Burnout. Have you been there?
It’s subtle. It creeps up on us slowly, then gets progressively worse as time lags on.
It’s a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, caused by excessive and prolonged stress and tension. It’s characterized by a decrease in a person’s motivation and performance.
You feel unable to meet constant demands. Even people begin to drain you. You then drop the interest or passion that originally sparked your initiative to take on a certain goal.
People had always cautioned me that I would eventually burn out. They shamed me for working too hard, or biting off more than I could chew.
I thought I could prove them wrong, and for the most part I did. I’d become sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and off balance, but when I saw the edge, I could always pull myself back.
It wasn’t until last year that I realized the danger wasn’t a matter of falling off a cliff, but of being pulled into what felt like an endless dark abyss.
I felt disillusioned, helpless and completely worn out. Just dragging myself out of bed required great determination. I felt like I had nothing more to give.
When you’re burned out, you know it. You can feel it in every part of your body. You can see it spill into your work, academics, relationships and health.
Yet no one seems to take it seriously, despite how harsh its effects are on our lives.
Part of this is because we live in a society that glorifies being busy. Even in 1921, Carl Jung took note of how “our current civilization seems to place a premium upon the ‘go-getter.’”
Burnout isn’t a feature of or within an individual, but rather one that reflects characteristics of the larger society. Providing ourselves with the down time we need carries with it a fear of being stigmatized or demeaned, like it’s some grave liability in an increasingly competitive world.
We normalize never saying “no” for work, and never saying “yes” for ourselves.
When we devote all our waking hours to work and disregard our own needs, or when the deadlines keep coming and we lack a feeling of completion, though, burnout will be waiting.
It’s “a demon born of the society…it’s not a condition that gets better by being ignored. Nor is it any kind of disgrace,” as Herbert J. Freudenberger said in 1972.
It’s critical to be aware of its power. We should challenge ourselves to remedy burnout by maintaining and restoring balance.
Remember, it’s okay to take time for you.
Chandra is one of the Journal’s Copy Editors. She’s a fourth-year sociology major.
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