How To Avoid Burnout If You Have High-Functioning Anxiety And Depression

Five vertical matches, each of which represents varying levels of burnout

Anxiety, depression, and burnout zap the joy out of life. Sometimes they co-occur and may be hard to distinguish from one another. Avoiding burnout if you have high functioning (or not so high functioning) anxiety or depression can be extra tricky. Especially with overlapping signs and symptoms. And, because of anxiety and depression, your resilience to stress is less than it would otherwise be. Anxiety and depression lower your threshold for staying engaged in life. That lower threshold makes burnout more likely.

What is burnout? How do you know if you are burned out?

This is a good question. You need to know what you’re looking for in order to identify it and do something about it.

Burnout can happen to anyone and goes deeper than merely feeling tired and stressed. When burned out, people feel mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Drained. They tend to be pessimistic and feel like they have nothing left to give. Dealing with everyday responsibilities becomes too much. Even getting out of bed is daunting.

The backside of a woman sitting on the edge of a bed looking out the window while in her bathrobe.

Burnout happens as a result of chronic stress.

A common example is caretaking while juggling other home and work demands. Or exposure to negative health or political news day after day.

The recent political climate surrounding the 2020 election led to burnout for many, as has living through the Pandemic.

Along with an increase is burnout rates, anxiety and depression rates have also increased during this time.

Burnout tends not to go away on its own.

Its signs include exhaustion, isolation, anxiety, depression, and feeling numb. The emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion of burnout worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

When a battery loses its charge, it must be recharged in order to function. Burnout creates the same scenario for us humans.

What is high functioning anxiety?

The term “high functioning” anxiety is not a real thing in the world of official diagnoses. There are no objective criteria. But we all kind of know what the phrase is referring to.

For some people, high functioning anxiety may refer to a person who worries, stresses out, and has episodes of physical signs of Anxiety. Examples include increased heart rate, headaches, and racing thoughts. But, she does not show any symptoms to the world. For others it may mean periodic anxiety symptoms that do not last long enough or become intense enough to interfere with their day to day life.

Let’s say a person with high functioning anxiety does not appear anxious on the outside. In fact, she appears to have her act together. She is kind, friendly, productive, and organized. This hypothetical high functioning person with anxiety does not appear anxious. However, on the inside she overthinks everything and often believes she can’t measure up. She’s filled with self doubt and has difficulty saying ‘no’ to requests.

What is high functioning depression?

The term “high functioning” depression, just like “high functioning” anxiety, is not clinically valid nor a real thing diagnostically. In other words, there is no standard definition. Different people may mean different things by the phrase “high functioning”. For some, it may suggest having symptoms of depression, such as sadness, low energy, appetite changes, and insomnia. BUT, that person purposely doesn’t outwardly display any depression symptoms. Instead, on the outside, the person appears to be functioning well in life – at work, home, and with friends and family. High functioning depression could also refer to people who have bouts of depression that are short lived, relatively mild, and don’t cause much derailment in their life .

Anxiety and depression are considered psychiatric conditions. Burnout is a reaction to stress.

There are treatments for anxiety and depression. The usual ‘treatment’ for burnout is to take time off. Or to recharge your ‘battery’ in some other way that involves resting and restoring. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Especially for the majority of people who don’t have the kind of financial or job security or back-up contingencies to be able to take time off.

The emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion of burnout worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The ways to avoid burnout are similar whether you have high functioning anxiety and depression or not.

How can you avoid burnout if you have high functioning anxiety and depression?

If you’re already anxious and depressed, you’re more prone to burnout. Recognizing and addressing anxiety and depression before they are worsened by burnout is tough but certainly ideal. If your stress tolerance is low due to anxiety and depression, going below that bar into the burnout zone doesn’t take much.

Self-awareness is key to avoiding burnout. So is self-care.

You decrease the likelihood of burnout by prioritizing self care. Maybe that means going for more walks. Talking more often with friends. Or saying ‘no’ more consistently to requests at work. Whatever it is that helps you to replenish. Maybe it is even that Netflix series you watch while your puppy is snuggled up next to you.

Or, my favorite, visit nature. Go outside and get a few breaths of fresh air. Look around at the trees, smell the flowers, feel the breeze on your cheeks.

Self-care is often more of a mindset than a prescription for pedicures and bubble baths. (But those are ok too!)

It is about being on your own side. Treating yourself as you would a loved one.

The likelihood of burnout decreases when self-care is part of your daily routine. Even if you’re working long hours or taking care of elderly parents. Your obligation is to add moments of joy and/or peace into each day. Again, it is a mindset.

Small self-care gestures can stop stress from taking over and causing burnout. And those same gestures – talking with loved ones for support, being playful, finding things to laugh about, being outside in nature–are helpful for general well being anyway.


I am a MA licensed psychologist in private practice. If you’re struggling with anxiety and depression, and would like to learn more about working with me, please contact me here.

9 Steps For Overcoming Body Image Issues

The back of a woman, who is sitting on a grassy hill overlooking a body of water

How often do you control, starve, punish, speak harshly to your body? Or about your body? Overcoming body image issues is challenging for most women, and, most women have them. It just seems to go along with being a woman. (And, increasingly, a man.)

The mean things you may do and say about your body happen automatically, without you even realizing it. And the self-bullying only worsens body image. Your body hears everything you say or think about it.

The good news is that overcoming body image issues is possible.

Although no one article, tool, wisdom, fad, or behavior that will flip a switch. But, when you use a combination of these 9 steps, you’ll know how you can successfully fall back in love with your body.

Infant girl joyfully looking at her own reflection & playing pattycake.

Toddlers rejoice about the size of their thighs and round bellies!

The 9 Steps:

1. Be aware.

Thoughts turn into actions and actions turns into character. The mind is the powerful aspect of the human body.

Buddha

  • Awareness of how you speak to yourself means you recognize and can therefore change your self-talk to make it more accurate and neutral. By self-talk, I am referring to thoughts.
  • Instead of thinking “my stomach is disgusting and looks like I am carrying twins”, you could simply say “right now I am feeling dissatisfied with how my stomach looks and feels.” The first thought is mean, untrue, and self deprecating. The latter is true and in the moment. Awareness of thoughts means you can gently question their validity and reframe them.
  • Every time you think a particular thought, that thought is strengthened. We are always practicing something. When we think a thought, we are practicing thinking that thought. Be aware of what you’re thinking/practicing and therefore what you’re strengthening. (The fancy term for this is neuroplasticity.)
  • Neuroplasticity means we can actually change thought patterns and behaviors. We can develop a new mindset, new skills, and new abilities.
  • Your body hears, internalizes, and feels everything you say about it. Be aware. Be deliberate.

2. Be here, now.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

Buddha

  • Your body carries history and brings you into the future, yet the here and now, in time and space, IS your body.
  • In any given moment, your relationship with your body is a blend of the past and present; biology, culture, and the environment; emotions, perception, and behaviors.
  • The more immersed in the past or the future your body image is, the less present you are in the here and now. And, the here and now is all any of us has.
  • If you are not in the here and now, you are missing out on presence in your own life. Instead, you’re immersed in judgey, self-critical chatter about the past and future.
  • When in the here and now, you are more likely to notice the deep burgundy color of leaves, melody of robins chirping, and the overall beauty surrounding you.

3. Be-yond objectification.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 173342686_4296453640401174_4413721931241588586_n-1.jpg
  • Body image is a relationship. It is the relationship you have with your body. Like all relationships, the depth of the relationship is something over which you have some agency.
  • When we objectify our body, we relate to it as if it is a thing. An object to manipulate. Something to focus on, i.e. size and shape. Unidimensional. Like a shoe, pillow, or toaster.
  • Consider if an objectified relationship is the kind you want with your body.
  • Cultural messages are designed for you to believe your body is not good enough, that your relationship must be conflictual.
  • Advertisers and social media are brilliant at promoting body as enemy. Relationships with enemies are rarely neutral or happy.
  • What if you embraced with delight, or at least accepted with neutrality, the whole of you?


4. Be on your own side.

  • Your body is with you for life. It will carry you through life’s ups and downs.
  • Your body will age, experience illness and injury, and change. Everything does.
  • Your body provides you with feedback about emotions, health, the environment and so much more.
  • The more friendly you are in the relationship with your own body, the more you will be able to access its wealth of knowledge.



5. Be joyous.

A joyous woman in a pool, seated in an inflatable and smiling
  • Your body is your own personal pleasure source. Sensory capacities are your gateway into joy.
  • Stop for a moment. Look, listen, feel, taste, smell.
  • BREATHE. That breath of air? That is life.

6. Be active.

a paddle for a kayak
A woman's feet in purple sneakers on a skateboard.
  • Your body is a type of instrument, and not just an ornament.
  • Your body, in water or on the ground, is meant for you to enjoy; it is not just something to decorate.
  • Regardless of age, health, or size, your body has the capacity to move.
  • Maybe the movement is dipping your toe into an ocean’s wave, as it comes to shore. Or stretching your fingers. How about expanding your lungs with a deep breath in, and contracting them with your exhale. Or skateboarding in purple sparkle sneakers.

7. Be courageous.

  • How about tapping into your well of courage and experimenting with these body image recommendations?
  • Be a rebel and be the change you wish for the world.
  • Choose one of these 9 ideas and notice how you feel in and about your body.
  • You DO have agency with your body….especially when you are on your own side.
Well-Behaved Women Round Magnet

8. Be respectful.

  • Your body does hear everything you think.
  • Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your body. Or at least not cruel.
  • Speak to yourself as you would a friend.
  • Consider all your body has carried you through.
  • Have thanks. Give yourself grace.

9. Be you

  • “You” are made up of all the amazing people who came before you. You may have your mom’s hips. Or your grandmother’s ears. Or your dad’s eyes.
  • Your body contains the genetics of your ancestors. You are a walking family tree.

Body image issues are complex. Overcoming them takes time, awareness, and trust.

Start with one of the ideas. Add another as you are ready. You don’t need to do all at once. One step at a time.

Remember to love yourself. Once you do, everything will fall into place.

I am a non-diet, Certified Intuitive Eating specialist and clinical psychologist in MA. If you’re struggling with your body image and/or an eating disorder, and want to chat with me, please contact me here.