Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, knows she’s edging toward burnout when she wakes up, feels instantly angry at her email inbox and doesn’t want to get out of bed. It’s perhaps not surprising that a mental health professional who is trying to stem the rising tide of burnout could burn out sometimes, too. After all, the phenomenon has practically become ubiquitous in our culture.
In a 2021 survey of 1,500 U.S. workers, more than half said they were feeling burned out as a result of their job demands, and a whopping 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in December in what has come to be known as the “great resignation.” When people think of burnout, mental and emotional symptoms such as feelings of helplessness and cynicism often come to mind. But burnout can lead to physical symptoms as well, and experts say it can be wise to look out for the signs and take steps when you notice them.
Burnout, as it is defined, is not a medical condition — it’s “a manifestation of chronic unmitigated stress,” explained Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, a physician scientist who studies burnout at the Mayo Clinic. The World Health Organization describes burnout as a workplace phenomenon characterized by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and reduced efficacy.