Are You Tired or Are You Burnt Out? Here's What a Psychologist Wants You to Know

In our fast-paced, switched-on society, exhaustion and burnout have become synonymous and can stem from personal commitments or circumstances as well as being exacerbated by work deadlines and demands.

Being tired is nothing new, and we all know that a poor sleep routine or habits like excessive caffeine and alcohol, can inhibit the body's natural sleep cycle. As a result, you're bound to feel lethargic and your daily tasks will automatically become more difficult to complete, which can drastically alter your mood and lead to feelings of anxiety and depression down the track. But when does simply being tired become burnout?

To differentiate between the two and discover solutions to manage these feelings, we asked Clinical Psychologist Rachel Samson to provide her expertise on the topic.

What is the difference between fatigue and burnout?

Rachel says that feeling tired is actually a natural state of wanting sleep or rest, and that the feeling will usually reduce once you finally get a proper night of sleep and adequate rest.

Burnout, on the other hand, "is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress". Burnout is much more complex, and Rachel explains it may not resolve until a person starts to make changes that reduce the amount of stress they're experiencing.

So now that we know what these commonly-used terms mean, we looked into what causes them and how you can alleviate common symptoms that go hand in hand with feeling tired or burnt out.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Many of Rachel's clients report feelings of tiredness and burnout, and some of the accompanying symptoms she has documented include muscle aches and pains, changes in appetite and sleep, withdrawal and a decrease in motivation. These side effects are singularly enough to have a large influence on the way you feel, so it's important to understand the causes behind the symptoms.

According to Rachel, humans are "not equipped to deal with the demands and stressors associated with our modern fast-paced world". Our lives seem to get busier and busier as time goes on, and with advances in technology that demand we stay 'on' 24/7 and a shift away from a traditional work week, the term 'work-life balance' seems to be unattainable for many.

How to overcome fatigue and burnout

Just the thought of all your work and personal commitments can send you into a downward spiral, so here are Rachel's top ways to overcome these dreaded feelings:

  • Have realistic expectations of what you can achieve at work and home.

  • Take regular breaks during the day, ensure you have sufficient sleep at night, and take a day off when you need a longer rest.

  • Speak to your employer about work stress before you get burnout!

  • Don’t try to do everything on your own. Ask for support from friends, family, and colleagues.

  • If you notice yourself experiencing the signs of burnout, consider seeking professional help from a counsellor or psychologist who may help you to develop a plan to manage burnout.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

For more from Rachel, follow her on Instagram.

It's not just burnout you need to be aware of - 'languishing' is 2021's new burnout that seems to be affecting many people. Here are the symptoms to look out for, according to a psychologist.

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