Burnout is a term that is commonly used to describe the plight of many employees in which extreme stress related to demanding work environments causes emotional and physical fatigue, stress, and other negative effects. Individual from diverse industries, including health care, business, real estate, social services, and many others, can suffer from burnout. I am not sure exactly when or how this term came into popular usage, but the incidence of individuals suffering from burnout certainly does not show signs of letting up any time soon. A significant aspect of the emotions that are described by the term burnout really boils down to one easily relatable emotion: the feeling of being overwhelmed. Pressure from many different sources, including work, family, peers, and the self, can easily pull us in several different directions at the same time. It is not uncommon to actually feel as if there is no room for yourself in your own life. In trying to be everything to everyone, we often put ourselves and our happiness at the very bottom of our own priority lists. It seems that many of us are all too willing to take on task after task, accepting responsibility for all kinds of things when we know that doing so will significantly cut into our personal time. When this pattern becomes habitual in your life, things that you would like to do to nurture and relax yourself (i.e., spending time with friends, taking the time to engage in a beloved pastime regularly, etc.) can begin to feel like a luxury-one that you cannot afford. This is a dangerous mindset, and can lead to a buildup of anger that will create health problems and difficulties in relationships. Feelings don’t just go away if they are suppressed-they have to come out somehow, at some point, and when they emerge from a buried place there are usually negative consequences. If no one has ever told you this before (and in our chaotic and pressure-filled society it is likely that no one has), let me be the first one to say-time for yourself IS NOT A LUXURY! It is a necessity for good emotional and physical health, and a happy and balanced life. A nice way to think about this concept is the common airplane safety phrase that we are all familiar with-ensure that you can breathe before attempting to help the person next to you. Enough said.
But let’s be realistic-our self-imposed, perpetual state of being overwhelmed is not solely an altruistic endeavor. There can be a lot in it for ourselves also. We may arrange our lives in such chaotic ways in part to satisfy a desire to be successful and “upwardly mobile”, and to accumulate the material trappings of a successful career. Certainly there is nothing wrong with having things such as a luxury car, a beautiful home, and other material possessions to enjoy. However if we view the pursuit of these things as our measure of success and happiness we run the risk of, as the saying goes, focusing on the destination and not enjoying the journey. Such an attitude can make us forget about the simple joys that life has to offer. If we believe that we cannot be happy unless a certain goal is met or a certain object or level of wealth or status is obtained, the reality is that we will likely never be happy since new desires and desired objects are constantly being generated in our minds.
Looking at this subject even more deeply, we can also say that being in a continual state of overwhelment protects us from being alone with ourselves-a task that is a lot more challenging than it may seem. Being alone and remaining still, leaving behind our worries, stresses, and obligations for even a brief period of time, would leave us to think about things such as our self-doubts, fears, and insecurities. Thus, remaining extremely busy may serve the additional purpose of allowing us to avoid focusing on our innermost anxieties and doubts. Of course there are many reasons that each individual person may maintain an overwhelmed lifestyle, with contributing factors that may be within or outside of their control. And each person must make the decision of how far they want to analyze the reasons underlying this-opening up the Pandora’s Box of in-depth self-exploration is not always the best idea depending on life circumstances and individual ability and desire to deal with such complex emotions. But considering the fact that our busy and often chaotic lifestyles may serve to protect us from issues that we are not ready to deal with can open up the mind to the fact that we may have more control over feeling overwhelmed than we thought, along with the possibility of having more choice and freedom to live lives that are truly fulfilling.