“I am depressed.” “I’m anxious.” “I’m burned out.”
The vocabulary of mental health has seeped into our daily lives. While some people use these terms to speak of a specific diagnosis, others use these expressions casually, and colloquially without paying much attention to differences. Emotional exhaustion, for example, isn’t a clinical term, but that doesn’t mean its experience is any less real.
So what’s the best way to describe that feeling you can’t quite put your finger on? Here’s a closer look at what some of the most talked-about mental health terms mean and when you should use them:
If you feel stressed or overwhelmed by your job, you may experience burnout. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a form of work-related stress that is not successfully managed.
Common symptoms include feelings of energy depletion, cynicism about your job, and reduced professional effectiveness.
Experts recommend developing a healthy work-life balance, a strong support system, and a more positive outlook to combat burnout.
Emotional exhaustion is not a specific clinical syndrome, but mental health experts say it can lead to or be associated with other mental health conditions, such as major depressive disorder. The expression is most often used when discussing burnout: when feelings about stressors and responsibilities run so high that a person feels they have no more energy to spend.
“Emotional exhaustion is this feeling of overwhelming. Overwhelmed to the point where you feel like you’re unable to cope,” says Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association. “It’s physical fatigue. It’s mental fatigue. It’s difficult to concentrate. It’s all we experience when we’re just within our reach.”
To combat emotional exhaustion, experts recommend setting boundaries, not being a superhero, and focusing on what makes you feel good emotionally.
That feeling you can’t name? That’s called emotional exhaustion.
If “burnout” was the unofficial mental health buzzword of the COVID-19 era of 2020, “wasting away” is its 2021 counterpart. Made popular by a New York Times piece by Wharton psychology professor Adam Grant last month, languishing is “the neglected middle child of sanity,” Grant wrote. “It’s the void between depression and prosperity – the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you aren’t the epitome of mental health either.”
Those who find themselves languishing — feeling a lack of focus and a general purgatory between mental well-being and illness — can try to set aside some uninterrupted time to feel better about completing tasks, focus on small joys and victories, and should not be ashamed to ask for help just because they are not dealing with a more serious problem.
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You probably understand the concept of loneliness — a sadness that can occur when you’re socially isolated — but have you ever heard of being alone?
According to Psychology Today, this is the opposite of loneliness. It is the dissatisfaction that comes from not spending enough time alone. And during the pandemic, when home, school, and office life are combined in one room, this feeling is becoming more common.
“Some people naturally desire more solitude than others, and if it’s not related to shyness or social anxiety, seeking alone time is a very well-adjusted thing to do,” writes psychologist Virginia Thomas. “However, if this desire is not fulfilled, the feeling of loneliness arises (the prefix “a” does not indicate, as in asymmetric).”
Thomas says researchers suggest consciously planning time for yourself to alleviate this feeling. And if the time for yourself is scarce, focus on qualitative moments of solitude versus quantity.
Many people have anxiety, but not everyone has an anxiety disorder.
The Mayo Clinic describes clinical anxiety disorders as “repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense fear and anxiety or terror that peak within minutes (panic attacks).”
Different types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.
Experts recommend seeking medical attention if anxiety is interrupting your work or other areas of your life; if you have suicidal thoughts, get medical help as soon as possible.
Depression is a mood disorder. It can start at any age but often begins in adulthood and can be spurred on by family history, certain illnesses or medications, or stress and trauma.
Those who suffer from depression can tolerate lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
“More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, and you can’t just get out of it,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Depression may require long-term treatment.”
Some common symptoms may include fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies, changes in sleep, appetite or weight, and thoughts of death or suicide, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.
Experts recommend psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both, although there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Flourish is the opposite of the terms mentioned above. If you are thriving mentally, maybe you are succeeding.
In his New York Times piece, Grant described flourishing as the other end of the mental health spectrum. It is the opposite of depression, and the term indicates that you are at your best regarding your well-being.
You thrive when “you have a strong sense of purpose, mastery, and importance to others”.
Contributors: Hannah Yasharoff, David Oliver, Sara Moniuszko, Jenna Ryu, Alia Dastagir; Illustrations by Veronica Bravo
Published 11:59 am UTC May. November 12, 2021, Updated at 17:31 UTC November 19, 2021