What burnout may look like, what the causes are, how to cope, and when it may become necessary to seek out mental health support.
All of us have moments when we say to ourselves, "I can't do this anymore." Usually,
these are times when you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed, and unable to manage
In other words, if you're saying to yourself, "I can't do this anymore," you might be
experiencing the symptoms of burnout.1
Reaching a breaking point like this isn't enjoyable, but when looked at the right way,
it can be thought of as a wake-up call to make some changes in your life, and to figure
out new ways of managing your stress.
Let's take a look at what burnout may look like, what the causes are, how to cope, and
when it may become necessary to seek out mental health support.
What "I can't do this anymore" feels like
When the words "I can't do this anymore" pop into your head, you are usually at a place
in your life where you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically unable to cope with
Burnout can happen to anyone at any time but is most commonly experienced by working people,
students or people in caregiving types of roles (parents, people caring for older
Burnout isn't the same as feeling generally tired or overwhelmed.1 Usually, people who are
experiencing burnout have been trying their best to keep it together, but then one thing
after another piled up, and they just didn't have the strength to continue.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that there are three defining characteristics of
burnout. The WHO classification of burnout pertains to burnout at work, but these characteristics
can apply to other situations that might cause you to experience intense overwhelm and defeat.2
Signs of burnout
The three main characteristics of occupational burnout are:2
- Depleted energy and exhaustion
- Negative feelings, cynicism, and a desire to distance oneself from work
- Feeling unable to continue to be professional and effective
If you are experiencing burnout, you may have gotten to the point where you feel a lack of empathy
towards others, and a feeling like you "just don't care" anymore.3 You may feel as though nothing
you do really matters, and that you are unable to accomplish anything.3
Burnout and feeling like you "can't do this anymore" can have physical manifestations as well. You may experience
headaches, stomachaches, muscle soreness, and altered sleep and eating patterns.4 Burnout can increase the
risk of substance abuse as well,4 and people who are feeling burnt out may turn to drugs and alcohol for soothing.
Burnout vs. other mental health issues
You can experience burnout whether or not you struggle with other mental health conditions. But it's important
to distinguish between feelings of burnout and mental health conditions like depression so that you can
get a proper diagnosis and treatment.1
Both burnout and depression can include feelings of exhaustion, depletion, detachment, sadness, and feeling unable
to complete tasks. But while burnout can be treated by taking a few days off work, switching jobs, or practicing
self-care, those things aren't adequate for treating depression.1
Identifying the causes
Burnout usually is related to work, school or caregiving roles but it can happen to anyone who is experiencing
a build-up of stress or finds themselves in a situation where their resources are depleting quickly, especially
if they are not getting outside support.
Many people are experiencing burnout right now in light of COVID-19. Burnout is on the rise and you are not alone
if you are experiencing it.
Some of the individuals most prone to burnout include nurses, dentists, medical doctors, teachers, and social
workers,3 but anyone who works in a job rife with responsibilities and pressure is vulnerable to
burnout. People who are part of marginalized communities, and social justice activists may be prone to signs of
burnout as well.5
The most common cause of burnout include:4
- A pile-on of responsibilities or tasks
- Lack of support at work or in a caregiving role
- Not feeling listened to or heard
- Taking on too many responsibilities at once
- Not practicing self-care, or not having the ability to do so
- Feeling a lack of control over decisions6
How to cope with feeling this way
If you are in a place where you are saying to yourself, "I can't do this anymore," you shouldn't feel that
you are less than or inadequate in any way. Often, when someone has reached this point, it's because there
is too much on their plate. The truth is, there's only so much one person can handle.
So one of the first things you can do if you have reached a breaking point is to assess your life
responsibilities and see if there is anything that can be changed.7
Ask yourself questions like:
- "Is there anything I can take off of my plate and delegate to others?"
- "Is there anyone I can call on to help me with my children/parents/people I am responsible for?"
"Can I afford to hire someone to help me around the house while I deal with my work or caregiving
responsibilities? Are there people in my family who can pitch in more with household chores?"
- "Are there commitments in my life that I can eliminate or postpone for now as I try to manage my other responsibilities?"
In addition to trying to change your life circumstances so that they are more manageable, there are some
self-care techniques that you may consider adopting to help manage your feelings and your energy so that
you don't continue to feel bogged down quite so much.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends:5
- Mindfulness and meditation: Taking 5 to 10-minute mindfulness breaks during your days can make a huge difference
- Exercise: Both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training are effective methods of managing burnout
- Maintain strong boundaries: Make a point not to be "on" at all times; unplug from your work during evening and weekends
- Build a supporting social circle: Having colleagues to vent to, or other people in your circle who understand what you are going through, can be therapeutic
- Consider therapy or counseling: Many therapists specialize in burnout and can help you figure out how to move through this difficult time
Sometimes people are quick to brush off feelings of "I can't do this anymore," thinking that they should try
to toughen up or push themselves through. But burnout is a real thing, and if left unaddressed, it can
have consequences for your emotional, physical, and mental health.4
The truth is, addressing your feelings of burnout isn't a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Most of
all, you deserve to feel confident, well, and whole. Try not to get discouraged. You can start addressing
burnout by making even one small change today. Small changes add up and have a big impact on how you feel.