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Giving you the physical and emotional resources to do all the things you need to do

Sep 1, 2014

Burnout can manifest physically and mentally

Mental symptoms can manifest as the following:

feeling uninspired in your work


  • irritability
  • cynicism
  • boredom
  • losing focus
  • easily overwhelmed like everything is hard

Physical symptoms can be:

  • utter exhaustion
  • slogging through the day
  • achy muscles
  • heavy limbs

People have researched burnout and published on it and one of the popular researchers is Dr. Christina Maslach.  She’s a sociology professor at University of California, Berkeley.

She came up with a construct of 6 factors that contribute to workplace burnout.

  1. work overload
  2. lack of control of your work
  3. insufficient rewards
  4. workplace community problems
  5. lack of fairness (ex. Unequal pay/workload)
  6. conflict between personal values and job requirements


Dr. Maslach is particularly focused on workplace burnout which is a huge player in how people can get burned out.  But I’m proposing that as a working mom, even if you don’t have these these things going on in your workplace, you can still get burned out just from the overload of work and home responsibilities.  I think even if you love your job and things are going well, if you are spread too thin you can still manifest burnout or near burnout.

Now you may notice that this can look very similar to depression. So how do you know the difference between depression and burnout?  It’s really a matter of severity and intensity. 

Depression is a biological disorder where people can have changes in their mood like actually feeling depressed or irritable.  There are also other symptoms like not being able to concentrate or focus, sleeping too little or too much, changes in your appetite (eating too much or to little), no motivation to do things, unable to enjoy anything, feeling worthless and hopeless and you may even get to the point where you think a lot about death. 

To meet the criteria for depression five or more of these types of symptoms.   Why five?  Because with depression it really is a constellation of many symptoms that affect your mood, thinking and body functions.  So if you have a day of feeling worthless, it doesn’t mean you’re depressed.

Depression can come on with no trigger or it may happen after a major setback like a death in the family, losing your job or a relationship break up.  Also for it to be considered depression you must have all those symptoms for two weeks.  This is to differentiate from the occasional day or two of being in a funk. 

The last part about diagnosing depression is that all these symptoms must cause some serious change in how you function.  This could look like being unable to get out of bed and go to work or isolating from friends and family.  I’ve seen a number of people who aren’t even bathing anymore. 

So back to burnout.  It may be hard to tell the difference between being burned out and being depressed.  You can certainly be both.  But for someone who is burned out but not depressed, I would expect that person to still be slogging through their responsibilities but they’re just not happy inside and don’t feel fulfilled.  They may have to cynicism thing going on, but it’s not to point where it’s destroying relationships.

Why does this matter?  Well if you’re burned out but you’re not depressed, antidepressants probably are not going to do much for you.  You may get some lift in your mood, but it’s not going to change your exasperation with your work situation and/or home life.  The solution to the burnout involves a lot more than taking a pill.

So what do you do to keep from getting to this point?  Well there’s a lot of ways to prevent and manage this and I can’t cover all of them today, but let me give a two of strategies to prevent burnout. 

The first and foremost is making sure you are getting 7-9 hours of sleep.  This has to be a priority.  I hear all the time – I don’t have time to sleep that long I still have work to do when I get home.  I’m telling you – if you do not get adequate sleep you will not function at your best.  So work that takes you one hour to do make two hours if you don’t’ get enough sleep.  And I know those late night hours where everybody else is asleep and it’s peaceful and quiet seems like the perfect time to get your work done. But the two hours that you spend in the wee hours of the night doing that work,  you could probably spend 30 minutes or an hour doing earlier in the morning after you’ve slept or even at work making your workday more productive. 

It’s not always obvious than this could be the benefit and it’s one of those things you just have to trust the system and try it.  Are you someone who has trouble falling asleep? I often ask people what time do you go to bed and the answer I get is it depends. That’s the wrong answer just like poplars and kids need a routine we still need a routine as well.   So that means you need to set a consistent bedtime because your body operates on a clock and it very much wants to fall asleep around the same time every night.  Once you set your bedtime let’s just say it’s 10 o’clock you need to have a wind down period the hour before you go to bed.

The second strategy to preventing or managing burnout is to take a 15-30 minute break in the middle of your work day or in the late afternoon.  This is the equivalent of giving yourself a reboot.  What should you do during this time?  You can meditate or even listen to peaceful music.  If you do it at lunch, you can eat lunch at the same time.  But it’s not a reboot if your checking emails.  That’s not mental downtime.

So these are two thing you can try to get or keep yourself on track toward maximizing your internal resources so you can deal effectively with all your responsibilities.