review of clinical psychology vol. 10 (2014): 393-423. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185606