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Is This Really Burnout?!

Is This Really Burnout?!

by Amanda Smith LCSW

I remember the first time I heard the word “Burn-out.” It was this eye-opening and almost magical “aha” moment when I realized that I needed to make a big life change. I needed that word. It perfectly described my ailment and helped me realize that I was, indeed, burnt out.

Sometimes words are like that. Sometimes a simple phrase can help us fully articulate thoughts and feelings that we didn’t even know we had much less understood. A few simple words can help us take that seemingly big huge step that we’ve been meaning to take. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. The main premise of CBT is the idea that our thoughts affect our feelings and actions. Therefore, having the right words to articulate our needs can empower us and motivate us to take some big healthy actions.

However, in CBT, the converse is also true. Sometimes we adopt a word that isn’t quite the right fit. Therefore, this can lead to conflicting feelings and over, or under, reactions. Many times in life, we may have felt overwhelmed, exhausted, overworked, overstimulated, tired, unmotivated, irritated, annoyed, or just plain maxed out, but not necessarily burnt out. “Burn-out” is a pretty strong phrase- the kind of phrase that signals that something in your life is metaphorically and seemingly literally on fire. It conveys that we need to make a drastic life-altering change to protect our mental and or physical health.

The thing is, we often use the word “burn-out” to describe feelings and situations that are just not quite at that point. We may feel many complex emotions, but not to the level of needing to pull the fire alarm, evacuate, and run for dear life. “Burnt out” may not be the word our brain needs to hear at this time. Sometimes we are just plain overwhelmed, which is much a more tolerable word from a CBT perspective. It provides a sense that we may need a break but keeps us from feeling like the sky is actually falling. The way we handle “overwhelm” is often much different than how we might tackle actual burn-out.

This is all to say, if you are truly feeling a sense of “burn-out” let that be a word of wisdom to help you navigate and make changes to some of the more difficult and taxing areas of your life. But if you’ve attached this label to things that are overwhelming yet tolerable, you may want to come up with a better, more palatable way to describe it

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