Am I Burnt Out Or Lazy?

Have you noticed that you’re not performing as well or outputting as much as you used to. Maybe some of your family, friends, or co-workers have started to notice that you’re not feeling as motivated these days as you were a month or two ago.

You may be asking yourself “what is wrong with me?” but it may be that you are experiencing burnout. While on the surface being burnt out and being lazy can look similar, it’s important to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Continue reading, and discover the answer to the question on your mind: am I burnt out or lazy?

Am I Burnt Out or Lazy – How Can I Tell?

As mentioned above, burnout and laziness may look the same from the outside, but feel completely different from the inside. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion – often caused by chronic stress and overwork. Laziness is more like a general unmotivation or lack of desire to move forward and complete tasks.

Burnout vs Laziness – The Key Differences

While reduced motivation can be a symptom of burnout, it is important to note that you should not punish yourself for being ‘lazy’. This is like having a cold and being angry that you keep coughing. You can perhaps take lozenges or tea for the cough, but you are not treating the cause of that cough.

Signs You Are Burnt Out and Not Lazy

Being familiar with the symptoms of burnout and monitoring yourself for those symptoms is crucial to congoing wellbeing, especially for those in high-demand work positions. Some signs that you are experiencing burnout include:

Physical Exhaustion

You find yourself feeling tired and drained, no matter how much rest or sleep you get. This intense exhaustion can occur in conjunction with either insomnia or hypersomnia. The lack of energy may mean that you’re unable to do other things you typically would such as go to work, see friends, or engage in exercise.

In burnout, you are unable to do these things because you physically do not have the energy to bring yourself to do them. Whereas with laziness, you simply decide that you would rather not.

Emotional Exhaustion

You have increasing feelings of detachment from work, loved ones, and things that were previously important to you in life. There’s a distance growing between you and others, and you don’t mind, frankly you may even prefer it that way. You do not have the emotional capacity to even feign interest in others or work.

Laziness does not often present as emotional exhaustion, though some may use it as an excuse to avoid doing emotional labour. In burnout we more often see a consistent isolation from others and inability to engage normally.

Poor Performance

You are struggling to keep up with your work demands. While in the past you would have been pumping out work, you now find yourself struggling to be efficient or productive. You may even be showing up to work less, or taking extra time away from the office.

This is one area that is particularly easy to confuse with laziness. The key difference here is that lazy people are not trying to perform particularly well, whereas the burnt out individual will be putting in a lot of effort, but not seeing the same results.

Negative Attitude

You have started to develop strong negative feelings towards your work and relationships. You may even be feeling quite cynical about things in your life, including your ability to make an impact on those around you through your work.

While a lazy person may be inherently negative, we see those experiencing burn out developing this negative and cynical attitude over time. They may have started as positive but have become quite negative. The change in attitude is key to distinguishing a difference.

Low Satisfaction

Perhaps you feel like your work is going unnoticed, or that you aren’t appreciated properly by people in your workplace. You may have an increasing sensation of being unfulfilled in your life and/or work.

Like with ‘negative attitude’, you will know this can be attributed to burn out, and not laziness, if this makes a change and difference from your regular attitude. Or at least, makes a difference from the attitude you had when you started your job.

Poor Concentration

Difficulty concentrating, struggling to focus, and an increasing inability to make decisions. If any of this sounds like you, then you may be having difficulty with maintaining adequate concentration.

It’s important to remember that a decrease in ability to concentrate may be attributable to any number of factors or potential mental health concerns. However, when comparing burnout and laziness, similar to ‘poor performance’, the key to telling the difference is how much effort you are putting into trying to concentrate, and simply not being able to.

Increased Irritability

You’re becoming frustrated with people around you, especially your colleagues at work. You’ve got a shorter fuse than usual and frankly, you don’t have the time or the patience to put up with people’s incompetence.

Most lazy people do not have the energy or desire to engage with people at this emotional and intense level. However, a burnt out person will often act out irritably purely due to the fact that they do not have the emotional energy to regulate themselves appropriately.


You don’t have time for your friends, or your family, or even your old hobbies. You’ve been withdrawing from social activities, declining invitations out and aren’t really interested in getting back out there.

This is another area which can be easily confused with laziness. Many people need to take a break from being social now and again, but the important thing is to make sure that you are not isolating yourself from people who care about you.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Perhaps you’ve been drinking a little more than you usually would, just to take the edge off. Maybe you’re using cocaine or MDMA to help you be more chatty and social at parties. You could be using porn daily in order to unwind and take your mind off of work for once.

No one time use of a substance is likely to indicate any addiction or problematic use. But if you’ve noticed that you’re starting to rely more and more on substances or behaviours in order to cope with stress, this is a sign you should reach out for help. It is always better to reach out for intervention earlier to address behaviours before they get out of hand.

Understanding the distinction between burnout and laziness is crucial in maintaining your own wellbeing and understanding your responses to stress. While burnout stems from chronic stress and overwork, laziness reflects a lack of motivation, even in the absence of stress. By recognising some of the above signs, you now have the power to answer the question: am I burnout or lazy?

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