Call it what you want, but burnout is burnout

I was at a party a couple of months ago. I was surrounded by talented and accomplished women, moms. The conversation turned to stress and overwhelm and feelings of failure for everything, especially on the job and with their kids.

There were nods and sympathies all around. “Girl… same!”

So when did burnout just become so normal for all of us?

I’d like to challenge the assumption that burnout is acceptable. The first step is to notice it, to just recognize burnout, because many would reject the term and not identify with it, yet experience all the signs and symptoms. Some wouldn’t even use the term until they’ve been experiencing burnout for a while and they hit rock bottom. So let’s call a spade a spade earlier.

Remember two things as you review this list: (1) you don’t need to experience all of these symptoms to have burnout, and (2) you don’t have to experience the most extreme of the symptoms to have burnout.

Physical symptoms

  • Fatigue – really, you just feel tired all the time, even if you don’t drop to the floor in exhaustion
  • Forgetfulness and slower uptake and response rates – this might be harder to recognize, but you might find yourself having to re-read a passage three times or ask people to repeat themselves
  • Illness – you may chalk it up to allergies or things that are just going around, but burnout weakens the immune system
  • Loss of appetite – you might think, “Well, at least I’m losing weight!” but this is not a healthy way to do it.
  • Insomnia – a racing mind in the middle of night, tossing and turning, or being able to get to sleep but waking up still feeling tired

Mental symptoms

  • Anger – especially quicker escalation from frustration or having a shorter fuse than before
  • Depression – including “just” feeling sad and hopeless, guilty
  • Anxiety – even small bouts when you didn’t used to have them
  • Failure – when I was experiencing burnout, I characterized this as being able to do one thing well and fail phenomenally at everything else, or failing in smaller ways at everything equally.
  • Lack of interest – decreased motivation, no longer invested as much as you used to in the things you enjoyed

If your response to this list is, “But everyone experiences some of these things!” then that’s exactly what I’m calling into question. I’m challenging the notion that it’s normal and acceptable.

Was it always like this? Do you think “adulting” equals experiencing this stress?

What if it’s not?

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