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What is Burnout?

Thanks for following along with my blog!

Today’s topic is getting into the definition of burnout and how it’s different from stress and depression.

Disclaimer: I do not diagnose, treat, or prescribe for medical or mental illness with my online content. My views are my own and are not associated or representative of my employer(s). This blog is for educational purposes only and not medical advice.

So what is burnout?

It was a big deal when the World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon, giving it an ICD-11 code. The WHO defines burnout as:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.

  • Increased mental distance, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job.

  • Reduced professional efficacy.

What does this mean?

Exhaustion - feeling over-extended, worn out by your tasks, your emotional and physical resources are used up. This is the most common symptom of burnout. You may never feel fully rested, or you may have other physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle pains. You may feel like you’re in a mental fog, and you can’t process things well. Your emotional exhaustion may cause you to get angry quickly, feel anxious or depressed. You may think to yourself: “I can’t handle this, I’m overwhelmed.”

Cynicism - depersonalization, feeling or sounding more callous or detached you normally are. You may note compassion fatigue, be more prone to sarcasm, or blaming others for your situation or feelings. You lose the ability to connect with your co-workers, clients, and/or patients. This may spill over into your romantic and social relationships as well. You may think to yourself: “I can’t be bothered to care, I’m checking out.”

Decreased Self-Efficacy - lacking confidence, or feeling like you aren’t having any success in what you’re doing. You may think to yourself: “I can’t make a difference anymore, I want to do more but it feels impossible, what’s the use, why bother?”

To sum it up Jeff Foxworthy style: You may be suffering from burnout if:

  • You’re exhausted, angry, irritable, and/or impatient

  • You hate going into work

  • You don’t care about what you’re doing

  • You feel like you’re not good at it

  • You think that what you’re doing doesn’t really matter anyway

  • (Or if you’ve ever cut your grass and found a car…)


Then what isn't burnout?

Burnout and depression can have overlapping symptoms, but they are different. The main differences include how long your symptoms last and how you might need to manage your symptoms. Burnout symptoms are usually temporary and disappear when you take a longer break from work or spend more time and energy on activities you enjoy. Depression can cause negative feelings and thoughts throughout all aspects of your life, and doesn’t go away when you remove the stressors of work. Please seek professional help with your healthcare provider for symptoms or concerns for depression.

Burnout differs from stress in that stress is too much and burnout is not enough. When you’re stressed you have too much pressure, too much physical or mental demand. It’s over-engagement, urgency, and hyperactivity. Your body is responding with a predictable biochemical and physiological stress response. (More about stress here.) Burnout is when you don’t have any reserves left. It’s disengagement, helplessness, and hopelessness. It’s a form of chronic stress resulting in dysregulation of your stress response system. This is terrible for your health - see why in this blog post.

When you’re burned out you don’t bounce back from your long work week on Saturday morning when the kids are jumping up and down on your bed excited to spend the day at the park. Yet somehow you keep going. You pull your mom pants on, plaster a smile on your face, pop some bread in the toaster, and pour your coffee. You look at your kids and think “how do I get my zest for life back?”

I know I’ve felt that way, I think I was like that for a year or more without realizing it. I catch it sooner now and double down on my self care and anti-burnout techniques so I don’t get too far gone.

If you’re struggling with burnout (again, I don’t diagnose or treat depression or provide any medical advice), my coaching program offers 45 minute sessions every other week for accountability checks, to celebrate the small wins and navigate the obstacles, to answer questions, and guide you through the next steps. In other words, I'm bringing zesty back... (it's okay if you get that song in your head)


Know a mom who's facing burnout? Share this post! #MomsDontLetMomsBurnOut

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