"[The earlier definition] was kind of this weird in-between 'you're not really sick, but you're not fully capable of doing your work.'" – Torsten Voigt, a sociologist at RWTH Aachen University in Germany
The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
Congratulations all you go-getters, hustlers, and 9-to-5 overachievers: you’ve made “burn-out” an official medical condition. Now included in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burn-out syndrome is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.” Sound familiar?
Medscape's 2019 National Physicians Burnout & Depression Report found that out of 15,000 physicians in more than 29 specialties, 44% reported feeling burnt out. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is a burnt out surgeon with the scalpel while I’m conked out on the operating table. You might be thinking, “Oh that makes sense. They work long hours.” Well, out of those who reported feeling burnt out, 59% attributed their burn-out to dealing with too many bureaucratic tasks, while only 34% attributed it to spending too many hours at work.
And doctors aren’t the only ones suffering - burn-out syndrome is affecting workers in all fields of work. The problem now, and part of what makes burn-out an official condition, is that burn-out isn’t just a phase. It can’t be solved by getting one good night of sleep or a yoga retreat. It can’t be “om”ed away or cured with a few green smoothies and some botox. Just yesterday I said “I need a personal assistant” and meant it. I’m not even thirty yet.
It’s not necessarily all of the painstakingly long hours we’re working, though that’s certainly a contributing factor. It’s not even that we hate our jobs (though maybe you do). I mean, I love my job (not paid to say this) and still feel burnt out from time to time. Typically burnout isn’t caused by any one single contributing factor. It’s a full list of unfinished to-do’s. It’s laundry that’s piled up for weeks. It’s committing all of your energy to your 9-to-5 and having none for after-work socialization.
This isn’t just a condition for people with day jobs. It’s not just for white collar professionals. Burnout doesn’t discriminate. It affects the person with three minimum wage jobs scraping to make ends meet, as much as it does the Wall Street investment banker.
So what do we do?
Something I’m trying this week is the 25:5 Rule. For every 25 minutes of focused work, I spend 5 minutes stretching, jumping up and down, going for a walk, meditating, listening to music, etc. I do something non-work related. Those 25 minutes are absolutely focused and results driven, and those 5 minutes are so sweet and give me a chance to reset.
I (try to) allow myself time off – unapologetically. I’m a 7 day a week kind of girl even if that means just working for a few hours on the weekends simply because I love my work. When I take a day off, I almost always feel guilty. However, time off is so important for mental health and stability. So now when I take work off, I try to do so with the idea that it will make me better at my job and increase my productivity in the long run. If this mindset works for you – use it.
Lastly, I ask for help when I need it. I don’t always have to be super(wo)man. And I know that now. Granted, I don’t always know how to ask for help or in what ways, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about burning the candle at both ends, it’s that people want to help. You just have to tell them how to show up for you. You’d be surprised at how many people will jump at the opportunity to take a load off your back.
If you’re feeling the burn – take a breath, reset, and ask yourself what you need.