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  • Writer's pictureFiona Murray


What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion in an individual. It can interfere in a person’s ability to manage in their everyday life. During burnout, mental, emotional, and even physical resources have become depleted, and there is an imperative need for rest. The exhaustion of burnout is often a result of trying to do too much for too long.

Signs & Symptoms

During an episode of burnout, it may feel difficult or even impossible to keep up with ordinary daily tasks.

Here are some common areas of struggle, and signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing burnout:

· Problems with executive function and struggling to get started on tasks and make decisions

· Difficulty with self-regulation

· Difficulty with activities of daily living like cooking, cleaning, dressing, or self-care

· Difficulty with speech and communication

· Difficulty with social interactions and potential for social fatigue

· Increased sensory sensitivities

· Increased emotions

· Needing more time alone to rest and recharge

· Difficulty with cognition and memory

· Needing more sleep and rest, but also possible difficulty sleeping.

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout happens when a person is overwhelmed, overloaded, and has been generally operating beyond capacity. Burnout can occur during times of major stress or transition, like puberty, moving, or starting at a new school or job.

Burnout is also possible even if there are no major changes, or no new stressors introduced, but when a person has been spending mental and energetic resources keeping up with the demands of life for a sustained period of time, and now those resources are exhausted.

What Can I Do If I’m Experiencing Burnout?

If you are experiencing burnout, know that it is most often temporary, and that you can move toward feeling better if you take care to rest and recharge as much as possible. Although you may still have obligations to work, school, or others in your life during this time, some modifications can be helpful and essential for getting through periods of burnout until you feel your energy levels begin to return again.

Recovering From Burnout

Although it is difficult to predict how long burnout might last, moving towards recovery can be possible if you give yourself the time and space to regain your energy. If you find yourself in a state of burnout, reduce demands wherever possible. If there are any obligations on your schedule that aren’t immediately essential, cancel or delay them. Paring down obligations to require the least energy output can be crucial in getting through this time and starting to feel better.

During burnout, you may find that your sensory needs become more pronounced. Make adjustments to your home or work environment which can better support your sensory needs. Pay attention to any sources of sensory stimuli that suddenly feel overwhelming or uncomfortable and adjust them as needed.

For an infusion of energy, spend more time with special interests or preferred music, movies, or TV shows. Note the elements that bring you joy and increase your energy levels, and build those into your routine as much as possible—even if it’s just taking a few moments to listen to a favourite song.

Often, one of the most powerful tools to get through burnout is knowing that you can come out the other side of it and feel better again. During times when it may be easy to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel, it can be helpful to talk to other people who have also experienced burnout and recovered or to a professional who can help you work out how to prevent burnout happening again.

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