Burnout is caused by chronic stress, usually related to work. But it could be related to other parts of daily life too. Maybe you are solely responsible for taking care of an ailing or aging relative. Or maybe you’re deep into an advanced degree and you can’t seem to manage the stress you’re feeling about finishing.
Whatever the cause, burnout is something that humans have been dealing with for a long time. Given the increasing demands at work in modern life, burnout has become more a buzz word recently. Burnout as a phenomena was first written about in medical research in 1971 by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger. He studied the effects of stress on workers at a drug-rehab clinic (where he also worked) and this paper became a seminal paper on burnout. Christina Maslach was also studying burnout around this time and was largely responsible for popularizing the term, after she published a journal article on burnout in 1976, though she’s quick to note that burnout itself was not new at the time. It’s been around for ages, and many people used the term burnout to describe their feelings.
Both researchers noted that burnout was the result of a long-period of consistent stress, and it led to the burned out person feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, cynical, unable to cope. They also felt less hopeful about their future and had more of a negative view of themselves. It’s no wonder then, that people who are burned out turn to many different ways to cope, some being unhealthy.
Some of the unhealthy ways people may deal with burnout are:
- Withdrawing from life
- Ignoring it completely
- Calling in sick at work
- Watching a lot of TV/Netflix at home
- Not sleeping at all or oversleeping
- Not eating at all or overeating
- Playing video/mobile games
All of these things are distractions from the underlying issue, which is unrelenting stress that hasn’t been addressed. They provide temporary distraction and relief, but ultimately do more harm than good.
Burnout is already a difficult physical and emotional state to be in, without the added negative effects of drugs, alcohol or a tech/game addiction. So if you’re feeling burned out, it’s a good idea to seek support and begin to identify the ways in which you are coping with your burnout. Are you taking any healthy steps? What about unhealthy ones?
We’re all human and there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you recognize anything you’re doing regularly on the list above. Just having this awareness is an important step in mending from burnout. Once you begin to identify how you’re coping, you can start to understand why. You can extend some understanding and compassion to yourself. You’re just doing the best you can, trying to make yourself feel better. And with an expanded awareness and understanding of yourself, you can begin to make changes that will help you.