Nervous breakdowns used to be the dramatic zenith of a Mills and Boon plot. The romantic lead must make a choice between life and death, happily ever after or eternally miserable

There is nothing romantic about mental illness and it is more real than anything else you’ll find in a saucy romance novel.

Millions of people around the world struggle to get a handle on their mental health and the current pandemic, the uncertainty, change and anxiety it brings about have only contributed to the numbers.

Related: 5 Ways to cope with Covid burnout & exhaustion: advice from a life coach

Is a nervous breakdown the same thing as burnout?

The term nervous breakdown isn’t used medically anymore, although many people still refer to a range of stress-related conditions as a nervous breakdown.

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These conditions include anxiety, acute stress disorder and depression, which is not dissimilar to a burnout. Frontiers in Psychology describes a burnout as “a mismatch between a person’s unconscious needs and the opportunities and demands at the workplace,” which could be seen as a cause or symptom of a nervous breakdown.

What does burnout feel like?

Mental health is incredibly subjective and the signs, symptoms and causes of burnout can differ from one individual to another. 

Symptoms can range from feeling numb and disinterested in everything and anything to feelings of overwhelming helplessness and despair.

You could also experience physical symptoms like body aches, muscle tension and stiffness, fatigue and migraines.  

These symptoms can make it difficult for you to function or complete daily tasks, causing more stress and further eroding your mental health.

Related:Extinguished & anguished: What is burnout and what can we do about it?

Getting professional help

Because mental health is so subjective, the signs that you need professional help also differ from person to person, however, a professional opinion never hurts.

A doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor can offer guidance on what to do to regain your mental health and how to go about avoiding finding yourself in the same position again.

SADAG offers telephonic help, advice and online support groups that can help you cope with your current situation and manage your mental health going forward.

Should I take time off work?

Although it is not legal or ethical to discriminate against an employee because of their health and mental health, claiming time off explicitly for burnout could affect your relationship with your employer and even your earnings for the time you take off.

According to Law For All, with a medical certificate you can claim sick leave from your employer for a limited time. This may be paid leave for a limited time, however, extended sick leave could be negotiated depending on the terms of your employment and the policies at your workplace regarding incapacity.

Taking time off to avoid burnout is the best option where and when possible because it protects your relationship with your employer and guards against discrimination, judgement and stigma which are a reality even though the right of employees with mental health challenges are protected by law.

Related:Millennial Money: How burnout hurts your bottom line

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.