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3 sneaky signs you're burned out at work, according to a neuroscientist—and what to do about it

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Chances are, you've probably burned out before you even realized it. 

Burnout is not a new phenomenon: The term was first coined in the 1970s to describe the exhaustion workers felt from their jobs, but it wasn't until three years ago that the World Health Organization officially recognized it as an occupational phenomenon resulting from "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." 

Still, burnout can manifest as a myriad of symptoms, and not all of them are obvious, Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at New York University, tells CNBC Make It. "You might feel constantly worried, angry or just really, really tired," she explains. "There's a whole gamut of negative emotions and physical symptoms of burnout." 

The World Health Organization counts exhaustion, cynicism and reduced productivity as some of the most common symptoms of burnout. 

But there are three early signs of burnout you may be missing, according to Suzuki: 

  • Procrastination
  • Constant distraction
  • Apathy 

It's normal to have some procrastination tendencies — but if you're taking longer than usual to get things done at work, it could mean you're under a lot of pressure, and your brain is not coping well with the continuous stress, or that you have become disengaged with the work you're doing and hit a wall, Suzuki points out. 

"We're all still recovering from the extreme changes to work and school over the last two-plus years," she adds. 

Struggling with constant distractions at work is another hidden sign that you're headed for burnout. Past research has shown that burnout can alter the circuits in your brain and make it harder to focus, making it harder to ignore workplace disruptions and stay on task. 

Apathy is one of the "biggest" and most misunderstood symptoms of burnout, Suzuki says. "You don't have to be feeling these visceral, negative emotions to feel burned out," she explains. "You can also have an attitude of 'I don't care anymore' toward things you used to care about, like your job." Apathy can also appear as a lack of motivation, or a pervasive feeling of numbness, she adds — like nothing you do matters. 

One of the most critical steps to curbing burnout is becoming more self-aware of what triggers your negative emotions, such as anger, sadness or fear, and recognizing when they appear instead of suppressing them, Suzuki says. 

Next time you're feeling stressed, anxious or a different negative emotion, Suzuki suggests asking yourself, "Where is this feeling coming from, and why is it coming up now?"

"Getting more in touch with a wider range of emotions is very, very important because if we hide them in the basement, so to speak, for too long, they'll just get worse and eventually they will escape and be unmanageable," she says. 

Suzuki also recommends finding a therapist or a certified mental health counselor who can help you connect the dots between your symptoms and the root cause of the burnout you might be experiencing, as well as help you craft a plan of action to manage your burnout.

Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET to learn from money masters like Kevin O'Leary how you can increase your earning power.

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