Is that thing on your foot a wart or a worrying tumor? Is that tightness in your chest a sign you're about to have a panic attack, a nasty case of pneumonia, or a sneezing fit?  

When it comes to physical illnesses, we all understand that a correct diagnosis is essential for getting the right treatment. But when it comes to more day-to-day mental health complaints, we often fall victim to sloppy, imprecise language. That holds us back from fixing the problem effectively, according to experts.

Take the case of burnout, for example. Despite almost all of us experiencing the issue at one point or another, most people give very little thought to its exact causes and symptoms. Which is a shame, because according to at least one recent study, there are actually three distinct types of burnout that demand three different types of treatment.

Misdiagnose yourself and you could end up with the mental health equivalent of taking an aspirin for a brain tumor (or getting wheeled into surgery when two painkillers and a nap would do). Quartz's Melody Wilding recently ran through the three subtypes to help you avoid this fate. 

1. Overload burnout

This is the type we most commonly associate with the term burnout. In fact, the research referenced by Wilding shows that around 15 percent of professionals studied were sufferers.

"With overload burnout, people work harder and ever-more frantically in search of success," writes Wilding. "They were willing to risk their health and personal life in pursuit of their ambition, and tended to cope with their stress by venting to others."

When you read about fixes for burnout -- things like more breaks or more exercise -- this is the type of burnout they're generally referring to. 

2. Underchallenged burnout

"People in this category feel underappreciated and bored, and grow frustrated because their jobs lack learning opportunities and room for professional growth," explains Wilding. "Because under-challenged people find no passion or enjoyment in their work, they cope by distancing themselves from their job. This indifference leads to cynicism, avoidance of responsibility, and overall disengagement with their work."

More breaks is obviously not the solution then. What is? Wilding suggests exploring whatever sparks your curiosity and making time for self-reflection so you can identify what drives you. Other experts have offered similar counsel, recommending those who feel underchallenged conduct lots of small experiments or look for new ways of understanding their work. You might also want to try a process of shaping your job to better suit your character and skills known as job crafting

3. Neglect burnout

This subtype "is the result of feeling helpless at work," according to Wilding. Those suffering from this subtype "agreed with statements like, 'When things at work don't turn out as well as they should, I stop trying.' If you're in this category, you may think of yourself as incompetent or feel like you're unable to keep up with the demands of your job."

If you suffer from neglect burnout, you don't need more breaks or more passion, you need more agency. Wilding suggests regaining your focus by saying no more often and really honing those areas where you feel you can really make a difference. Asking for more training and support would also obviously be an option to consider.

How severe is your case of burnout?

The study highlighted by Wilding is fascinating, but it's not the only bit of research breaking the umbrella term "burnout" down into subcategories. Psychologists have also identified twelve stages of burnout, from the mildest initial symptoms to the most serious forms where a complete breakdown looms.

Paying attention to the severity of your burnout, as well as its unique character, can help you catch it early and also tailor your response. While the very earliest stages might just call for an attitude adjustment, a bit later on physical interventions, such as more social interaction, might be more helpful. Really advanced cases might demand a complete break from your current routine.​

Published on: Oct 24, 2017