Burnout: Minds turned to ash

We may think that job-related burnout is a modern affliction, but it’s been a recognized condition since the ancient Greeks and is mentioned in the Old Testament. Still, there’s something about modern life that causes more of us to be affected by it.

A walk in the country or a week on the beach should, theoretically, provide a similar sense of relief. But such attempts at recuperation are too often foiled by the nagging sense of being, as one patient put it, “stalked” by the job. A tormenting dilemma arises: keep your phone in your pocket and be flooded by work-related emails and texts; or switch it off and be beset by unshakeable anxiety over missing vital business. Even those who succeed in losing the albatross of work often quickly fall prey to the virus they’ve spent the previous weeks fending off.

Burnout increases as work insinuates itself more and more into every corner of life – if a spare hour can be snatched to read a novel, walk the dog or eat with one’s family, it quickly becomes contaminated by stray thoughts of looming deadlines. Even during sleep, flickering images of spreadsheets and snatches of management speak invade the mind, while slumbering fingers hover over the duvet, tapping away at a phantom keyboard.

One reason it’s different now is our always-on connection to the Internet, social media and apps that measure our steps, calories and sleep. As the article says, “The burnt-out case of today belongs to a culture without an off switch.”

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