By Betty Brown
Burnout is a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that occurs as a result of chronic stress. In teens, it is often triggered by study stress and is particularly common during exam season.
Signs of burnout include poor sleep, irritability, self-isolation and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Burnout is unpleasant for teens to experience in its own right, but if it isn’t dealt with, it can have a serious impact on their wellbeing in the long term. Here are three ways burnout can affect teen mental health.
#1 Negative outlook and risk of depression
It’s common for teens with burnout to lose interest in hobbies and activities they usually find pleasurable. They also tend to develop a pessimistic outlook and begin to question their abilities and qualities. This can lead to them engaging in negative self-talk which can lower their self-esteem and further worsen their negative outlook.
All these symptoms overlap with signs of depression. Although a teen dealing with burnout isn’t necessarily depressed, they are at an increased risk of developing depression down the line. It’s important that they work on improving their self-esteem and adopt a more positive outlook to keep persistent low moods at bay.
#2 Social isolation and risk of social anxiety
Burnout commonly causes irritability which can increase the risk of teens having arguments with their family, friends and peers. It’s also common for teens with burnout to spend more time on their own because they get overwhelmed by the pressures of socialising. These two factors combined can increase the risk of social isolation and subsequent social anxiety.
People who feel socially isolated tend to be more sensitive to social threats and hold a more negative outlook of their own social status. This drives their urge to remain isolated which further heightens their fear of socialising in a cycle that is hard to break out of.
Stress and burnout can lead to changes in eating habits.
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#3 Appetite changes and risk of eating disorders
Stress and burnout can lead to changes in eating habits. Some teens lose their appetites and eat less when they’re stressed and anxious, while others find comfort in junk foods that are high in sugar and fat. While burnout-related appetite changes may appear temporary, they can develop into persistent habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms if the source of stress isn’t rectified.
The link between stress and eating disorders is cyclical. The urge to restrict food intake or find emotional solace through food can be heightened by stress, but disordered eating habits can lead to physical stress and exacerbate psychological tensions.
Support teens through burnout to protect their mental health
If you’ve noticed signs of burnout in a teenager, it’s vital that you offer support to reduce the impact of stress on their mental health. Offer to help them manage their study schedule, check in with them regularly to encourage them to open up about their worries, and remind them to take frequent breaks to relax, recharge and socialise.
Betty Brown is a Consultant | Researcher
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