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  • Writer's pictureTyler N. Tolson

"Why can't I just sleep this off?": Burnout

illustration from healthline

A term that is generally used to describe constant and unrelenting stress that manifests over time can result in “burnout”— most simply explained by thinking of what it must mean to “run on empty.” Though it can be described as something insignificant and as something easily solvable with a quick fix, that can be very far from the case. Burnout can be a precursor to troubling coping patterns and worsening mental health.

Burnout can differ amongst individuals, and it is important to be able to understand the varying degrees of burnout, as treatment may vary and care may look different for each person. Some examples of burnout may be: having a jam-packed schedule, being involved in an emotionally-strenuous relationship or job, having limitless and/or demanding goals and deadlines, disproportionate responsibilities ALL without room for positive mental health hygiene practices. It is also possible that combinations of reasons create burnout— though specialists disagree about where burnout ends and depression or other possible environmentally-influenced disorders begin.

The three key characteristics of burnout are: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

Anyone, at any time, can suffer from burnout when they sacrifice their own welfare for something that is considered a “greater good,” whether that good is ultimately for their longterm benefit or the benefit of someone or something else.

Common Symptoms:

-chronic fatique


-inattentiveness, difficulty focusing

-unexplained constant physical pain




-loss of appetite

-decreased immunity

Non-Traumatic and Traumatic Burnout

Some kinds of burnout are for different reasons— typically split into two categories: traumatic burnout and non-traumatic burnout. Both traumatic and non-traumatic burnout are be distinguished by the source of the burnout, which we will assess briefly here.

Non-traumatic burnout is typically characterized by the source of stress being applied pressure to oneself or to another’s expectation without a traumatic basis. This typically looks like burnout experienced by academics, career-climbers, and new parents.

For example, students will suffer from “academic burnout” if they are unable to cope with the stress of their workload, social life, and self-focus. If they are losing sleep, juggling with use of all of their mental and physical energy, they will likely eventually reach a point in which they will begin to feel like a slip from perfection will result in depressive or anxiety symptoms.

Traumatic burnout is typically characterized by the source of stress being from a traumatic event or series of events that contribute to daily overwhelming feelings and/or cognitive inhibition that commonly appears to be a prolonged state of apathy, demotivation, and avoidant responses to daily obligations.

For example, a person that has dealt with a devastating outcome of their hard work or belief system, or an aspect of harassment or abuse from an authority figure or friend in a specific setting may leave that person unable to cope with completing tasks that correlate with the actions necessary to complete daily activities that are connected to the source of trauma. Burnout can be exhibited without the longterm key symptoms and/or psychological effects of PTSD, but may maintain aspects of PTSD that leaves the person suffering with what appears to be a prolonged state of apathy, demotivation, and avoidant responses to daily obligations.

I think I may have burnout— What should I do?

Searching the web, you may come across many sources that use rhetoric synonymous with that of an eye roll when burnout is described, which can be a very dangerous thing. Burnout is not nearly researched as much as it should be, and can be debilitating in our day-to-day lives under the weight of expectations that we make ourselves or receive from others. Burnout is common, but it isn't anything to overlook or laugh off. Self-care and the right kind of guidance can make a world of difference to be able to recharge your 'batteries' again.

-Seek out a mental health professional to help you navigate the best treatment for you.

-Minimize what you are able to, allowing yourself to have rest

-Evaluate motivations— Is what you are working towards meaningful and right for you? If so, are there other ways to reach an alternative that is within reach?

-Reach out to friends, family

-Check out blogs, online resources, online/formal support groups

illustration from 99designs

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