According to a Gallup occupational health survey in 2017, 23 percent of respondents said they “were always or often burned out” and 44 percent said they “were sometimes burned out.” If this study is accurate, ¼ to ½ (half!) of us are living in a state of chronic emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual lack – just imagine the consequences for our family, friends, workplaces, and selves!
Burnout is more than just fatigue. It is the feeling of being “bone tired,” or depleted in every way…burnout can make you unable to meet the demands of your work/ life or can make you feel like you’re unable, crippling you with chronic anxiety/ depression at the mere thought.
So, how did ¼ to ½ of us get to this place? Recent articles have suggested that “workism” has become a religion of sorts. We live in a performance-oriented culture; there is tremendous cultural pressure to do more, better, faster (with the illusion that we should all be able to perform at our peak most of the time). Rapidly evolving technology has caused many industries to simply move at a faster pace (think of the tech industries, or the world’s largest shipping company, Amazon). Not only has technology accelerated our fast-paced world, it has created a level of connectivity to our workplaces that can prevent boundaries between work and life. Those who want things from us seem to have constant access to us, and these expectations can be debilitating.
Of course, technology has also ushered in a culture of comparison perhaps unlike any other time in history. The problem is that what (or who) we are comparing ourselves to is a fictional persona- we think WE should be able to work 50 hours a week, serve the community, have stellar marriages, AND bake cookies for the PTA because everyone else is doing so (and they look perfectly happy). But, what we see online is a carefully crafted superficial image. In reality, there’s only so much of us to go around; something always gets the short end of the stick, and almost always the something is someone- often us.
Another form of burnout for those serving as caregivers or helpers is called, “Compassion Fatigue.” Compassion fatigue is defined as, “a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for people in significant emotional pain and physical distress.” Instead of tasks carrying over to your personal life, compassion fatigue is often marked by other’s suffering bleeding into your personal life; it is when you can’t stop thinking, dreaming, or feeling for them…when the weight of the burden just won’t leave. Signs of compassion fatigue include physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, isolation, sadness, and generally finding less meaning in your work or life. If you are someone who is a caretaker or hears stories of trauma in any capacity- you are susceptible to compassion fatigue. The very qualities of empathy and mercy that cause you to care for others set you up to experience a depth of pain (and drain) you cannot, and shouldn’t, shoulder on your own.
There are so many expectations outside ourselves (in the form of social media, parents, bosses, clients, children, etc.) that it feels impossible to be everything to everyone, and it’s all too easy to feel inadequate, to fear rejection, and to get burned out. The root of burnout is an errant belief system about who we’re beholden to and who we should be, and these belief systems are firmly cemented by our personal trauma and experiences (going all the way back to childhood). Shame tells us that we can never be/do enough, and unchecked shame puts us at risk for a myriad of physical and psychological consequences. When we lead out of these dysfunctional beliefs about ourselves, others, and the culture, we are at the mercy of outside forces deciding what we should/ shouldn’t do and ignoring our wise, inner compass. Healing past and present trauma through life coaching or therapy corrects our view of self and others, and is one of the best ways to heal and prevent burnout long term.
Strangely, burnout can actually be a GIFT. Our bodies and minds will always manifest chronic stress in some way as a red alert to get our attention. But, burnout doesn’t have to worsen or manifest in a more permanent condition IF we recognize and alter our course. We must counter the cultural drive towards an unsustainable life…one where there is little rest for the weary and a push to do all things at all times. Despite the risk of disappointing people, we need to get more comfortable setting healthy boundaries, saying “no,” and going off the grid. Sometimes burnout requires a change (a drastic move, or a job change), but other times it can be prevented by adequate self-care (time in nature, cultivating creativity, exercise, a healthy diet, and spiritual practice). Healthy relationships can also go a long way towards preventing and healing burnout; we are relational beings, wired to bless, care for, and receive from one another. Sharing ourselves (when we truly want and have the capacity to) can be a gift to ourselves AND others.
It isn’t easy, but I believe (with intentionality) that we are capable of leading a healthy, whole, and balanced life; and I am so grateful to be able to help others find this path. If you recognize burnout in your life (or in the life of someone you love), I would be honored to help! Please do not hesitate to contact me, Dr. Eva A. Malanowski, a psychologist and hypnotherapy professional, at 303-242-7824. I provide hypnosis treatment that helps to overcome childhood trauma and painful thoughts in adolescents and adults.