When you think of burnout, you might picture someone who’s completely exhausted, with their feet up on the couch at the end of a stressful work week.
“Classically, we refer to burnout as the triad of depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a lack of accomplishment,” says Carol Bernstein, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
But burnout can result from nonwork stresses, too, and lead to less-obvious symptoms.
Burnout might be the result of a job or a specific set of responsibilities (like being the primary caregiver for a spouse or child with a chronic illness), but its effects tend to affect other facets of life, too, explains Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Mindwell Modern Psychology and Therapy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “Usually people feel a growing sense of feeling physically and mentally unwell and having difficulty coping with their everyday life,” she says.
So, symptoms of burnout can be quite varied, she says.
Because burnout can have such ranging and detrimental effects to health and well-being, it’s important to recognize it and do something about it. “Left untreated, burnout causes lasting physical consequences as well as weighs on your relationships and your ability to work,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry says.
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Here are eight less common signs of burnout:
1. Lots of Pessimism
At work, this means they may have a more negative attitude toward clients and be more irritable overall.
You may be annoyed or apathetic, Dr. Bernstein says, “like you don't have a sense of purpose or meaning in what you do.”
2. Trouble Sleeping
People tend to get less restful sleep when they start to struggle with burnout, says Anthony Wheeler, PhD, professor of management and dean of the school of business administration at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, who researches employee stress, burnout, engagement, and leadership.
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3. Stomachaches or Headaches
And stomach issues, such as pain, bloating, and nausea, tend to be more prevalent whenever you’re stressed.
Stress can cause diarrhea or constipation as well.
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4. Lowered Immunity
“The immune system becomes compromised,” Dr. Wheeler says.
With your immune system weakened, you may experience more frequent colds and put yourself at risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
5. Weight Gain
People experiencing burnout may gain weight, Wheeler says. There are a few reasons for this. “It’s a combination of things — your body’s biological response is increasing the likelihood of gaining weight, plus reduced sleep, depression, and eating habits also change,” Wheeler says. All of those factors can contribute to weight gain.
If weight gain becomes a problem, it can increase the risk of other health issues, such as stroke, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
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As a result, they may isolate themselves from others.
7. Muscle Pain
When you’re stressed, your muscles automatically tense up to guard the body against pain and injury.
Usually this muscle tension lets up when the stress passes, but chronic stress causes the body to stay in that stressed out state and hold onto that tension. Typical places the body holds tension include the shoulders, neck, head, and back.
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8. Using Food, Drugs, or Alcohol to Cope
Others may turn to alcohol or drugs. A study from 2016 found that medical students experiencing burnout were more likely to abuse or depend on alcohol.