Burnout or Exhaustion

While feelings of exhaustion are a symptom of burnout, burnout and exhaustion aren't the same thing.

Many people fear that they have burnout.  Attached to burnout is a negative stigma that says you’re not good enough or strong enough.  As a result, people worry that they have burnout when they don’t.  While there’s nothing wrong with burnout, it’s not the same thing as simple exhaustion.  The problem comes from the fact that one of the indicators of burnout is exhaustion.  So, if you have exhaustion, how do you know that you don’t have burnout?

The answer is deceptively simple.  Do you still feel energized while feeling exhausted?  If so, you are just exhausted – not burnt out.  Here’s why.  If you still feel energized, you’re still pushing towards a goal.  That isn’t the behavior of someone who is burnt out.

Look at this another way.  If you could rest for an entire day, would you regain your zeal for your goal – or would you just trudge through the muck one more time to try to move a bit closer to the goal line?  In the first case, you’ve just reached the physical limits of your body.  In the second case, you’re most likely suffering from burnout.

Exhaustion is what happens when our physical and mental limitations are reached.  We find ourselves depleted of energy.  However, even after relatively short periods of rest, either from sleep or with a day of fewer activities, we bounce back like Tigger.  We find that our exhaustion was short-lived, and, with a brief recharge, we’re ready to go again.

A brief rest for someone with burnout seems to have no effect.  They don’t have the same desire that they once had.  The goals that seemed so important are suddenly a burden.  Instead of getting recharged, those with burnout often feel frustrated, afraid, and sometimes like they are failing.  Frustrated that they can’t regain their energy like they once did, and afraid that they’ll never be able to find their energy again.  They feel like they are somehow a failure, because they cannot make it all work like they want to.

If you want to know if you are simply exhausted, take the no-phone, no-internet test.  Plan a weekend where you’ve got no phone and no internet.  Plan to rest, relax, and, more importantly, disconnect from the rat race that most people call their lives.

Everyone can find a way to disconnect for a weekend.  There will be a way for the office to function without you.  You can bring the family with you if they’re more supportive than demanding.  Just put the brakes on your life and slow down.  If you end the weekend refreshed and chomping at the bit to get back to your world, it was a simple case of exhaustion.

If you end the weekend and feel more peace but no more energy, then burnout may have taken hold.  You’ll need to find ways to fill your personal agency by looking more closely for positive results, seeking the support of others, doing more self-care, and finding ways to limit both the demands that you place on yourself and those you accept from others.

While exhaustion is a symptom of burnout, not all exhaustion is burnout.

For more information on preventing – or recovering from – burnout, visit

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Are you burned out? 9 urgent signs that you need to take action

by Claudette Malone
Courtesy of Ahmet Misirligul / Shutterstock
Activity Recreation//

The Age of Burnout (How to Survive an Emotionally-Demanding Job)

by Thomas Oppong

Burnout as a Badge of Honor

by Robert Bogue

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.