Myth #1: Burnout is a problem to be solved. Wouldn’t it be great if burnout were the same kind of problem as a sore throat or a sprained ankle? In our task-oriented society, we the task-masters love to trouble-shoot and problem solve. We take to the internet or how-to guides to make our problems go away. Why can’t we do the same thing with burnout? Isn’t it just one problem among others to be solved? The tricky thing about burnout is that it is not one problem with one cause. It’s the condition that we find ourselves in after days, weeks, or months of handling ourselves in trying circumstances and difficult situations at home, at work, with friends, family, co-workers, etc. Burnout is there beneath all of our most genuinely human experiences. Any issue that touches so many areas of our lives cannot be remedied with a “quick fix.”
Myth #2: No one talks about it, therefore, it’s not real. Where was all this talk about burnout ten years ago when we were in school? Why didn’t teachers and coaches give us fair warning about the mental, emotional, physical, even spiritual hazards of overworking ourselves without giving sufficient attention to our own well-being in the midst of it all? Does this lack of common acknowledgement mean that burnout is a myth, or it’s all in our heads? Of course not! While the experience of burnout is not new, having a common language with which to talk about it, especially after 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, has opened up people’s minds to dialogue about this very real phenomenon. We would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not felt bunt out to some degree in the past year among those whose lives were drastically altered by the pandemic every day. There is strength in numbers, and when we can all openly recognize the reality of burnout, we can begin to work together to learn how to navigate this issue that affects so many of us.
Myth #3: Burnout is something you have to deal with alone. At the risk waxing philosophical for a moment, Aristotle himself said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Human beings are not solitary creatures! We are meant to share each other’s joys and sorrows. The experience of burnout often makes us want to withdraw from other people, rather than engage with them. After all, the last thing we think we need on our plate is one more difficult conversation. However, if we can shift our mindset to see opportunity to share our struggle with others as a real chance to lighten our own burdens, then we can have the courage to reach out to the friend, colleague, neighbor, coach, or other trusted people in our lives. Don’t keep the burden of burnout hidden. You’ll be surprised to find out how many people understand your struggle and are more than willing to help you along the way.
Don’t keep the burden of burnout hidden.
Myth #4: Burnout is just another name for stress. This myth can be easy to buy because we want to be able to brush our “burnout problem” aside or sweep it under the rug. Classifying it as the same thing as stress, and then simply admitting that “we all have stress in our lives” makes it easier to tell ourselves that our burnout is not really a problem, or that, like usual instances of stress, it will simply go away in time. In reality, burnout is not the same as stress. Stress is our response to a specific “stressor” or some precipitating event. Burnout is the mental, emotional, and physical fatigue that besets us after repeated exposure to stressful events over an extended period of time. Imagine a rope that is used for a game of tug-of-war. Stress is the condition of the rope after one game. Burnout is the condition of the rope after being used for tug-of-war every day for three months. Clearly, they are not the same thing!
Myth #5: Burnout is the result of laziness. Hearing this one can be a stressor in itself! After all, we live very busy lives, we work hard, and we try to maintain a modicum of sanity throughout it all. Is experiencing burnout a sign that we are simply not working hard enough? Not at all! In fact, the opposite is most often true. Handling burnout well is a matter of “working smarter, not harder.” Introducing the balance of work and self-care does equate to laziness but wisdom to understand just how we as human beings operate best.