5 Signs of Emotional Exhaustion at Work

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Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free ...Read More

Work-related exhaustion, often called burnout, is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or overwork in the workplace. It can lead to fatigue, reduced motivation, and a sense of detachment from work responsibilities. Addressing burnout is essential for maintaining overall well-being and productivity.

Burnout can strike in any profession. Nearly one in two physicians say they are burned out, those in helping professions often experience symptoms, and when you’re working long hours, experiencing pressures or feeling without options in any profession, you may be at risk for burnout.


Are you run down or drained of energy? Thinking negative thoughts about work? Are you easily irritated by small problems or by your co-workers?

One of the key features of burnout at work is emotional exhaustion, that is, those feelings that you are overextended and exhausted by your work.

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Am I Experiencing Burnout?

You may be struggling with burnout if you experience:

  • Persistent fatigue and lack of energy

  • Decreased motivation and interest in work tasks

  • Increased irritability or frustration

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • Withdrawal from social interactions and work responsibilities

  • Physical symptoms like muscle tension or headaches

Some things you can do to combat burnout include:

  • Prioritize self-care by taking breaks during the work day, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and help you relax.

  • Set boundaries between work and personal life to allow for adequate rest.

  • Talk to friends, family members, or supervisors about your feelings and find a therapist if needed.

  • Re-evaluate your workload and consider delegating tasks or renegotiating deadlines.

  • Practice stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

5 Signs of Emotional Exhaustion

Negative Feelings

Frustration and irritation at work are common when you’re emotionally exhausted. Your frustration might be focused on parts of the job, coworkers’ behavior, or job politics and bureaucracy.

Feeling Pressured and Out of Time

When we’re emotionally exhausted we don’t have the resources to handle the pressures of the job. You might find yourself feeling pressure to succeed, without time to finish your work or do a good job or without time to plan for your day and proactively deal with work demands.

Negative Thoughts

Our thoughts are closely linked to our feelings. When we’re feeling bad, we’re also often thinking negative thoughts. Thinking “I’m alone,” having overly judgmental thoughts towards your co-workers or the organization or thinking harsh thoughts about yourself are all common signs of emotional exhaustion. Thoughts that “I shouldn’t have to deal with this” “this is unfair” or “my coworkers/supervisors/management are incompetent” are judgmental thoughts that might be a sign of emotional exhaustion.

Strained Relationships

Feelings of isolation and negative thoughts about coworkers, supervisors and administrators can leave you with strained relationships at work, adding to feeling isolated and unappreciated.

Counterproductive Work Behaviors

When you’re emotionally exhausted, you may feel drained or depleted and find that you are more emotional at work. When you’re emotionally exhausted, you may lose the ability or desire to resist temptation. As a result, you may end up acting in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. Do you find yourself acting in ways that undermine your colleagues or the company for which you work? Examples might include anything from stealing, or fraudulent behavior to purposeful tardiness and avoiding safety measures.

There is typically legitimate reason for emotional exhaustion at work. Long hours, lack of appreciation, increased work demands and job insecurity are a few factors that can cause emotional exhaustion.

Identifying your own emotional exhaustion is important. When we’re emotionally exhausted we’re more likely to make errors at work-a significant problem in professions that involve medical care or those in which safety is at risk when errors occur. And counterproductive work behaviors can derail a successful career.

Although there is no one best way to address emotional exhaustion at work, recognizing the issue and seeking help can make a difference. Even when you have good reason to feel depleted, it’s preferable to make choices about your work proactively, rather than find yourself out of a job because of work errors, a bad attitude or illegal behaviors.

Understanding Burnout

Burnout differs from normal fatigue in its duration, intensity, and effect on daily functioning.

While fatigue is a temporary feeling of tiredness that can be alleviated with rest, burnout is a chronic state of exhaustion accompanied by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and reduced productivity that persists over time.

Burnout is prevalent in the workforce, with studies indicating that a significant percentage of employees across various industries experience symptoms of burnout at some point in their careers. 

When to Seek Help: Recognizing Severe Burnout

Distinguishing between self-manageable burnout and the need for professional help involves considering the severity and persistence of symptoms, as well as their impact on daily functioning.

If feelings of exhaustion, irritability, and detachment persist despite efforts to manage stress and prioritize self-care, or if they significantly interfere with work, relationships, or overall well-being, seeking professional help may be necessary.

Moreover, if symptoms worsen over time or if thoughts of self-harm or suicide arise, it’s essential to seek immediate professional assistance. Professional help may involve therapy, counseling, or medical intervention to address underlying factors contributing to burnout and promote recovery.

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