An adult woman overwhelmed by multiple tasks swirling around her head. There are various candles being burned at both ends.

Chronic Illness Burnout

When someone utters that they are “burned out,” I think people normally tend to associate this with one’s work. A quick search of the definition lists it as a person “in a state of physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” I’m sure many of you have either experienced this yourself or at least witnessed others in the state of being “burned out.”

In a world where people are working more and more hours at one or more jobs, there is an increasing number of folks who are experiencing this feeling of hopelessness. It’s not only those who are working that are experiencing burnout though. There are many people suffering with chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis, who are just as burned out as those working long days.

What does it mean to be “burned out”?

Occupational burnout is actually something the World Health Organization has recently addressed. Even before that though, it was still a fairly recognizable way to describe someone who, according to the Mayo Clinic has “a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Much of the time, this exhaustion seems to follow when someone’s job is especially demanding or unfulfilling. Aside from exhaustion, it can leave people feeling extremely stressed, sad, and empty inside. People experiencing job burnout can be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, and cognitive issues.1

Chronic illness is a job

While occupational burnout is said to be specifically related to workplace issues, I still believe it is very much an issue for those suffering with chronic illness. Yes, many of the effects of burnout can be caused by the symptoms of an illness like MS (depression, for example). While the many symptoms of our disease can create the same issues as occupational burnout, I think it’s important to note that the everyday life of someone with a chronic illness can cause the same issues often associated with a demanding workplace.

Living with MS is a full-time job

Living with an incurable illness can be a career unto its own, and a demanding one at that. Taking care of our basic needs can be exhausting, simple household chores become extremely taxing tasks, shuffling from appointment to appointment (be they tests or doctors) is draining, and the monotony of a life with a chronic illness can drive you crazy. For many people with an illness like MS, just staying alive is a real, exhausting job. How many have skipped medication or appointments because they felt like they just couldn’t do it anymore? I’m sure more than a few of us. So our illness aside, caring for ourselves and doing everything we are supposed to do to fight our illness can cause us to burn out, just like any other demanding job.

What can we do to cope with burnout?

If you’re feeling burned out by your chronic illness, it’s important to take a step back and look at your routine. Can you change something up? Make it more interesting? Chances are you can’t really alter all the tasks you need to do to keep going, but maybe you can find more time to relax. More time to enjoy something. It can very much feel like everything is a struggle, so it’s critical to find something you can enjoy, be it reading, binging something on Netflix, puzzles, gardening, or whatever you can think of.

There is hope

When it feels like your disease has become your entire life, it’s time to find a distraction. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, regularly talking to a therapist can also be a great way to stave off burnout. The important thing to remember if you are feeling burned out by your illness, is that there is hope. You can make changes to your life and improve your situation, no matter how hopeless it feels.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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