Feeling Overwhelmed? Burnout Might Be To Blame

Feb 17, 2021

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND


Have you looked at your to-do list recently and thought “how am I ever going to get it all done?” We are currently living in a world where we are time crunched and over-scheduled. We have work demands, personal life demands and demands from even our pets that can make us feel overwhelmed.

Being overwhelmed by mounting demands can show up in all kinds of ways – from missing deadlines, to not caring, to failing to return a phone call, to running late to meetings and to exploding at your partner or loved ones. We tend to be more impatient in grocery stores or traffic, easily blame others and we can feel as though the littlest change is a world of hurt.

Both overwhelm and burnout should be taken seriously. If we’re frequently overwhelmed at work, it’s a sign that we’re suffering from too much stress and may indeed be on the path toward burnout. Burnout results from a combination of factors, and overwhelm can be one of them.

Dealing with constant change, shifting priorities, high expectations, 24/7 connectivity, and the need to do more with less makes for a stressful workplace. It’s well known that ongoing stress has negative health effects. There’s also an awareness that burnout is a serious concern in the workplace. And this isn’t just a concern, the data supports it.

Data from 2019 shows that nearly 96% of all senior managers believe their employees may be experiencing some level of burnout. And 95% of Canadian workers said they are at least somewhat burned out, found another survey by the staffing firm. As to what’s causing it? Workers ranked first constant interruptions and putting out fires, while senior managers cited unmanageable workloads, found the survey of more than 600 senior managers.

And this was before the lockdowns started.

But how do we tell the difference between feeling overwhelmed and burnt out? We examine 5 areas.

Disengagement versus Over-Engagement

Some level stress is normal when you’re faced with a challenge. But if you’re able to rise up and focus on the work, you’re probably not burnt out. You could definitely feel overwhelmed, but that makes sense given the scenario. If you’re feeling disengaged, not caring, and not wanting to put the work in that could be a tell tale sign you’re experiencing burnout.

No Feelings versus Over-Reactive Emotions

People experiencing burnout may feel very numb to scenarios. It’s like you’ve become too emotionally exhausted to react. If you’re reacting to constant interruptions with irritation or annoyance however, that makes sense. No-one likes to have their work flow broken up. A blunted reaction, though, is very indicative of burnout.

Detachment versus Worry

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload, it would be very normal to experience a bit of worry. Will you manage to achieve your goals, are you anxious about completing the task in front of you? But burnout causes a detached feeling to your work. If you’re not worried about your workload or your tasks and instead you’re feeling detached you have a much stronger possibility of experiencing burnout. It’s like your brain has just given up.

“Nothing Is Going To Get Better” versus “If I Can Figure This Out, It Will Be OK”

If you’re struggling to get everything under control, trying to juggle multiple responsibilities, you may be feeling overwhelmed. But if you are burned out you no longer see any hope of getting things under control. You have lost interest in juggling and have stopped trying because everything seems hopeless.

A Sense of Giving Up versus Urgency

With important deadlines looming, you could very easily feel a little bit of urgency to get things done. This is an appropriate response if you can muster the energy and the focus to use that sense of urgency for good. But the apathetic response that burnout can cause shows us that you just don’t care. You don’t want to muster the energy, and sometimes you can’t even do it.

By addressing overwhelm at work, we can promote a healthier workplace that supports mental wellness. The benefits to individuals are important and include better health overall and greater peace of mind. The benefits to the organization can include improved teamwork, higher productivity, higher retention rates, and employees who are more grounded and focused on the mission of their work.


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