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How to know if you’re burned out (and not just lazy)

The general rise of awareness for the importance of self-care and working on one’s well-being and mental health, has led to an increased sensitivity and adjustment of work and school settings. Despite the changes made to cater to people’s mental states of being, it is still quite common for people to mislabel burnout as laziness. 

Burnout is a total sense of exhaustion felt mentally, emotionally, and physically. Burnout is caused by continued and excessive amounts of stress. This leads to an extreme difficulty in motivating oneself, resulting in low productivity. This may be one of the main factors where burnout and laziness overlap. 

While laziness and burnout may seem similar on the outside, it is essential to know the difference of the two to address these appropriately. Here are some signs that can help you differentiate if what you are feeling is in fact burnout or a wave of laziness. 


Living life on autopilot 

Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels

You no longer feel like yourself. You feel disconnected from the things going on around you, living life like a leaf floating aimlessly in the wind. You feel too exhausted to engage in daily things. 

This may cause you to overlook taking care of yourself. You’ve stopped looking out for yourself, possibly eating and sleeping at irregular intervals. You have begun to retreat inward, withdrawing from your friends and family, spending your time alone doing nothing because you’re completely exhausted. 


Losing your drive 

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels


Things that may have once engaged your interest, or that you used to feel passionate about, no longer stimulate the same response.

The main difference between burnout and laziness is that you didn’t used to feel this way. Laziness may be a more habitual trait, but if you experience a loss of motivation, passion, and/or depersonalization when you used to feel exactly the opposite of these, then you may be experiencing burnout, not laziness. 

Pushing yourself at this point may even cause you to resent work that you once loved, making you apathetic towards things that you used to feel strongly about. 


Lashing out over little things 


Do you feel stressed out over little things? Has it become easier for people or situations to put you on edge, lately? Burnout may make it more difficult for you to control your emotions, which might not have been a problem for you in the past.  

This contrasts greatly with laziness as people who are lazy generally have a laid-back disposition, usually unfazed by anything. 


You weren’t always like this

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Again, the main difference between burnout and laziness is that these things were never a problem for you in the past. Burnout does not happen all at once. It is caused by a gradual buildup of stress which—when unaddressed—may lead to these symptoms. 

It is important to catch burnout early on, acknowledging how you feel and taking note of what might be causing you to feel this way. Pinpointing the root causes may help you figure out how you may address these things.

It may sound much easier said than done, seeking professional help may provide you better guidance. Recognizing burnout in its earlier stages may prevent you from developing stress related health complications, anxiety, and/or depression.  

It’s necessary to raise awareness for burnout rather than dismissing it or invalidating a person’s experience by simply calling it laziness. Of course, this should not be used as an excuse to get out of things either by doing the opposite and covering up laziness by calling it burnout.  

It is still important to have dreams and goals to aspire to, but occasionally the best move forward is to take a step back and give yourself a chance to regroup. Sometimes the most productive thing that you can do is to take a break. 


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