5 Signs Of Burnout That Aren't Mental Health-Related

Mental health issues are complex. Many symptoms overlap, and it can become harder to differentiate between them. This is often the case for signs of burnout. Most of us have experienced exhaustion or temporary feelings of stress regarding our work. However, when these temporary feelings become increasingly more common and we start to feel mentally exhausted because of our job, it can be a sign of burnout.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout as an occupational phenomenon, meaning it is a state of significant and increasing mental distress due to your job. While stress is always part of your work, signs of burnout should not be dismissed or diminished, as many symptoms of burnout overlap with symptoms of mental illnesses. As there can be confusion around what constitutes a mental health issue such as depression and anxiety versus signs of burnout, we want to provide some clarity and help you differentiate between the two.

What are symptoms of burnout?

Therapist and author Bridgit Dengel Gaspard explained to POPSUGAR that burnout is "a slow leak of your energy over a prolonged period of stressful time related to being overloaded and overwhelmed." You are so exhausted that even the thought of work can cause mental distress.

The most common signs of burnout are:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained
  • Feeling stressed
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Lack of enthusiasm and negative feelings toward your work
  • Little to no capacity to do your job

Unlike depression and anxiety, burnout is not a mental illness. One of the main differences between burnout and depression is that symptoms of burnout are mostly related to your work. They have a trigger and managing your work-life balance can decrease feelings of burnout. However, there is no cure for depression and anxiety as they are ongoing mental health conditions. While many symptoms overlap, it's important to differentiate burnout from mental health issues to pursue the proper treatment.

Stress and exhaustion

Stress and exhaustion are two factors that go hand in hand. When you're stressed, you become exhausted. If you're experiencing burnout, one of the main reasons for feeling stressed and exhausted is the unmanageable workload. There might be an important deadline that comes with a lot of pressure at work. Or maybe you have been given endless tasks that feel impossible to complete. If this workload persists, feelings of stress and exhaustion increase. Therefore, leading to burnout. Chronic exhaustion related to your work is not normal and should not be treated as such.

An unmanageable workload, however, is not necessarily the only cause of stress and exhaustion. You could also be experiencing these feelings from being treated unfairly at work, and lacking serious support from your managers and co-workers. Although depression does include symptoms of stress and exhaustion, the root cause is different. Burnout mostly correlates to your occupation (although it is not limited to that), whereas depression can be triggered by many factors. WebMD highlighted that genetics, trauma, major events, and other personal problems, such as substance abuse, can cause depression. Burnout can lead to depression but on its own, it's not categorized as a mental health condition.

Lack of energy and enthusiasm

A main symptom of burnout is the lack of energy and enthusiasm you feel toward your work or other specific obligation. Burnout does not happen from one day to the other; It's a slow process that gradually puts a strain on your mental health. As Gaspard told POPSUGAR, the main thing you and your body require at this stage is rest. If you are unable to get enough rest, it can lead to what Gaspard calls a 'burnout loop'. This loop inherently worsens your mental and physical health, furthering the crucial need to find space in your day for rest. Simply getting enough sleep through a healthy sleeping routine can help.

Fatigue, lack of energy, and lack of enthusiasm can also be experienced by people dealing with depression. However, burnout fatigue has a direct cause. Your lack of energy and enthusiasm is linked to your work or other external demands, and if you stop working or get enough rest, you will notice an increase in energy. Yet, the lack of energy you feel because of your depression may still persist even after you have dealt with your workload.

Hopelessness and lack of capacity to do your job

Feelings of hopelessness are all too common during burnout. You've reached such a hopeless and helpless state that doing daily tasks seems impossible. Burnout causes you to lose the capacity to properly do your job, such that tasks at work become harder, and you are unable to manage upcoming deadlines. Your lack of capacity to do your job can also influence your relationship with your co-workers and colleagues. You may be distancing yourself from them and anything that is work-related as the stress of it has become too much.

If you remove your source of stress, you will no longer feel hopeless or helpless. Quitting your current job or getting a new one are two examples that would lead to an immediate sense of relief and a decrease in hopelessness. However, for depression, these feelings of hopelessness have multiple causes and do not go away when removing one factor. With depression, even after quitting your job or finding a new one, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness prevail. You may still find it difficult to complete daily tasks both at work and at home. Yet, symptoms of burnout decrease when directly tackling and removing the root cause. Also, not everyone has the privilege of being able to up and leave their job, so finding other ways of coping is a necessity.

How to deal with burnout

Approaching burnout is different from managing depression. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression that persist, please seek professional help. We know that getting a therapist can be a scary process but putting your mental health first is always the best thing you can do for yourself. If you know someone who is struggling with their mental health, you may find it useful to read through our guide on 15 realistic ways to support your loved one with depression.

While therapy is always encouraged, there are also other ways of dealing with burnout. Try to set boundaries at work and talk to your manager. Having open communication with your colleagues can help you gain a different perspective, and they might give you tips on how to manage the workload. We understand that this is not possible for everyone. If you're in a safe environment, talk to your boss and explain how you're feeling. Another option is to start meditating and getting enough sleep. It's vital to reclaim control when work is eroding your mental health and getting enough rest can give you more energy to do so. If your work gets to be too much and no method seems to work, consider quitting your job or finding a new one to preserve your mental health. Dealing with burnout is not easy, so surround yourself with supportive friends and family members in order to better tackle the root cause head on and break the cycle of burnout.