Do you fear that you’re on the road to burnout?

Are you feeling like you’re always “on”, and never really get a chance to experience rest – like you’re “burning the candle at both ends”, so to speak? Maybe you’re feeling less fulfilled by the things that used to bring you joy, or you find yourself becoming irritable for no reason. Each of these is an indication that you’re headed towards burnout. But before we can work towards preventing or overcoming it, it’s important to understand what burnout is.

What does “burnout” really mean, anyway?

Though the term “burnout” has been seen as just another popular buzzword, in reality, it’s a complex psychological condition. The term was coined by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. He categorized it as a condition resulting from severe stress – making it different from stress itself. He also defined the three main components of burnout:


  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Decreased sense of accomplishment

Each of these things contributes to and is also exacerbated by continuing the cycle of burnout.

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At the time Dr. Freudenberger coined this term, burnout was seen as most common in people in helping professions, such as healthcare workers and other caregivers. But burnout isn’t just for high-achievers and caregivers. The average person can experience burnout from over-scheduling, being a people-pleaser, and feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in various areas of their lives (new parents, single parents, caregivers, are some examples of people who may not experience career-related burnout).

Burnout is considered to be caused by chronic stress. This means that our bodies are always in stress-response mode, leaking out extra cortisol and adrenaline that it thinks we need. We may experience trouble sleeping, digestive issues, and lower immune function. We also damage our body’s ability to produce cortisol, which is a result of something called adrenal fatigue.

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Burnout is considered a lifestyle-related condition. This means that you have the power to overcome burnout by making changes to your lifestyle that support balance and well-being.

Is there a difference between stress, burnout, and depression?

Oftentimes, people confuse burnout with stress and depression, however, they are each separate conditions with different causes and methods of treatment.


Stress can lead to burnout when you don’t have resources to support you. When you’re stressed, you may feel overwhelmed by the things you’re dealing with, whereas if you’re burnt out, you don’t feel that there’s any hope of getting things under control. Helplessness is a key difference between stress and burnout.


Burnout is caused by prolonged exposure to chronic stressors without the ability to recover from them. This is where the ability to recognize the signs of burnout and choosing to course-correct can be a game-changer.


If we can investigate what is causing or contributing to our burnout and try to discover the root, we can take action to reverse the path and avoid burnout altogether.


Depression can have many different causes, from situational (like a family crisis), to a chemical imbalance (as is the case with Clinical Depression). This is a separate issue from burnout and is best addressed with a clinical professional.

How can I tell how burnt out I am?

Dr. Freudenberger and colleague Gail North developed a 12-stage model that can help us understand where we fall on the burnout scale. Even though this model focuses on the cause of burnout being work, you can apply these stages to being a parent, homemaker, caretaker, or other roles as well. Those 12 stages are:


  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself – feeling like you’re never enough and at the same time that you must always demonstrate your worth
  2. Working harder – becoming a “workaholic”
  3. Neglecting needs – not eating or sleeping as you should, limiting social interaction
  4. Displacement of conflicts – not accepting responsibility for your life & blaming others for your problems – including your stress level
  5. Revision of values – rearranging what you believe in so that work can be the most important thing
  6. Denial of emerging problems – intolerance of others, perceiving them as lazy, incompetent, demanding, or undisciplined
  7. Withdrawal – avoiding social interaction or the use of drugs and/or alcohol to numb feelings of stress
  8. Odd behavioral changes – you may become more aggressive, snapping at friends and/or family more frequently
  9. Depersonalization – feelings of disconnection from your life, not seeing yourself or others as valuable
  10. Inner emptiness – feeling empty inside and looking to fill this void with drugs, alcohol, or sex
  11. Depression – feeling like the future is bleak, loss of meaning, emotionally exhausted

Burnout Syndrome – a culmination of all of the previous stages, complete mental breakdown, this is the time where you should seek professional medical attention.

Burnout can get out of hand before you know it. This is why it’s so important that we learn to recognize the warning signs and to identify what stage we’re at if we’re already feeling burnt out, and to get the help we need to recover.

I hope you found this post helpful! Want to learn more about holistic, effective self-care? You’ll find lots of great tips in this post.


Until next time,



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