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

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

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.

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