Which subtype of burnout do you have?

When asked recently by a client in session whether everyone I am seeing lately is experiencing burnout, I barely let her finish her question before I blurted, “Oh, hell yes.” Perhaps if I’d paused another moment, I could have come up with a handful of exceptions, but in our current landscape, I think I’d be hard-pressed. 

Despite the seeming universality of burnout these days, it’s clear that we’re not all functioning exactly the same. Some of us are throwing ourselves into projects, almost obsessively, while others have started saying no to pretty much every opportunity or invitation. And some of us are in the fetal positions under our covers whenever we can be. 

The differences in our responses to burnout may be a function of the three distinct subtypes of burnout. What’s often been discussed as a singular syndrome is actually a constellation of three somewhat unique experiences. 

The commonality in the experience of burnout is that it results from prolonged chronic stress. It’s usually associated with work, but it can relate to any role that we play. 

The Frenetic 

The frenetic burnout is the subtype that is best at hiding the classic symptoms of burnout. Rather than appearing emotionally drained, this is the person who might appear to be running on all cylinders – but that’s the problem. In this version of burnout, we are operating as highly ambitious, but overwhelmed and frazzled. Despite the fact that our needs are going regularly unmet, we continue to pour ourselves into our roles, almost in an attempt to outrun our exhaustion. 

The Under-Stimulated

We all require a degree of challenge to stay motivated and engaged. The person who is underchallenged in their work or life ends up feeling bored and indifferent, struggling to summon the motivation to continue on. There is a lack of a sense of purpose, something critical to our well-being. There’s also too little positive stress and this results in underperformance, lethargy, and even depression in some cases. 

The Worn Out 

This might be the picture of burnout that most closely resembles the picture in our minds. Unlike the underchallenged person, when we are worn out, we’re often challenged but lacking the resources to meet the challenges. We care a lot about what we are doing, but the structure isn’t there to support what we are trying to do. This often results in feeling we don’t have control over the outcome of our efforts and/or that we’re not being acknowledged for how hard we are trying. 

You might see yourself in one of these three subtypes, or in a combination of them. If you do, take heart that there are strategies to recover from burnout that lead back to a life of energy, engagement, and purpose. 

If you are interested in joining our upcoming new Thrive Circle, Burnout Recovery, join the waitlist!

Dr. Ashley Solomon is the founder of Galia Collaborative, an organization dedicated to helping women heal, thrive, and lead. She works with individuals, teams, and companies to empower women with modern mental healthcare and the tools they need to amplify their impact in a messy world.

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