The Signs Of Occupational Burnout To Keep On Your Radar

September is well under way and we’re finally getting into the swing of things. Our routine has been established, I feel like I’m riding a steady wave and I’m feeling capable and empowered and ambitious. So naturally, now is the ideal time to start solidifying protective barriers against burnout.

Having been caught in the same cyclical pattern of spending Fall ambitious and energized and Winter struggling to pull through, I know I’m personally at high risk for occupational burnout in the coming months. It’s something I’ve experienced many times, and I’m sure at least some of you can relate.

We are becoming increasingly aware of how Millennials are especially likely to experience burnout, thanks to the Hustle Culture we live in. We’re expected to work constantly, be more efficient, take less time off, work longer, work harder and have several jobs at a time. I’ve spent time as an ambassador of that life, and though I recognize its toxicity, it’s a difficult one to get out of… especially during the holiday season, when expectations are high.

But, I digress. For now, at least.

The first step to recognizing the signs of occupational burnout is to know what burnout looks- and feels- like, so that you can sit down and create a plan to stop it in its tracks.

Illustration by Aly Dort

Illustration by Aly Dort

What Occupational Burnout can look like

Now, I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not a professional, just someone with extensive personal experience in occupational burnout. Really, like anything else, burnout can look different for different people. You know yourself better than anyone, and I’m willing to bet that you have an inclination about whether or not you’re experience- or at risk of- burnout.

In my experience, the warning signs of burnout for me manifest themselves in three main categories:


The first warning that I’m heading toward burnout is chronic stress, which is a major factor in the development of occupational burnout. Because the stress hormone, corticosteroid, can suppress your immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes in your system, your ability to fight off antigens reduces significantly and you might find yourself getting sick more often, and for longer.

My body’s response to chronic stress is often to get sick- and fast. It’s almost as if it’s my body’s Defense mechanism, telling me “hey, slow down! I’m struggling, here!”

The same chronic stress can also manifest itself as headaches, stomach aches and even digestive issues.

Our bodies are smart, and I’ve learned that if we make a habit of checking in with ourselves and listen to our bodies, we’re more prepared to give them what they need to thrive.


So, we covered the chronic stress part. It’s a major risk factor in occupational burnout but also contributes a great deal to our emotional well-being. For me, chronic stress shows up as a consistent state of overwhelm, exhaustion and inability to cope with seemingly menial tasks. When I look at my to-do list and feel immediately overwhelmed, I know there’s a problem and that a change needs to be made. Of course, that is in part due to my living with ADD/ADHD, but now that I’ve developed a few solid strategies for living with my condition, I’m better able to determine when it’s stress-related.

I also find that, when I’m experiencing burnout, my tolerance to stress has dwindled. Stress, inconvenience, bumps in the road… they all affect me more than usual and leave me feeling irritable and anxious.

The Task Organizer Notepad was designed to help you determine which tasks actually need your attention and which will move your needle forward

The Task Organizer Notepad was designed to help you determine which tasks actually need your attention and which will move your needle forward

Reduced performance and/or withdrawal

The last sign I look for is a decrease in ambition, or negativity at work. I become less engaged with work and even friends or coworkers, begin isolating myself and find myself consistently missing the mark on responsibilities.

Although many symptoms of burnout look similar to that of a Depressive episode, occupational burnout (as the name might suggest), most typically relates to work- whatever that work may be.

That said, those experiencing Burnout may have a higher risk of developing Depression, and once you notice your symptoms seeping into your personal life, it’s important to act quickly.

Conversely, those living with Depression are also of higher risk to developing burnout, making it especially important to keep watch for warning signs.

In many cases, having a clear and personalized stress management plan can help combat burnout. Stress management techniques are skills everyone benefits from and should be practiced consistently. It’s also important, however, that we have a strong support network to help make necessary changes to your working environment. This could mean approaching your Human Resources team, seeking therapy or even reducing your work hours while you recover.

Arguably most important is listening to your body.

Recovering from occupational burnout takes time, and often isn’t a simple fix. But with the right system and skills in place, it’s totally possible to nip it in the bud!

Alycia DortComment