Newsletter 613 – New Perspectives on Burnout

burnout 2Can anything fresh be said about burnout? That was my reaction when I saw the May/June, 2015 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine. The PT editor calls burnout “that mélange of weariness, depression and apathy, seasoned with a tincture of cynicism [that] has become as persuasive as the common cold.” Originally the term described physical and psychological breakdown that came to counselors and other care-givers who had become overly burdened with the crises and stresses of their clients. Now the term can apply to anyone, including pastors, business people, homemakers, students, performers,  and overworked, overwhelmed people in any field or profession. Sometimes these individuals cling to the “exalted, if never quite admitted” belief in themselves as admirable individuals who never give up, consistently perform superbly, or believe that they have a duty to help everyone who appears with a need.

The proposed remedies tend to be similar, focused on self-care and work-life balance. This means more times for rest, reduced workloads, better time management, and various relaxation and meditation practices. An entire industry of books, videos, and seminars has arisen to help burned-out people do more of some things (like sleep, exercise or time management) and less of others. According to the lead PT article, however, “workplace initiatives on individual self-care and work-life balance are not only doomed to fail, but may make us worse.” Even among believers in such activities “the empirical evidence shows they make no difference” largely because burn out is a reaction to uncontrollable circumstances. Treating the symptoms fails to address burnout’s causes.

What matters most is not how demanding a job is, or the level of responsibility. What matters more is how much personal control and competence one has in performing the work. Research supports the conclusion that when we are fulfilled in our work, committed and able to do it better, we are less likely to burn out.

These observations are not intended to squelch traditional self-care measures. One PT writer argues that self-care does help, especially “targeted micro self-care” that involves mini-practices like short prayers, frequent deep-breathing, and brief exercises.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus never burned out despite the demands of his work and calling? Of course he rested and hung out with friends. But he also had clear purpose, direction, and boundaries that let him stay focused and in control. Do you agree? How have you prevented or handled burnout? Please comment.


  1. I appreciate the thought of burnout being the result of having responsibilities you are not able to accomplish due to incompetence or lack of authority to do the assigned tasks.
    The key when that happens, I believe, is to acknowledge the reality of that situation, be able to admit it and accept the fallout, which may mean addressing issues with your boss or finding another job that you are proficient at.
    Certainly recognizing that some situations are beyond our control and accepting that and doing our best in the midst of it are key steps to living with peace in our hearts that passes all understanding.
    I like to remind myself (and others) in these situations, to remember that God is weaving a mosaic that we do not see yet. And that is OK, and will be wonderful. Trust in HIM who has our best interest in mind at all times.


  2. I agree that time with God will make your work flow much easier. I find that when I spend time with God I become more productive and able to manage my busy schedule well. I find that time with God puts me at peace to handle even those situations that are beyond my control in a Christlike way and not feel empowered by those situations, but empowered by God peace to work with others and able to give by grace what I have received by grace.


  3. I suppose that a quarter or more of the world’s population deals daily with violence, drought, pestilence, poverty, injury, death and disease.
    Our burnout hardly compares with the drama and drudgery of survival tactics that make up so many folks’ short existence on earth.
    Having experienced some of that, my professional demands and my clients’ issues seem negligible.
    One survival technique, described to me by the poor, remains that of withdrawing mentally and emotionally from surrounding chaos, by concentrating, for a few minutes at a time, on memories, daydreams or beliefs.
    This comment may not help anyone, but you asked for comments.


  4. I think that there are a great deal of techniques that can be helpful for the person who is struggling with burnout. In my practice I see many professionals struggling with these symptoms and my impression is that what does not allow them to benefit from the techniques is the fact that they thrive in projecting an image of being super-busy and looking at themselves as indispensable. Maybe looking at those underlying beliefs would be another approach to helping them. Your article is very helpful, thank you for keeping us informed about these new approaches and publications on themes that are so relevant for the field.


  5. Gary, I was wondering if the authors quote any current research to support their conclusion?


  6. I’m thinking that Jesus may have ‘burnt out’ in the garden of Gethsemane. He pleaded for things to be different, but acquiesced to the Father’s plan. But sweating blood? Sounds like pretty hardcore frustration and mental agony, even before the actual torture.


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