Are Your Self-Harm Urges Caused by Emotional Burnout?

June 14, 2021 Martyna Halas

Whether you've slowed down due to the pandemic or thrown yourself into the sea of new responsibilities, you might feel emotionally exhausted as a result. This is completely normal, though it might become an obstacle on your road to self-harm recovery. Burnout could easily become a trigger and exacerbate self-harm urges, so it's important to recognize the signs and take action before it's too late.

How Emotional Burnout Can Make Your Self-Harm Urges Worse

Emotional exhaustion can happen to anyone, and I feel it's often the main culprit when it comes to self-harm urges. The most common cause for burnout is overworking yourself to the point that you can't imagine your daily life without stress. You might be working insanely long hours (which is a reality for many people working from home these days), dealing with demanding deadlines, or experiencing fatigue as a caregiver. Other people experience burnout due to sudden tragic events, such as the death of a close friend or relative.1

Of course, everyone experiences prolonged periods of stress every now and then. Still, some people may not be as emotionally resilient, especially if they carry pre-existing trauma on their backs. Chronic stress can only make things worse, and as Charles Bukowski said in his poem, it's the little tragedies that pile up and send a person "to the madhouse."

You can usually tell you've burned out if you feel like you're on the brink of physically shutting down, you're overwhelmed, unable to concentrate, and you procrastinate or even avoid activities that once brought you joy. Pair with that the feelings of resentment, shame, and guilt that you can't keep up, and you've got a perfect backdrop for self-harm urges.

These are my usual signs of burnout, but each person responds to chronic stress differently, so it's worth observing your symptoms and practicing self-awareness. Perhaps you are more prone to physical signs of burnout, like stomach aches, heart palpitations, or difficulty sleeping? Or your energy is at its all-time low, and your anxiety levels spike through the roof when you see that email from work reminding you of another deadline? You're not unmotivated or lazy, my friend. You just desperately need a break.

How to Deal with Emotional Burnout

If you find yourself mentally exhausted, creating a work-life balance might be out of your reach right now. Still, practicing self-care is essential, so make sure to find some time for yourself every day, even if it's just 15 minutes. As cliche as they sound, these activities might help:

  • Take a brisk walk, stretch, or do a short exercise.
  • Spend some time in nature and away from electronic devices.
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness.
  • Have a coffee or tea, and for the full 15 minutes, literally do nothing.
  • Read or listen to your favorite music.
  • Take a bath or shower and pamper yourself.
  • Delegate tasks if you can, work towards reducing your workload, and perhaps, take a few days off and rest. No job is worth losing your health.

Finally, if you feel like it's all too much, please, talk to someone. A healthcare professional may help you develop a strategy to deal with stress or prescribe medication if necessary.

Do you experience burnout? Does it make your self-harm urges worse? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Villines, Z., "Symptoms of Mental Exhaustion and Tips to Alleviate It." Medical News Today, August 2020.

APA Reference
Halas, M. (2021, June 14). Are Your Self-Harm Urges Caused by Emotional Burnout?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Martyna Halas

Find Martyna on Facebook, InstagramMedium and on her blog.

June, 15 2022 at 12:15 am

Alina. I hope you are doing better now than when You wrote that. I really hope you were able to sleep. I am going through a burnout now and I am scared of going to sleep cause I feel I might dissapear inside the darkness of nightmares or lsck of control. I will hope for a better sleep tonight. You are not alone. Tons of us in this world are struggling. Let's not give up.

June, 27 2022 at 3:13 pm

I hope you did sleep better, or if not, that you do soon. I know how real the negative mental effects of nightmares can be, even if the nightmares themselves only take place in our minds. If at all possible, I would strongly urge you to reach out to a therapist, counselor, etc. who can help you maybe work through your nightmares and get better rest. If you have any questions or concerns of your own you'd like to share with me, feel free to reply here or elsewhere on the blog.

July, 15 2021 at 11:43 am

Reading this at 2 am after not being able to sleep for 48 hours.

June, 27 2022 at 3:14 pm

Hi Alina,
Like Daniela, I hope things got better for you after this post. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer or concerns you'd like to vent. I can't always reply right away, but I'll do my best to answer as soon as I can.

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