Another stimulating email from a reader of this blog with a great idea for an article (I seem to be lucky with my readers!).
Frej from Sweden writes
“What exactly is burnout? And what are the physical/neural changes in the body when this occurs?
It would be interesting to discuss this because many CFS sufferers are (mistakenly) diagnosed with ‘Burnout’ before they are diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”
As, I hope, my readers have come to expect, I am going to take a slightly provocative line on this.
I am going to argue that ‘Burnout’ is in fact Boredom in disguise.
That Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, while it is commonly mistaken for Burnout, is in fact more like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Burnout happens when people who
have previously been passionate and committed about something get disillusioned. Nearly every person with ‘burnout’ I have ever met have been cynics. They have lost their ideals, their passion and their hope and the place they have ended up in is a kind of hell.
When you are passionate about a Cause you give it everything you have. People on a mission work long hours. That gives rise to the erroneous idea that Burnout is simply exhaustion. But if that were true, someone like Nelson Mandela would have been dead long ago. But, as we saw him at his 90th Birthday party, he looked younger than some of the drug addicts who were performing for him.
Human beings, as Abraham Maslow told us, can only really be healthy when they are fulfilling a purpose in life. It doesn’t matter much what purpose, so long as there is one. Having an important aim in life drives us along to extraordinary feats. And when Bodymind notices that we are totally authentic – and passionate – about what we are doing, it will supply us with all the energy we need. And, as I wrote before, we stay young and live longer too. Partly, that is due to the constant injection of endorphins we are going to get, which continually triggers peak experiences.
Burnout arises when other people take advantage of our passion and use us instead of honoring or intentions. The dedicated teacher, with a gift for helping troubled children is given yet another ‘problem’ class to teach. A GP, who already spends 100 hours a week actually listening to patients, is overwhelmed by still more patients running away from doctors who are peddling street drugs for the pharmaceutical companies. Or what about Social Workers who went into the job to help the underprivileged, only to discover that they are being scapegoated by the tabloids for human evil?
Now, this is where it starts to get a little complicated when we are explaining Burnout. Simply because Headmind tends to respond to the fact that we are being used with guilt rather than with healthy indignation. We think: ‘I should try harder’, ”I am letting people down’, or ‘I am a failure’.
What we should be saying is: ‘I need to protect myself’, ‘I need to rethink my involvement in this’, ‘This isn’t fair’, ‘There has to be a better way….’
Instead we work longer, harder, faster and more desperately in order to hold on to our Bananas about saving the planet. And then Bodymind starts sending us the emotional signal we know as ‘boredom’ to warn us that we are stuck in a rut.
Boredom is an emotion that warns us that we have replaced passion with duty, excitement with routine. The result? Frustration. Helplessness. Depression. Apathy. Cynicism. Despair. And – eventually – Exhaustion and Burnout.
Please keep sending me your ideas for articles – I really appreciate them even when I can’t use them.