Mental burnout, coined in the 1970s to describe the psychological effects of relentless work stress, happens so subtly that you can easily confuse the symptoms for other negative forces, like a bad cold or a bad boss. You’d think you’d know — or at least feel — the signs of burnout pretty quickly, right? Not always.
Here are seven red flags that you’re under serious mental stress — and how to fix them.
1. You’re overly cynical.
Finding you’re more sarcastic than you used to be? Mocking your pal’s (albeit over-the-top) bridal shower when she’s always been a kind friend to you? Check yourself to see if you’re going through tough stuff that’s making you more cynical. Being a Debbie Downer can be a common coping mechanism for stress.
2. You want to run away.
Do you crave throwing it all away and booking a one-way ticket to Bali? Fantasizing about going off the grid for good and relocating to a cabin in rural Canada? This temptation could just be a symptom of “worn-out burnout,” say experts. Avoidance is another coping mechanism where you try to distance yourself from your job or avoid it because you’re putting in too much effort to begin with in the misguided hope that it will accelerate your success.
3. You’re messing up normally easy tasks.
Making all kinds of slip-ups lately? From forgetting your anniversary to spacing out on that breakfast meeting, a sudden lack of attention to details is a warning sign of burnout. When you have a difficult time remembering things or keeping your mind on daily tasks, say Dutch researchers, it’s probably time to dial back on stress to feel less distracted.
4. You’re always tired.
Do you prefer to sleep away a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning? That persistent sluggishness can be a classic cue, especially if you find that one day of “sleeping in” doesn’t eliminate lethargy. Emotional exhaustion is a telltale sign that you’re suffering from work dysfunction.
5. You’re always disgruntled.
At your wit’s end at work? Walking around claiming your bosses are bullies and your colleagues are catty? Sure, your characterizations of a gone-sour workplace can be true. But these sentiments may also be a symptom of “overload burnout.” To cope with being a “frenetic employee who works toward success until exhaustion,” according to the Association for Psychological Science, you just may start blaming your work culture (for no good reason) for your self-imposed frantic pace “to get to the top.”