Can 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.