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What is chronic illness burnout?

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What is burnout?SymptomsManagementTreatmentFinding supportSummary
Burnout is not a symptom of chronic illness, but it can occur as a result of living with a long-term health condition. Ensuring you get plenty of rest and practicing mindfulness can help.
Medically reviewed by Yalda Safai, MD, MPH
Written by Mathieu Rees
Updated on

Burnout is often associated with intense exhaustion caused by your job or other high-stress areas of your life. However, it can also be the result of living with a chronic illness, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or diabetes.

This may be due to the daily stress that comes with managing your condition. Ensuring you get enough rest when you are experiencing burnout can be vital to managing your symptoms.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the feeling of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. It can result in several mental health symptoms, such as low mood or anxiety. It can also cause physical symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.

Living with a chronic illness such as Crohn’s disease and diabetes can often lead to burnout. This may result from the stress and overwhelm of managing appointments, medications, and other regular treatments.

A recent 2021 paper suggests that people with chronic illnesses have a higher chance of severe and chronic fatigue. Furthermore, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that people with chronic illnesses are likelier than average to develop a major depressive disorder.

Symptoms of burnout

Burnout is not a symptom of chronic illness, but it can occur as a result of living with a long-term health condition due to the stress and exhaustion it can cause.

If you have burnout, you may experience the following:

  • feeling exhausted and overwhelmed
  • feeling cynical
  • feeling ineffective or unaccomplished
  • finding it difficult to fall asleep
  • procrastinating
  • experiencing changes in your appetite
  • constant fatigue

People with chronic illness burnout may experience similar symptoms in relation to their illness.

How to manage chronic illness burnout

There are several ways you can manage burnout as a result of living with a chronic illness. This includes:

  • Rest: If you have a chronic illness and are experiencing burnout, this is a sign that you need to rest. Make sure to get good quality rest, which means resting both mind and body. It may be helpful to spend some time doing gentle and relaxing activities.
  • Exercise: While this might seem contradictory, gentle exercise is a good way to manage burnout when you have a chronic illness. As well as lifting your mood, exercise could create a pleasant change in your routine.
  • Mindfulness: Practising mindfulness can be a way to find moments of peace or relaxation. It may also help people come to terms with their chronic illness, allowing them to focus more on things that can help.

If you have a chronic illness, the most important thing to remember is prioritizing self-care. The above tips are all examples of what this can look like. However, some people may experience self-care differently.

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There are many different kinds of chronic illnesses. Each one requires its own form of treatment. In some cases, medications can be an important part of treatment.

Common chronic illnesses and the medications that can help treat them include:


Diabetes can occur when your body produces too little insulin or does not properly respond to the insulin that it produces. Treatment for diabetes may involve lifestyle changes, like regular exercise and eating a balanced diet. A doctor may also prescribe the following medications:

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Heart disease

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, can occur when the arteries that supply blood to your heart are blocked or narrowed. Managing this condition can often include stopping smoking if you smoke, eating well, and exercising regularly.

A doctor may also prescribe the following medications:

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Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can occur due to inflammation in the digestive system. It can lead to symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.

A doctor may prescribe the following medication to help alleviate symptoms:


Asthma is a condition that can cause your airway to narrow, which can make it harder to breathe. Treating asthma includes not smoking and avoiding things that can suddenly worsen your asthma, also known as asthma triggers.

Your doctor may also prescribe the following drugs:

High cholesterol

High cholesterol can occur if you have too much “bad” or harmful cholesterol in your blood. Treatment typically involves exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

A doctor may also prescribe the following medications:

Finding support

People sat in a support group circle to depict support for chronic illness burnout.
Tempura/Getty Images

If you have a chronic health condition, finding support can be extremely important. While speaking with loved ones can be helpful, there are also many resources and organizations available to help you navigate your chronic health condition.

For instance, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) provides tips and up-to-date resources about chronic illness. The Center for Chronic Illness does the same and also hosts online support groups for people who live with a chronic illness.  


Living with a chronic illness can be extremely tiring. This can cause many people to experience negative emotions and thoughts about their condition or life. This can all contribute to burnout.

Making time for self-care, like getting enough rest and practicing mindfulness, may help people manage burnout resulting from chronic illness.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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