According to the definition from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, work-related stress is the only cause of burnout. In their words, “burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
What About Non-Work Related Stress?
For instance, there are many people who are burned out from caregiving (either to children or to aging parents or relatives) with no support or relief. And what about children and teenagers who feel burned out from years of chronic stress from studying? The WHO definition excludes people who don’t have a lot of stress in their occupational context, but who balance stressful obligations outside of work (in their family and community).
Though these descriptions might not line up with the WHO classification as an “occupational phenomenon,” they’re certainly real feelings that deserve to be validated. And even within an occupational context, there are many different kinds of documented burnout. There’s educator burnout. Physician burnout. Activist burnout. Spiritual burnout. The list goes on if you start looking.
It’s important to remember that within the medical community there’s still no consistent agreement about the symptoms or diagnosis of burnout. The most widely cited method of diagnosis, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) , was released in 1981 by psychologist Christina Maslach and team, and it’s closely related to the definition from the WHO.
Burnout Is A Process
Ultimately, burnout is unique for everyone. Sometimes work causes chronic stress, and sometimes other things may cause chronic stress. Regardless of what you call it, If you’re feeling exhausted, unmotivated, fatigued, and unable to cope, it’s time to seek help.