Article — Burnout (from A List Apart)

This article is over 3 months old and comes from A List Apart, an on-line magazine for web professionals. But I went back and re-read it yesterday and was again struck by how well it matched my own experiences with burnout, both in college and in my career.

So I’m posting it here in case others might find it interesting or useful too.

Burnout

Article by Scott Boms, from A List Apart, May 26 2009

It’s such a good article there really was no single quote I could pull from it that encompassed everything. But here’s part of the article, hopefully enough to help you decide if the rest is worth reading:

Burnout is a psychological response to “long-term exhaustion and diminished interest,” and may take months or years to bubble to the surface. First defined by American psychoanalyst Herbert J. Freudenberger in 1972, burnout is “a demon born of the society and times we live in and our ongoing struggle to invest our lives with meaning.” [1] He goes on to say that burnout “is not a condition that gets better by being ignored. Nor is it any kind of disgrace. On the contrary, it’s a problem born of good intentions.” Another description in New York Magazine calls burnout “a problem that’s both physical and existential, an untidy conglomeration of external symptoms and personal frustrations.”

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

During his research, Freudenberger and his associate, Gail North, developed a simple outline to describe how otherwise healthy individuals can burn out, the key being that people may experience several or all phases, though not necessarily in a specific order.

The identified phases, several of which I bet sound familiar, are:

  • A compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting one’s own needs
  • Displacement of conflict (the person does not realize the root cause of the distress)
  • Revision of values (friends, family, hobbies, etc., are dismissed)
  • Denial of emerging problems (cynicism, aggression, and frustration become apparent)
  • Withdrawal from social contexts, potential for alcohol or drug abuse
  • Behavioral changes become more visible to others
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome (including suicidal thoughts and complete mental and physical collapse) [2]

It’s important to note that burnout is not the same as depression, though there are shared characteristics that blur the distinction; burnout can be brought on by fits of depression or may lead to depression itself.

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