10 signs you’re burnt out (not lazy), according to psychologists

There’s a big difference between being burnt out and just being lazy.

Burnout is more than just feeling tired. It’s a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion that can lead to an inability to function effectively in your personal and professional life.

Being lazy, on the other hand, is more about a lack of motivation rather than a lack of energy.

As psychologists reveal, there are certain telltale signs that can help you distinguish between the two.

Here are some signs to look out for in order to determine if you’re dealing with burnout or just plain laziness.

1) Constant fatigue

If there’s one thing that sets burnout apart from laziness, it’s the feeling of constant fatigue.

When you’re burnt out, you’re not simply tired; you’re depleted. You feel like you have no energy left to give, no matter how much sleep you get or coffee you drink.

On the other hand, laziness is more of a reluctance to exert effort, not necessarily tied to exhaustion.

Famous psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who first identified the concept of burnout in the 1970s, described it as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”

So if you’re constantly feeling drained, it might be more than just laziness; it could be a sign of burnout. Be sure to pay attention to your energy levels and take necessary steps for self-care and recovery.

2) Lack of motivation

I remember a time when I used to jump out of bed, excited to start my day and tackle my to-do list. But then, there came a period when the alarm would go off, and instead of feeling raring to go, all I felt was dread. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work – I just didn’t feel an urge or motivation to do anything.

That’s when I realized this was more than just a case of the ‘Mondays’. This was a lack of motivation – another sign of burnout. 

According to HelpGuide.org, this may also be accompanied by an increasingly negative and cynical outlook in life. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation where you’re constantly lacking motivation, it could be a sign that you’re burnt out, not lazy.

3) Feeling unfulfilled

There was a time when I would look at my accomplishments and feel a sense of pride. But during my burnout phase, it felt like no matter what I did or how much I achieved, it was never enough. The joy and satisfaction that used to come from reaching my goals was replaced by a hollow emptiness.

This feeling of unfulfillment is another classic sign of burnout. It’s not about being ungrateful or discontented, but rather a deep-seated feeling that your efforts are pointless and unrewarding.

That feeling of powerlessness and uselessness is a clear sign that it’s time to step back and look at your options. 

4) Reduced performance

Are you noticing a consistent decline in your performance despite your best efforts? Well, that should alert you that you’re not lazy — you’re making an effort and that’s not really the behavior of a lazy person.

For me, this was one of the first signs that burnout was creeping on me. Tasks that I could usually complete with ease began to feel like mountains to climb. As hard as I tried to focus, it felt like I had a brain fog. 

What this points to is that you no longer have the mental or physical energy to perform at your usual level — and that’s a sign of burnout

5) Difficulty concentrating

That brain fog I mentioned above is exactly what got in the way of my concentration. I remember sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen, struggling to focus on even the simplest of tasks.

This wasn’t just a case of a wandering mind; I was facing serious difficulty concentrating, a symptom that I later discovered was linked to burnout.

When you’re burnt out, your brain is constantly in overdrive, which can make it difficult to concentrate on tasks. This isn’t about being lazy or unfocused — as I touched on earlier, it’s about being mentally and physically exhausted.

If you’re having trouble focusing, don’t take it to mean you’re lazy. It could be a sign that you’re burnt out and need to take steps to regain your focus and drive.

6) Feeling emotionally drained

Emotionally drained 10 signs you’re burnt out (not lazy), according to psychologists

Anyone who has persistently struggled with the Sunday Scaries will tell you how just the thought of going to work the next day can make them feel emotionally drained.

And that’s a glaring red flag that you’re burned out. The occasional bout of dreading the week ahead is normal, but if it’s happening constantly? Not normal at all. And definitely not a symptom of simple laziness. 

Feeling emotionally drained is about not wanting to feel. About not having the emotional capacity to do so. 

If you’re feeling constantly emotionally drained, it may be an indication that your life’s process is misaligned and you’re heading towards burnout, not just being lazy.

7) Feelings of detachment

Oftentimes, feeling emotionally drained can lead to feelings of detachment. Basically, you get so overwhelmed that you start disconnecting from your surroundings and even yourself. 

I remember feeling like I was just going through the motions, detached from my work, my relationships, and even myself. I just did not care, period. 

It was actually strange, as I’m the type who takes pride in her work and who really gives my best in everything I do. So the fact that I was no longer as engaged as I used to be…it was a sign that I was burned out. 

 8) Increased irritability

The opposite is also true — some people may feel indifferent or detached when burned out, but others may become more irritable and short-tempered.

This is especially true for people in high-pressure jobs. And it isn’t limited to jobs either — even in relationships, burnout can happen. 

The problem is, the chronic stress can cause exhaustion and anxiety. You may start feeling or acting more irritable, short-tempered, or downright angry.

According to licensed Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, “Burnout might be the culprit if you suddenly become irritable with your co-workers, customers, clients, or others. It can also lead to outright anger. In general, anger’s rarely a productive way to deal with others.” 

Losing your cool more often than usual is more likely due to burnout than laziness. 

9) Neglecting personal care

When burnout hits, even the simplest acts of self-care can feel like monumental tasks. Eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep – these can all take a backseat when you’re consumed by exhaustion and stress.

Neglecting personal care isn’t a sign of laziness, but rather a symptom of burnout. It’s not that you don’t want to take care of yourself, it’s that you simply don’t have the energy or motivation to do so, as we’ve already established.

The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

The thing is, burnout causes you to be that empty vessel. Take the time to recharge and do some serious self-care — it’s absolutely necessary if you want to enjoy life again

10) Loss of enjoyment

According to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter of Psychology Today, “In the early stages of burnout, the loss of enjoyment one feels may be only for work. Eventually, it can extend to all areas of one’s life.”

Everything else gets affected — your relationships, your hobbies, all the things you used to enjoy in life. 

It’s a strange feeling when things you once found enjoyable no longer bring you pleasure. I remember looking at my beloved guitar collecting dust in the corner because I just couldn’t find the energy or interest to play.

This loss of enjoyment is not a sign of laziness or indifference, but rather a symptom of burnout. When you’re burnt out, even your hobbies and passions can feel like burdens rather than sources of joy.

Final thoughts

Burnout is not something you should take lightly or brush off and dismiss as laziness. It’s a stark reminder of your limits, a loud signal that you’re pushing beyond your boundaries at the expense of your well-being.

But recognizing burnout for what it is – a sign to pause, reflect, and recalibrate – is the first step toward healing.

Tackling burnout requires making consistent, mindful changes that honor our needs and boundaries. You can start with setting healthier work-life boundaries, seeking support from loved ones, or perhaps reevaluating the path you’re on.

I hope you take this not just as a challenge, but as an opportunity to rediscover your passions, your purpose, and ultimately, your peace. You deserve to thrive instead of merely survive.

Picture of Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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