Recognizing the Symptoms of Burnout

By Taylor Burton Published on November 29, 2023

Estimated reading time: 5 Minutes

With all the talk of work-life balance and quiet quitting in recent years, you might have heard the term "burnout" being used. Despite the name, it's not simply the feeling of being tired or "burned out." It is much more serious and poses a real threat to lawyers and their well-being. 

Burnout is the state of utter mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, not unlike depression. You can experience job burnout, relationship burnout, or even life burnout. The legal career especially has a higher risk of burnout due to long hours and stressful situations faced on the daily.

Sadly, no one is immune. Burnout is a slow, sly process that wears on you with time. Guard against it by educating yourself on what symptoms to look for so you know if it's time to start making changes to your life.

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Excessive stress. There are all kinds of ways burnout can manifest, but it's typically caused by overwhelming levels of stress. It puts you in a cruel cycle of feeling exhausted and stressed out all the time. Law is one of the most stressful professions, heightening the risk of work-related burnout. Long hours, a competitive culture, pressure to succeed, and a lack of mental health resources are all contributing factors to this unfortunate fact.


Extreme fatigue. Is your battery constantly dead? Zero energy is one of the biggest signs of burnout. Even if you're getting enough sleep, burnout makes you feel constantly run down. Just making it through the day feels like an incredible feat.


Brain fog. Have you been having trouble focusing lately? Do you constantly feel like your mind is trapped in an impenetrable fog? Brain fog occurs when your mind is overworked, which leads to a sort of mental fatigue. It can impede your ability to concentrate, slow your thinking process, and even cause headaches.


Changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Burnout can upheave your routine. You may find yourself sleeping longer hours or suffering from insomnia. You might lose your appetite or eat excessively to comfort yourself. Pay attention to your typical eating and sleeping habits so if something changes, you'll know.


Physical illness. High levels of stress can compromise your immune system, leading to frequent headaches, stomach issues, and other ailments. You could become more susceptible to the common cold and finds yourself taking more sick days than usual. It can even lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease.


Business people with stress and worries in office


Mood changes. Another change you may notice is a shift in your mood, which could present itself in many different ways. You might become quicker to anger and easily get impatient with your clients. Or you could experience a permeating sadness that makes it difficult to get out of bed.

Most commonly, victims of burnout exhibit cynicism towards their jobs. Maybe you used to look forward to what the day would bring, but now everything seems to annoy you. You might procrastinate on tasks or have trouble focusing. Lack of enthusiasm, indifference, anxiety, and immense frustration towards your job can all point to burnout.


Alcohol or substance abuse. If you find yourself turning to alcohol or another vice to deal with your problems, you might be burned out. Sadly, many lawyers turn to self-medicating to cope with burnout. This is a major sign that it's time to address your burnout and make drastic changes in your life.


Depression. Another scary symptom is that you may no longer experience satisfaction in life. Burnout can leave you feeling numb to everything including your accomplishments and family life. You might feel alone in the world and have a tendency to isolate yourself from loved ones. It can even lead to suicidal thoughts. For this reason, burnout is incredibly dangerous and should never be underestimated.


close up of fire


Okay, I'm burning out--what do I do about it? It's time to admit you need help, surround yourself with a support system, and reevaluate your lifestyle. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms in this article, start by addressing those. Burnout can wreak havoc on both your physical and mental health--you might need the help of a medical professional to overcome the damage it has done. Consider trying therapy, meditation, yoga, or other self-care methods. Make sure you're eating healthy foods and getting plenty of rest.

Once you are in a better place, it's time to determine the root of the issue and establish healthier boundaries within your work life. It might be tough, but it has to be done. You can't help anyone if you're burned out, or worse. If long hours are taking their toll, log out of your work email, let your coworkers and clients know when you're unavailable, and don't be tempted to work those extra hours.


Businessman being depressed by accounting in his office-1


If this article feels all too relatable, it might be time for a change.

Remember, help is always available. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers was created to help lawyers who are struggling and offers a confidential helpline.

You are never alone.