There's no getting around it: Burnout is a beast. And in the midst of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the once-trendy name for feeling a little less than motivated has become a full-fledged social dilemma. "There's a high level of burnout happening right now, and many people are struggling to really figure out what is going on and why it's going on," N.Y.C.-based therapist Risha Nathan tells HelloGiggles. "I've noticed a trend [among my patients] of higher burnout rates than usual. Some attribute it to COVID directly and the idea that there's not much to look forward to at this point. And others feel less motivated and less energetic just because of staying home in one spot the majority of the time."
Whatever the case may be, one thing’s for sure: Learning the ins and outs of burnout—along with how it differs from depression—might just be the answer to helping you regain some semblance of normalcy during this truly abnormal time. Plus, by learning everything there is to know about burnout, you can apply it beyond these unprecedented times to work toward a more balanced body and mind—and life, as a result. So, without further ado, here's what the experts had to say.
What is burnout?
According to the nonprofit mental health organization HelpGuide, “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
While burnout can be experienced in multiple facets of our lives, when it strikes, it often presents the same way. “It feels like we are unable to give any more of ourselves,” explains Florida-based psychotherapist and Clarity Health Solutions owner Jennifer Tomko.
How is burnout different than depression?
Burnout and depression share feelings of being overwhelmed; however, it’s important not to get the two confused. “Although depression can present in many ways, the most typical is some form of chronic, excessive sadness,” Nathan explains. “Burnout doesn’t necessarily have sadness as a component (although it’s possible) but is more often a feeling of lack of interest or motivation to do even pleasurable things.”
What’s more, where depression is often an overarching feeling of discontent with your life, burnout is often targeted to one or two key areas.
“You can be burned out in multiple areas of your life at once, but it isn't necessarily depression,” Tomko says. “Depression is more about feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.” Additionally, she admitted that there are often feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness associated with depression. “Depression also makes it difficult to enjoy aspects of life that used to bring you joy,” she explains. “Burnout is more about having difficulty finding joy in just the aspect of your life that you are feeling burned out in.”
While burnout and depression are two different mental health trajectories, Tomko admits that the overlap can sometimes make it difficult to discern. “Of course, there is some overlap, but it is often easy to determine the difference when you look at the clinical diagnosis of depression versus the experiences that are being described,” she says.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
So, are you burnt out? To find out, ask yourself if you’ve been feeling any of the below emotions. Spoiler alert: According to Nathan, Tomko, and Viva Wellness cofounder and therapist Jor-El Caraballo, they’re all symptoms of burnout.
Lack of motivation
Lack of inspiration
Loss of purpose
Feeling like you’re on autopilot
Easy tasks seem more daunting
The four most common types of burnout
If you answered yes to feeling any of those emotions regularly, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing burnout. To further determine your reality, let’s break it down a step further with the four most common types of burnout. By identifying which area you feel burnout in, you’ll be better suited to address the problem head-on.
Nine times out of 10, when people talk about burnout, they’re referring to workplace or job burnout. “Those who identify strongly with their work or find it very purposeful generally run a higher risk of burnout, as their work can be a large part of their identity,” Caraballo says. “While this is not limited to those in caregiving professions, those who work in healthcare are often at higher risk due to the personal nature of their work and the ongoing need to be empathetic to clients/patients.”
Whether you work in a hospital, law firm, restaurant, or from the comfort of your couch, work burnout is real. Not sure if you’re burnt out from work? Tomko says to ask yourself if you’ve been engaging in the following behaviors in relation to work. If you have, ding-ding-ding, we have a winner.
Symptoms of work burnout:
A negative attitude about the work
Lack of interest in the work
Calling out of work or wasting time at work
Lack of inspiration/motivation
Difficulties being creative in solutions
Building resentments toward the organization/customers/coworkers
Next up we have physical burnout. This can be experienced by athletes and people who work out all the time, as well as folks who are forever on the go. “Physical burnout is when you aren't giving your body downtime or time to heal,” Tomko says. “This can happen if you aren't getting enough rest, are recovering from a medical issue, or are pushing your body harder than it is able to withstand.”
Not sure if you’re physically burnt out? See if any of the below feelings and behaviors ring true. If they do, it’s time to take a closer look at how you’re helping yourself relax and recover.
Symptoms of physical burnout:
Feeling an inability to "take another step”
Avoidance of physical effort
Injuring yourself easily when exercising/physical activity
Injury isn't healing effectively
If you’re a parent, you’re likely well-acquainted with this type of burnout. As wonderful as children are, there’s no denying that downtime away from your kids is imperative to your ability to show up as your best parent self.
“Parental burnout is when you feel exhausted by the tasks that come with the role of being a parent,” Tomko says simply. Sure, feeling tired comes with the role, but if you notice any of the below behaviors or feelings, it may be time to re-evaluate your parenting schedule to find ways to avoid burning out in the essential role—for your sake and your child’s.
Symptoms of parental burnout:
Yelling at the kids
Feeling resentment toward kids or tending to their needs
Needing to take a nap during a time of the day that is unusual
Envisioning yourself leaving the family
Feeling intolerance for the kids' needs
Getting a babysitter often
Using screen time to distract the children for excessive amounts of time
Feeling that you don't care about boundaries you used to have with them
Lastly, we have relationship burnout.
“Relationship burnout is when you feel that you are putting more into the relationship than what is being reciprocated throughout the duration of the relationship,” Tomko says. If you have been experiencing any of the below emotions or behaviors, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your partner about where you stand in the relationship and what your needs are moving forward.
Symptoms of relationship burnout:
Negative thoughts about the other person
Disgust about their behaviors
Leaving them out of fun activities
Thinking about if you would be happier without them in your life
Feeling annoyed when you think about that person
Not wanting to contribute emotionally to the relationship anymore
The most common causes of burnout
Now that you’re well-versed in the symptoms of all the different types of burnout, it’s time to get even more layered. That’s because behind every type of burnout is a cause—and we’re not just talking about work, physical exhaustion, being a parent, or being in an unfulfilling relationship. It’s that within each type of burnout, three common causes come into play: a lack of control, a difficult environment, and a lack of balance.
Caraballo says this means feeling like you don't have control over your destiny; being in a physical workspace, home, or relationship that is negative or chaotic; and lastly—and probably most notably—having too much work and not enough play or too much parenting and not enough me-time. Once you recognize these scales and their effect on your life, you can move forward in a way that not only reverses burnout but prevents it.
How to combat burnout:
Since burnout largely comes down to balance, it’s essential to find ways to even the scales of your life. Fortunately, there are a few ways to do so.
Practice good self-care. “Having a regular routine of self-care (in whatever ways work for you) can help better manage negative feelings and outcomes from a difficult work [or home] environment,” Caraballo says.
Get back to basics. “Physical care is essential to managing yourself, so in addition to all those self-care strategies that might seem like luxuries (even though they aren't), taking good care of your physical self with good nutrition and movement practices (and sleep!) can help you better manage stress and negative emotions,” Caraballo shares.
Set boundaries. In an effort to find balance, Tomko says it’s vital to know how to set boundaries. These can be in regards to how long you work each day, when your me-time kicks in as a parent (implementing bedtimes can help!), and more.
Delegate tasks. Repeat after me: I do not have to do it all. While it may feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, know that it’s totally okay to delegate tasks—work or otherwise—to other people. If you don’t have the capacity to accomplish something while still sticking to your boundaries, pass it on to someone who can fulfill the need.
Regularly check in with yourself. “What do you need? How are you feeling? Are you taking care of yourself? Are you setting needed boundaries? Do you need a break?” Nathan urges you to ask yourself. “Because burnout can lead to a lack of motivation, there can be a withdrawal from the world in an avoidant way. It’s important to sort out where that avoidance is rooted.”
Seek support. “Finding community with coworkers or other people in your life (even working with a therapist) can help provide necessary support and refuge,” Caraballo says.
A final word
“COVID-19 is affecting burnout because we have been doing all the tasks we had when we had normalcy—but with the additional layer of having to make multiple transitions over a short period of time,” Tomko explains. “Transition is stressful on its own, but then it is happening rapidly and frequently.” In this way, she says that COVID-19 is causing a whole different type of burnout: change burnout. “Most of us are tired of constantly feeling that we cannot settle into a new norm, because each month looks a little different and we aren't sure of what to expect for the next month,” she explains. “This causes us to be in a constant state of transition.”
The point is, if you’ve been feeling burnt-out, go easy on yourself. It’s normal to get caught up in these feelings. Thankfully, it’s becoming easier to talk about them and, subsequently, overcome them.