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Stress, burnout and languishing

Having good mental health isn't just an absence of mental illness - it's where you psychologically thrive & flourish. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression don’t just appear out of nowhere, and mental health is a spectrum.

Teen girl focusing on her breath

Feeling stressed, burnt out or even just ‘meh’ can be a warning sign of future mental illness. Luckily, there are things you can do to feel better and prevent mental health issues from developing. 

Is it stress or burnout? And what’s the difference? 

Here are some signs you may be experiencing stress or burnout.

Signs you’re experiencing stress

  • Happens suddenly – and normally has a specific cause e.g. a big assignment coming up 
  • You’re physically exhausted 
  • You feel anxious, overwhelmed and exhausted 
  • You have physical symptoms like irritability, headaches, stomach aches and trouble sleeping 
  • Feeling ‘too much’ - you have too much to do, everything feels urgent, you're under too much pressure 
  • You want to do well at school/in this project/assignment/test 

Signs you’re experiencing burnout

  • Happens gradually 
  • You’re emotionally exhausted 
  • You feel flat, down, cynical (distrustful of others), and depressed 
  • You feel disconnected and detached 
  • You have no energy/motivation to do well 
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference anyway 
  • You don’t feel like yourself (‘depersonalisation’) 

What is burnout? And is it the same thing as stress?

Burnout is caused by cumulative stress (ongoing stress that adds up over time), but it’s not the same thing as stress.  

Stress is normally short-term, and is where you just have ‘too much’ - too much to do, too overwhelmed, and so on. Stress is generally a response to something external (’outside of you’), like too many assignments due at once, or an exam period. 

Burnout, on the other hand, is longer-lasting and is where you feel like you’re running on empty. You’re tired, you’re done, and you have absolutely no interest in school or work (or whatever activity you’re burnt out from). It seems so purposeless/meaningless, and you just have nothing left to give. 

Wait, so are stress and anxiety the same thing then? 

Nope, not exactly. Stress and anxiety are different – but they do overlap.

Stress is a physical (body) response to something external (like having too much to do).  

Anxiety, on the other hand is an internal response without something ‘causing’ it.  

Stress does play a role in anxiety, but they’re not the same thing. You can have stress without anxiety, but if you're anxious, you will have aspects of stress (because anxiety does involve some physical/body stress responses).

If anxiety was a maths problem, it would look like this: 

Anxiety = stress (body) + worry (mind) + ‘false alarm’ (i.e. no known cause/no single cause) 

Because stress, anxiety and burnout are all technically different things, you can actually have all three at once! 

Surely it can’t get any worse? Oh, but it can. Introducing... languishing. 

What on earth is languishing?

44% of you told us you’re languishing right now – and it’s an important mental health warning sign

Mental health exists on a spectrum. At one end are people who are absolutely thriving, and have great mental health. At the other are people who are struggling with mental health issues.

A Spectrum on mental health with text People who are struggling with mental health issues, like depression. What about if you sit here?! and People with great mental health, who are totally thriving

Languishing is a term used to describe people who are somewhere in the middle. 

If you’re languishing, you’re not experiencing mental ill-health – but your mental health isn’t exactly flourishing either. People sometimes describe it like they’re muddling along, or like they’re just in survival mode.  

It’s normal to languish some of the time, and maybe languishing doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But languishing for too long can double your chances of becoming depressed, and can also lead to anxiety, too. 

Am I languishing?

Here are the signs or red flags you’re totally languishing right now. 

  • You feel ‘blah’ or ‘meh’ or you’re in a rut 
  • You’re not sad, but you’re not happy either 
  • You feel low, but don’t feel super depressed, worthless or hopeless 
  • You’re feeling bored or like you’re stuck in limbo 
  • You feel apathetic (like you don’t really care about stuff), and you’ve lost interest in stuff you used to be super into 
  • You technically still have ok energy, but you’re really unmotivated 
  • These feelings apply to all aspects of your life (not just school or work) 

Languishing and burnout are different. Burnout is a school/study/work experience, while languishing affects all aspects of your life. 

So, you’ve figured out whether it’s stress, burnout or languishing. Here’s what to do next!

Coping with stress, burnout and languishing

If your mental health is so-so, you can talk about it 

You don’t need to be in crisis in order to get support. 

Getting help early can stop things from getting worse.

Learning to manage your stress can prevent things like burnout or languishing from showing up. And burnout is one of those things that is, unfortunately, hard to give the boot on your own.

We also know from research that languishing can be a depression early warning sign.

So, if you’re struggling with stress, burnout or languishing, and you can’t seem to get through it on your own, why not give us a call, start a webchat, or join our peer support social platform My Circle.

Wanna talk to people ✨just like you✨?

Join My Circle - the free, private, safe and anonymous social platform for 13-25 year olds. 

Sign up now to find your circle!

This content was last reviewed 07/03/2024

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