Stress. It’s a 6-letter word that everyone is familiar with. From a 7-year-old boy anxious about his first day of school to a hardworking employee who hasn’t had a vacation in years, stress is a natural response of any human being when faced with a situation that is overwhelming.
And while stress is often a commonly used buzzword as the primary cause for health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it is also often the direct cause for mental health issues like depression and sleep disorders.
Mental health issues come in waves. At times, you can apply an easy, band-aid fix like talking with a friend or choosing the best mattress for a good night’s sleep. Don’t underestimate these quick fixes though, even medical health professionals do recommend venting to a loved one or getting a good night’s sleep as simple ways to start feeling better.
But what if it becomes more serious? What if the stress that you’re experiencing in life leads to sleep deprivation? What if it causes you to burn out so bad that it’s actually debilitating? You can’t move, you can’t eat, you simply don’t have the energy to do anything.
Today, I’m going to talk about what links burn out and insomnia including some ways to help you manage it.
The Mayo Clinic defines insomnia as “a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.” It’s actually not uncommon for an average person to experience insomnia at least a few times in their lifetime. It could be the result of a traumatic event or, in some cases, a happy life event like looking after a newborn which can cause disrupted sleep.
Contrary to conventional belief, burnout isn’t actually the same as stress. However, relentless, uncompromising stress can lead to burnout. In short, while stress involves the overwhelming feeling of “too much”, burnout is the opposite – feeling “too little” or, in some serious cases, feeling nothing at all.
Herbert Freudenberger coined the word “burnout” and he described the condition as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Freudenberger’s definition is an apt way to describe someone who’s burnt out: incredibly exhausted, empty, and undermotivated.
Much like common emotional health issues like depression and other sleep disorders, when untreated, insomnia and burnout can destroy relationships, cause someone to lose their job, and even cause serious health conditions that may result in death.
The key to effectively treating both insomnia and burnout is to get down to the basics. More often than not, treating the underlying cause of a problem will resolve the problem itself. The next section discusses this in-depth.
One of the most common forms of depression and sleep disorders, insomnia, and burnout plague many Americans today. And what links the two? Stress.
Stress is the leading cause of insomnia and one of the main reasons why people often get burnt out. And sometimes, even with our best efforts, we can experience these conditions at the same time.
Consider this example scenario:
Alice works as a junior corporate lawyer in one of the busiest cities in the world, New York City. She’s just starting her career and the past two years she’s worked 90-hour workweeks, every single week; sometimes even more. Alice barely has time to rest and recharge. And, recently, she’s experienced difficulty sleeping and has come to work feeling empty and unmotivated.
The first time it started, she did simple things like choosing the best mattress for a good night’s sleep. That’s helped tremendously, but because she feels like she’s been “pouring from an empty cup” every day, she’s felt detached, depressed, and hopeless. Pretty soon, Alice slept less and less at night and, soon, she simply quit her job. When she consulted a doctor, she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and burnout. She is also in treatment for hypertension and severe migraines.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that the main cause of Alice’s insomnia and burnout are the stress factors brought about by her career. Alice’s story is usually true for the average American. Work-related stress can cause insomnia and burnout at the same time. However, it’s also important to recognize that other forms of stress can cause depression and sleep disorders such as stress from a traumatic event (divorce, death of a loved one, miscarriage, emotional/physical abuse, etc), emotional problems, or chronic pain from illness or injury.
If you are like Alice and you recognize that you are in the initial stages of insomnia or burnout, it’s important that you take some time to slow down and make sure it doesn’t get any more serious than it already is.
It’s vital that you consult a health professional if you are:
- Feeling drained and exhausted.
- Frequently getting sick
- Experiencing constant muscle pain or headaches
- Experiencing major changes in sleep habits
- Experiencing major changes in appetite
- Isolating from others
- Procrastinating (more than the usual)
- Withdrawing from obligations and responsibilities
In addition to seeing a doctor, experts also recommend the 3 R Approach:
Look out for signs and symptoms of burnout and insomnia.
Take steps (however small) to undo the damage so that you can manage your stress levels e.g. if you are working longer hours, seek your superior’s approval to cut back on your working hours.
Human beings are naturally resilient. Take some time off so that you can care for yourself both physically and emotionally.
Battling insomnia and burnout can sometimes leave you feeling defeated. Truly, it is a difficult task that in some days, feels impossible to overcome. Just like depression and sleep disorders, understanding that managing your stress levels, taking the time to take care of yourself, reaching out to others, and getting professional help are weapons in your mental health arsenal that can help you heal from insomnia and burnout.
In the meantime, starting small like choosing the best mattress for a good night’s sleep. Even the smallest step may help you start your journey to better health and wellness.