Bob Goldman

"All of a sudden you're exhausted, you're feeling cynical and unattached. And you think, 'What happened to me?'"

Well, you could be coming down with the flu. Or you could be in love. The symptoms are the same. In this case, however, it is neither your heart nor your sinuses that is inflamed.

You, friend, are simply a burnout. Or, you're headed in that direction. Says who? Says psychologist Sherri Bourg Carter, the author of "High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout."

Since I am not a woman or a superachiever, I culled this valuable psychopathological information from a recent story in the Chicago Tribune. Titled "Burnout Becoming More Widespread," the article suggests that, if the economy is sputtering, burnout is booming. In fact, it is exactly because the economy is sputtering that burnout is booming.

"During the recession, companies shed millions of jobs as they strove to cut costs and shore up the bottom line," the Trib reporter reports. "But that work didn't go away with the elimination of the position, it just got shifted, pushing workers to do more with less."

You can understand why this dynamic could result in stress. You're asked to do more with less when your entire career has been based on doing less with more.

So, how do you know when your normal level of discontent and dissatisfaction hits the burnout redline?

According to Ms. Carter, the physical symptoms include "chest pain, chronic fatigue, sleep problems, lots of headaches and indigestion." I can certainly understand the sleep problems. With so many empty desks, it's difficult to take a two-hour after-lunch nap without someone noticing your absence -- or your snoring.

As for your indigestion -- maybe it's not the all-you-can stuff-in-your-face buffalo wings luncheons at the Kit Kat Klub. And your manager shouldn't blame you when you stagger back to work at 4 p.m. She should shower you with sympathy, and Tums.

There are behavioral signs, as well, such as "eating more or eating less, increasing drug or alcohol use, feeling more sensitive or emotional, isolating oneself from friends and colleagues."

I'm not sure what to make of this laundry list of symptoms, but as for isolating yourself from friends and colleagues -- how could that be a warning sign of anything, except little patience for hanging out with idiots and nerds?

But let's not worry about it. You're probably fine. Just finish eating your pepperoni pizza, and drink the last of that six-pack. Breakfast is over, and it's time to go to work.

Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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