Hey there Boys and Girls, men & women of our times, hey there generation of the 21st century! Have you ever noticed, maybe recently even, that we are actually Generation Burn Out? I am not joking. Look around you, be aware (advice that you will keep hearing back from me!) – I bet you know at least one person (and likely more than one) in your vicinity – a friend, relative, co-worker, neighbor – who has suffered from or has been officially diagnosed with BURN OUT SYNDROME. The question is really why have we arrived at this dark chapter in human history where so many of us seem to be all fired up and burned out? Lets take a look, shall we?
Burn Out – Definitions
When you type in “burn out” at www.google.com, what they first will come up with are the following definitions:
- be completely consumed and thus no longer aflame
- cease to function as a result of excessive heat or friction.
Well, that sounds about right, doesn’t it? When we “burn-out”, we do so because something (or someone) or a combination of things in our lives consume us completely, cause, in a methaphorical sense, excessive heat (stress) and our flame (life spirit, energy) burns out until we eventually cease to function. Most of us think that “burn out” is a result of work-related stress and I will freely admit that when the term was first used, it was mostly in that respect. But in the meantime our lives have been put on speed dial. Everything is and needs to be fast, faster, more, greater, better in order to be able to compete, as do we need to be faster in order to stand up to our peers or even stand out in a crowd. Everything has become Superlative. Normal isn’t enough anymore, average not good enough either. But do we push ourselves, are we pushed by our parents, why do we even enter into this spiral, why the need to best everyone and everything? Peer pressure? Should it be THAT simple?!
Burn Out – Self Sacrifice Or Narcicism At Its Best?
The term “Burn Out” was created in the 70’ies and originally used to describe a state of exhaustion and depression engaged professionals would suffer from that, by definition, help and care for others – doctors, nurses, cops, firemen and so on. It was seen as a sort of self-sacrifice, those people exchanging their own health for helping others. Nowadays, the term is not only used for the dark side of self-sacrifice. It seems it can affect anyone, from stressed-out careerists and celebrities to overworked employees and homemakers. You would think with it being so “popular” that there’d be a clear definition out there of what Burn Out really is but nope. We still pretty much don’t have the first clue what it is exactly or how it can be diagnosed. This also makes it impossible to say how common it is. There are no reliable scientific data about how many people are burned out ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
A stressful lifestyle can put people under extreme pressure; the result can be that they start feeling exhausted, empty, restless, with no anchor or goal, unable to cope with even everyday life. But why are our lives so stressful? Why is YOUR life stressful? Is it because you try to keep up with the
DEMANDS on you, trying to make a living and support your family? Or is it because you gain your self-worth from being able to swim with the big fish at the top, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST? Is it a result of selfLESSness or selFISHness?? Do you feel stressed because you are overworked or underchallenged? Because you give too much of yourself to someone or a cause or you feel like you need to give more permanently? It seems that “Burn Out” really is an ENIGMA. I have a creeping sensation – does it even really EXIST?
Exhaustion is a normal reaction to stress. It is NOT a sign of a disease. What makes it so different if you are burned out then? And what sets “Burn Out” apart from e.g. depression? Even the experts disagree. Some think that other conditions are behind being burned out, such as anxiety disorders or depressions; others think that it has to be caused by an underlying physical illness. The trouble is – if we don’t know what it is how are we able to effectively treat it? Or do we even need the LABEL “Burn Out”? Why isn’t it allowed anymore in our society to admit that you are tired, exhausted and stressed and that you just want to hang on the couch for the weekend instead of spending 27 hours at the gym or take 12 boxes of work home….? Why does admitting that make us feel like a LOSER? When did we stop understanding that fatigue and exhaustion are NORMAL HUMAN CONDITIONS? Whatever happened to our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and why on earth do we automatically judge and label our peers when they do falter from it all just being too much?
Case Study – Look Around, Be Aware, Re-Evaluate
Okay, so lets look at your hypothetical friend Bob. Bob is a father of three Kids aged 6, 10 and 13. He is married to Susan who used to be a full time homemaker & wife and has just recently picked up a part-time job in her old profession as a teacher because she felt bored and frankly, because they need the money. They live in the suburbs in a pretty 5 bedroom house with a moderately sized back yard and a mortgage that runs another 25 years; they own a dog, a cat, two cars (that they are paying off) and Bob’s co-worker Ed (8 years younger than Bob with a University degree) has just been promoted to become Bob’s supervisor. Bob is slightly overweight, grossly unfit, and more often than not he eats fatty, high caloric fast food in front of the television. At work, they are laying off people because of the recession and everyone needs to be at their best, make more profit, put in more hours. Bob may be the next one to get sacked. And at home, nothing is like it used to be. His wife doesn’t function like she used to, no more dinners on the table at 6.00 p.m. sharp, no more house cleaning and laundry on her own because yeah, dude, she has a job now, too. And there hasn’t been any sex in so long Bob can hardly remember. Their kids are all stages of annoying and he tries desperately to keep up with PTA, soccer practice, rehearsals, parties, birthdays, school. Recently, Bob has started to feel down. He feels weird and he shows the following symptoms:
Exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and do not have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and stomach or bowel problems.
Alienation from (work-related) activities: People find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
Reduced performance: mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.
So, what is your take on the situation? Remember, Bob is your best friend. Do you think he is sick, even suffers from a mental disorder? Do you secretly think he should “man up” and stop being such a whiner? Get his act together? Or do you feel compassion for him? Do you think he is burned out, or just exhausted and fed up? Do you think he needs professional help? Pills? And now, be completely honest: are you PROUD of Bob that he comes forward with his symptoms and admits he is at the end of his rope ….. or would you be PROUDER if he got promoted at work?? Which situation would elicit a whooping shoulder clap from you??? Probably the second one. Does that make you a bad friend? And what does it say about your own sense of worth and achievement? How prone are you to fall into the trap of the Burn Out?
I guess what I am trying to convey here is this: we live in a stressful world. We actually do need to adapt to everything being faster and being reachable and available almost 24/7; we can’t change the world around us. What we CAN change however, is how we perceive it, how we perceive our peers, and how we handle the stress thrown our way. Look around, see the beauty and the worth of friendship and honesty. Be aware of your judgements and your labels and your estimations. And most importantly, please RE-EVALUATE. What is really important? What makes you feel better about yourself? Is working yourself to the bone really worth it? Shouldn’t you be proud of everyone you know who is BRAVE enough to come forward and admit their weaknesses when we live in a world that condemns everything that falls short of a superlative. Look at yourself. Admit to yourself what you can and cannot do. Your limitations, your needs. Be honest about them with your peers. And don’t feel like a loser when you fall short or skip the gym once or twice. Don’t let anything or anyone completely consume you. In a world of acceleration: stop. Slow down. Re-Charge. Re-program yourself. You are good. You are worth it. And you can do it – at your own speed. Log off for a few minutes every day. Its a luxury you have to re-learn to grant yourself.
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