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Burnout Isn’t Stressed Out Isn’t Depressed (and some tips)

Burnout Isn’t Stressed Out Isn’t Depressed (and some tips)

“I‘ve had it!” As hard as I try, I can’t make this work. I’m not capable. Life is just one struggle after another, so why bother?”

Ouch! Someone’s burned-out.

The theme of this week’s newsletter was burnout. I typically keep newsletter content exclusive, but I really wanted to bring the subject to chipur this time around.

I think you’ll find the information meaningful and helpful.

What Is Burnout?

Many of us push ourselves to the max, living in the midst of some pretty significant stress. Largely, it’s self-imposed. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing (fine-line).

But when feelings of helplessness, the “constant-struggle’s,” “why-bother’s,” a nasty attitude, and physical/emotional/mental exhaustion are in the mix; it’s time to step-back and gain some perspective.

If the burnout-inferno hasn’t already arrived, it’s imminent.

And you know what? The manifestations of burnout will seep into every nook and cranny of your life – work, school, relationships, sociality, physical/emotional/mental health, and then some.

It’s not over-dramatizing to say a killer is on the loose.

You’re Burned-Out, Not Stressed-Out or Depressed

Unfortunately, burnout is often misunderstood and mislabeled – “I’m just stressed-out.” “It’s only a bit of depression.” When those words are spoken, it’s obvious burnout has been missed and dismissed.

Here’s the best way to understand the difference between stress and burnout…

Stress is an issue of too much, whereas burnout is about not enough.

There are many who take-on tons of stress, and they manage well because they can envision things turning around once they get their ducks in a row.

But burnout is about feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and inadequacy. And it’s tough to move forward under their spell.

There’s another stress/burnout distinguishing factor. You typically know when you’re in the midst of a ton of stress. Burnout, however, often flies under the radar. You know something’s wrong – but what? And that’s what makes burnout so dangerous.

Oh, about depression. Absolutely, the manifestations of burnout resemble symptoms of a major depressive episode. But burnout is a unique pathology calling for its own treatment protocol.

I will, however, say that one who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder may be more prone to burnout.

Signs of Burnout

If you’re going to get a handle on burnout, you’d better know what it looks like. To name a few characteristics…

  • Acute boredom, lack of motivation, procrastination
  • Low self-regard and buckets of self-doubt
  • Chronic fatigue, aches, and pains
  • Frequent physical illnesses
  • Most any task feels as though it’s a waste of time and energy
  • Deeply feeling, “Same sh_ _, different day.”
  • Changes in appetite and/or sleep
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Food and substance abuse
  • Misplaced anger
  • Missing work, school, appointments, social engagements, etc.

Burnout and the Body

It’s telling that scientists have observed altered physiology and anatomy associated with burnout. Activity in the brain’s frontal lobe changes, as does cortisol regulation. And the cortisol piece is huge. The effects of fluctuating cortisol levels are far-reaching in terms of physical health.

Too much to get into here, but I have chipur references for you (of course!). Here’s a link to an article on cortisol, and another to a piece I wrote on the HPA axis. Both are important reading.

How to Freeze-Out Burnout

Managing burnout involves two pieces. Prevention is Job 1. However, if the inferno has hit, you need to be able to douse it. Let’s chat both…


  • Gain insight into your potential for burnout based upon your personality traits, personal history, and family history. Get to know you!
  • Implement lifestyle changes: Incorporate some “me-time” into your day (especially when you arise) – meditate, journal, stretch, or read something inspiring/motivating. Tidy-up your diet, exercise, get sufficient sleep, play.
  • Set boundaries: Learn how to say “no” to others – and yourself. You have to know when enough’s enough – and how to express it.
  • Take regular and sufficient technology breaks – computer, TV, phone, text, email, etc.
  • Get involved with projects/hobbies that bring you enjoyment.
  • Do everything you can to minimize and manage stress.

In the Midst

  • Insight is always first. Bone-up on how burnout presents in you. How can you expect to do anything about it if you don’t know it’s on the scene?
  • Implement a prepared (hint) plan of slow-down. Not necessarily stoppage, just reducing the intensity and scope of your activity.
  • Take a look at the list of life priorities you prepared (hint again). What’s truly important just now – what isn’t?
  • Do the list-and-examine thing for the arenas in which your life takes place – relationships, work, school, social obligations, etc. If it isn’t on the priority list, it doesn’t happen.
  • Based upon your priority list(s), amend your schedule.
  • Secure help and support. You don’t have to endure this alone. Furthermore, you’re only throwing fuel on the fire if you try to.
  • Look in a mirror and tell yourself you have what it takes to get through the inferno – and to keep it from burning once more.
  • Love yourself (for a change). You’re more than worthy.

That’s All Folks

Burnout is dicey business. It’s such a powerful phenomenon, and capable of wreaking havoc. And the scary thing is, it so often flies under the radar.

That can only mean trouble.

But not for you, because now you know what it is – and what to do about it.

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