The Epidemic of Burnout

In 2021, The New Yorker published an article titled "Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition?" by Jill Lepore, which considers both the recent history of the term "burnout" and its current trajectory. Specifically, how it has transformed from a sign of a lack of ambition to a term used to describe the experiences of the overzealous. Lepore claims burnout has become a twisted “badge of success,” both representative of hard work and a sign to work harder.


Burnout is the buzzword that we flock to use when explaining to peers why we push ourselves harder than anyone else. It is a sign that we are busier, more ambitious, more dedicated, than the competition. But while so many of us use the term "burnout" to describe the simultaneous peaks and pits of our lives, we fail to remember what it actually means. Burnout makes life feel harder than it has to be.


The Mayo Clinic lists the following as symptoms of burnout:


1. Irritable, cynical, critical, and impatient behaviour.

2. Lack of energy.

3. Difficulty with concentration.

4. Use of food, drugs, or alcohol to supplement feelings.

5. Lack of satisfaction with work.

6. Change in sleeping habits.

7. Disillusioned feelings about your work.

8. Physical reactions including unexplained headaches and stomach/bowel struggles.


The Mayo Clinic also lists the following as causes of burnout:


1. Lack of control.

2. Unclear job expectations.

3. Dysfunctional workplace dynamics.

4. Extremes of activity.

5. Lack of social support.

6. Work-life imbalance.


While these symptoms and causes may seem straightforward on paper, in reality, it can be difficult to identify any one of these things as abnormal when they are so widely accepted as the typical dynamics of adult life. How can you prevent or combat burnout in an age where overworking is non-optional on the route to success?


Research conducted by CAMH on burnout, particularly in the workforce, listed methods of prevention ranging from developing strong social networks, to exercise and healthy eating. However, we cannot begin to combat burnout until it is treated as a real, preventable issue rather than an inevitable aspect of life. Burnout has become the gateway for us to turn the pressure and shame of struggling into pridefulness. Rather than admitting we need a break, or balance, or guidance, we burn ourselves out to prove how far we can push past our own limits.


What the modern worker so often fails to understand is that these limits are not built up as barriers blocking success, but as guides that encourage devoting ourselves to all aspects of our lives. The Mayo Clinic identified consequences of burnout, some of which may seem minute, such as excessive stress and fatigue, while others represent the extremes of the burnout phenomena. For example, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. By excessively pushing ourselves in one aspect of our lives, we compromise our external relationships, our mental and physical health, and, most importantly, our future. Burnout is everywhere, a twenty-first-century epidemic that the young worker is both most vulnerable to and proud of.


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Melissa is a 20-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, heading into her fourth year of study. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and History and a minor in Religion. She has a passion for reading and writing, and intends to pursue a career in publishing.


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The views and opinions expressed in Community are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.

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