What causes burnout? Long hours, a job that is too challenging or not challenging enough, monotony, a long winter, a disconnect between the employer and employee values, being in a caregiver role, always being the one to ask “how are you today?” and responding appropriately to whatever response is provided……the list could get pretty long. Whatever the root cause, burnout can have a lot of impact on day to day life. According to psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, who coined the term in 1972, burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that has failed to produce the expected reward. Burnout is essentially a condition caused by passion and good intentions that have absorbed everything that is available to give.
Burnout is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up. – Helpguide.org. (Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A)
My day job is to support people as they figure out how to live in a healthy way. I’ve been in my current position for exactly seven years, and though I truly value the relationships that I have with the people I interact with and can see the reason for most of the less glamorous job tasks that are required, last week I hit a bit of a wall. And when I say “hit a wall” I mean in a head on collision, can’t function kind of way. I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I spent the two days I took off work sleeping, getting a haircut that was two years overdue, walking along my favorite creek bed and doing yoga. I feel better after four days away from the office, but it’s not gone yet. My next step is going to be figuring out how to take some more time off. We’ll see how that goes. The good news is that my light is flickering on again, even if it’s dim.
Once we identify that we are experiencing signs of burnout and acknowledge what is going on, we can take strides to change what can be changed, accept what needs to be accepted, and shift our focus to remembering what really matters in life. We can prioritize what is going to allow us live in a way that honors what we value. We can look the fear of ‘feeling burnt out forever’ in the face and see all the beauty that is still there, just under the surface. Just past the strong front that we put up on good days. Just behind the expectations we hold for ourselves without even recognizing their loftiness.
We can remember why we have been so devoted, and we can remember that to be devoted – to anything – we have to take care of our own needs.
For me, some of the important things to priotitize are spending time with my family, having authentic conversations with people, being outside, growing and cooking food, hearing my daughter giggle, digging in the garden and watching the sunrise. When I can remember that those things are what matter to me (which can be REALLY hard to do when feelings of burnout have clouded everything else) I can break through the film of melancholy. I can see past the frustration, fatigue and dread of the everyday. And I can remember that I have a choice to let those feelings control my life, or I can look at them, accept them, and allow them to dissolve in whatever way they need to.
Burnout isn’t a nice place to be. But it doesn’t have to be my landing place.
Additional burnout resources can be found at HelpGuide.