Emotional Switzerland -- I'm Neutral
November 5, 2009 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to burn out WITHOUT getting depressed?...

Lately I've been feeling a little apathetic about some things -- a few of the activities I've been pursuing, some job-related things, etc. -- and it got me wondering whether I may be in a sort of "burnout" phase.

Except -- everything I'm reading online about what burnout is also indicates that sufferers also feel depressed and moody and pessimistic. And -- I don't. I'm not isolating myself from ALL my friends, I still get excited about hanging out with some. I still get glimmers of excitement about stuff here and there. Ask me how I'm doing, and I generally feel fine, pretty pleasant. My overally mood is actually pretty upbeat.

But often, when I think about picking up this or that project, I just sort of shrug and go "meh." Sometimes if I think about going to a couple of the regular weekly things I've got going on, I just decide I don't feel like it and stay home, even though I end up doing nothing. When I think about what I want to do careerwise, if I want to change things, I honestly don't feel like I WANT to do anything. I'm just sort of....in neutral, and I'm not bothered by that. (Well, except for being slightly bothered about NOT being bothered by that, but I think that's different.)

It's very possible this could be temporary, but -- what is this? IS this burnout, or just a more fleeting and temporary "you're just taking a mental time-out right now"? I am temporarily working longer hours at my job, which require me to get up earlier, so could just the fatigue be all this is? (If it is, that ends in a couple weeks, so that could fix this right there.)

thanks -- I'm just not used to not wanting things, so this is new territory.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is quite similar to what I experience every now and then after a particularly intense activity that has lasted for an extended period of time. I'd agree that this is more of a mental time-out than anything else.

I'll quote a passage that has come close to describing this state:

Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 7:48 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally only, I get this, especially after a semester at school when I've hit weeks of sleep deprivation and permanently having glue on my fingers. I'm learning to deal with it by keeping my expectations low for a while, and by treating it as if I've drained the creative and excitement store, so I spend a while sleeping a lot and watching films and going to see art and lectures and doing what I feel like doing, and not making any major decisions during that period. It's kind of like a hibernation cycle, and it feels very different to depression even though the outward manifestation might be quite similar.

In short, yeah, I think it could totally be fatigue.
posted by carbide at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2009

Totally possible. It's temporary until you can find the time to really fully relax. That's where I'm at right now. I think working longer hours affects the rest of your life in exactly the way you described. As soon as you get the chance, take a day off and just do not do anything that requires mental energy. Sleep in. Go back to sleep after breakfast. Just lay there and listen to your favorites albums. Cook a fancy delicious meal and sit down and eat it slow. Go for a run. Go walk around. Get a massage. Just sit there and stare at bad TV all day. Go to bed early. A complete relaxation day re-energizes me and makes me bored enough to want to do my regular weekly activities again.

If you really can't take a day off work, then do all your chores and everything during the work week next week, and set aside Saturday or Sunday to do absolutely nothing. No oil changes, no grocery shopping, no bill paying, no cleaning, no returning phone calls that you feel obligated to return.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:47 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

The minor depression that comes with burnout doesn't require permanent sadness. For me, the most pervasive feeling of minor depression IS one of "meh" when confronted with activities or projects I used to enjoy. (Major depression is something entirely different, but for me it's like comparing a pesky cough and pneumonia. Sort of the same, but entirely different effects and treatment.)

Rather than labelling it "depression" vs. "burn out" (which I think from what you're describing are actually interchangeable), why not try thinking about what you can do to change how you're feeling?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:50 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm just sort of....in neutral, and I'm not bothered by that.

If this is the case, and you're not upset or depressed by it, then it probably doesn't matter what you label it.
posted by jmmpangaea at 9:11 AM on November 5, 2009

This is probably semantics, but it sounds more like a rut than burnout. I've been there too. I'm basically feeling ok about things, but I don't have any motivation to work on projects I've got going on nor do I have the energy to figure out how to change things to make my projects more interesting for me. I've found that this can only go on for so long before depression sets in though, so you would be wise to find some things that are more exciting for you to get you out of the rut.
posted by Kimberly at 11:36 AM on November 5, 2009

For me, apathy that goes on for a while is a sign that either my meds are crapping out and/or that I'm unwilling to deal with something and just sort of space out in "Meh-ville" for a while or even that I'm hitting a depressive wall. The apathy is always my cue. While I'm in that place, I can momentarily find joy in small things but overall, I'm content just spacing.
It took several people pointing it out to me for me to come out of the fog. (I'm one of those who can function really well in a job and have no problem there but in my personal life, apathy comes into play sometimes.)_

Bottom line, see if it's a rut and relatively short-lived. If it doesn't pass in a couple weeks or so, definitely look into that further.
posted by Mysticalchick at 1:00 PM on November 5, 2009

follow-up from the OP
Thanks, all, for the advice -- as many of you suspected, it was indeed just fatigue. I gave myself permission to be a completely lazy slug all day Sunday, and that helped a lot. I have only one more week on this schedule and I'm already feeling like myself again, so I think I'm good. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn at 7:38 AM on November 9, 2009

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