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Soulful Sundays: Burnout

burn-out: (noun) exhaustion of physical or mental strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration "Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long." -Michael Gungor Originally coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, 'burnout' was used to describe the consequences of the high levels of stress experienced by healthcare workers. It has since been expanded to encompass the same phenomenon in all parts of life. Burnout can apply to careers, relationships, hobbies, medical conditions, and pretty much anything that affects us long term. Let's take a little detour to explain how and why it happens. The journey toward burnout begins when we lose a state of equilibrium with our environment. Let's say that we use 100 units of energy each day, but by the end of the day we only manage to bank 99 units to use the following day. Eventually, we will create a deficit. Short-term deficits can be useful and necessary, but chronic deficits result in tapping into our energetic savings account. Usually, when something doesn't return the yields that we want, we stop doing it. If for some reason, we don't abandon losing ventures, then we must consider that something else is going on. There are a few reasons we keep going during stressful times. One is simply the fear of the unknown--the devil we know is safer than the one that we don't. A second is called the 'sunk-loss fallacy,' which breaks down to overcommitment to something that you have already invested a lot of resources in already. This is how people go broke at casinos. A third is the avoidance of shame of being called a 'quitter' or a strong identity to gritting through tough things. The issue with all three of these scenarios is that they continue to draw on resources that you do not have. At some point, something has to change and if we doggedly hold on to the status quo, what ends up breaking is us. In order to mitigate our susceptibility to burnout, we must become better at recognizing when we fall into the "blame triangle." In the blame triangle, there is always a villain, a victim, and a hero. Sometimes we will play one role and sometimes we will play multiple. Identifying too strongly with any of these archetypes blinds us to our own needs and our own agency to fulfill those. You see this over and over with 'mother martyrdom,' 'white knight syndrome,' and feelings of being 'beyond redemption.' They are all exaggerations of the truth and become strong narratives to break. In burnout, the narrative becomes so strong that it breaks the author instead. By now you see my point. I am a major advocate of self-care and don't consider it selfish at all. Including sleep, I take approximately twelve hours a day on self-care. The other twelve I dedicate to serving others. That is a rough 50:50 split, meaning that I am putting in as much as I am taking out. Yes, there are days and sometimes occasional weeks where the balance is not met, but I feel it almost immediately and work quickly to get back on course. This is my solution to not getting caught in the blame triangle. It has taken many years to develop and, trust me, it is still a work in progress. Like many of you, I have a gnawing sense of guilt when I take 'me time.' It is deeply ingrained in our culture to work hard, and then work even harder when that fails. I have seen the consequences of that propaganda in my own life and in my own health. I say 'FUCK THAT' often. So, next time you are feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself when the last time you stopped to fill your tank. The answer might surprise you.

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