'Exhaustion' is a term that has garnered significant attention in recent times. Before major disruptions began affecting our lives, there was a noticeable trend among young individuals who chose to depart from their careers to explore their wanderlust or pursue their long-held passions. During this period, the concept of exhaustion gained prominence, as many of our peers found themselves explaining to their loved ones the necessity of taking a break due to feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their professional roles.
On average, it has been observed that women tend to identify more strongly with the experience of exhaustion. In our society, whether we acknowledge it or not, women often shoulder the primary responsibility for household tasks. When you combine this with the stress of corporate employment, it becomes evident that women are more frequently confronted with exhaustion compared to their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, the arrival of recent changes in our lives, while not necessarily altering the situation, has certainly brought about a shift in dynamics. The widespread adoption of remote work has blurred the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Men can now be seen working well beyond traditional office hours as they attempt to cope with the pressures of their jobs. Management increasingly expects employees to extend their working hours and complete tasks even after the official workday has concluded.
Consequently, more individuals, particularly men, have begun experiencing exhaustion and expressing their concerns about stress and anxiety. Even while working from home, men are expected to contribute more to household chores, including parenting responsibilities. On the other hand, single individuals who live independently or with roommates must find a way to balance their household responsibilities while managing the stresses of their professional lives.
So, how can contemporary men move beyond the stage of exhaustion, and what measures can be taken to alleviate stress? To address this and seek solutions, men must first become aware of the signs and symptoms associated with exhaustion.
What is burnout?
In simple terms, burnout is when your body and mind hit a breaking point because of too much work or stress. It leaves you feeling extremely tired and mentally drained, making it hard to handle life's challenges. According to the Oxford Dictionary, burnout is when you're so worn out, either physically or mentally, because you've pushed yourself too hard.
It's essential to know that burnout isn't just about work stress; it can happen whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressed by the demands of modern life. The signs of burnout go beyond feeling tired and can include stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, trouble sleeping, sadness, anger, and irritability. In some cases, it can even lead to physical health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
How does it affect men?
When it comes to discussing emotions and feelings, many men tend to be reserved. This hesitation can be traced back to their upbringing, where they were taught that true strength means not expressing their emotions. Consequently, children and teenagers who share their vulnerabilities with peers or parents are sometimes labeled as weak and not "manly" enough.
While it may sound like a stereotype, this societal notion affects many men. They are often conditioned to believe that crying, being open about their vulnerabilities, or displaying any signs of pain or failure are not characteristics of masculinity. This ingrained definition of machismo in our society leads many men to emotionally isolate themselves, hindering their personal growth as adults.
This reluctance to embrace vulnerability can give rise to various mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and, ultimately, burnout. When individuals consistently suppress their feelings, these emotions can manifest in unintended ways, and burnout is one of the outcomes. Men, in particular, tend to experience burnout differently than women, often exhibiting signs of depersonalization and cynicism.
Depersonalization is a sensation where men start feeling disconnected from both others and their own emotions. It's a state in which individuals begin to believe that their thoughts, emotions, and feelings are no longer their own and that everything feels unreal. This detachment can be viewed as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress and anxiety. When one begins to perceive their emotions as unreal, they naturally detach from them, which can lead to emotional breakdowns.
Another manifestation of burnout in men is cynicism. In a broad sense, cynicism arises when men develop a general distrust of others' motives. As Peter Sloterdijk describes in his book 'Critique of Cynical Reason,' modern cynics are often borderline melancholics who can manage their depressive symptoms while maintaining their ability to work, regardless of circumstances. This essentially defines modern cynicism—the capacity of individuals to continue working despite any challenges.
For instance, a boss who consistently criticizes ideas from their team and finds fault with colleagues, subordinates, and even interns may be experiencing burnout and adopting a cynical outlook. It's interesting to note that in today's society, management frequently recognizes and rewards such cynicism as a sign of competence. This attitude is not only accepted but also appreciated in many cases.
What can men do?
Now that we've explored what burnout is and how it impacts men, the next crucial step is to understand what can be done to address it. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and this principle applies here as well.
Men need to recognize that in today's world, where the boundaries between work and personal life often blur, it's essential to establish and maintain a healthy balance. It's unrealistic to expect to work all day without experiencing stress. The original idea behind keeping work and personal life separate was to achieve this balance. Therefore, it's vital to reestablish those boundaries.
Here are some practical steps to consider:
Create a Dedicated Workspace: If you're working from home, set up a specific workspace that you only use for work. Establish clear boundaries so that you enter this space only during working hours.
Stick to Office Hours: Maintain a strict schedule and work only during your designated office hours. Ensure you have enough time and space in your life for personal interactions and activities unrelated to work. Healthy and happy interactions with loved ones are essential, and conversations shouldn't revolve solely around work.
Once you've recognized that you're on the path to burnout, the next step is analysis.
Analyze the stressors: Identify what aspects of your job are causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed. What factors are contributing to your work-related anxiety? Try to pinpoint potential solutions. For example, if you're feeling overworked and fatigued due to excessive demands, consider discussing this with your management. Can you delegate tasks or collaborate with colleagues to lighten the workload?
Take Breaks: Don't underestimate the power of breaks. Even short pauses, like a lunch break, can provide your brain with much-needed time to recharge and refocus. Managing stress becomes more feasible when your mind has moments to recalibrate.
If you've reached a point where stress and anxiety have severely impacted your ability to function and make decisions, seeking professional help is essential.
Reach Out to a Mental Health Expert: While some might be hesitant to take this step, it's crucial to understand that seeking professional help is a valid and effective approach. While traveling or taking time off can offer temporary relief, it doesn't address the underlying issues. Stress and anxiety are likely to persist until you tackle them with the guidance of a mental health expert.
In summary, addressing burnout involves creating a healthy work-life balance, analyzing the sources of stress, and, when necessary, seeking professional help to regain control of your mental and emotional well-being.
In an era where the lines between our professional and personal lives have become increasingly blurred, it's imperative to comprehend the impact of burnout on our youth and urban men. Burnout manifests as a pervasive sense of exhaustion, cynicism, irritability, depersonalization, and debilitating stress that hampers one's ability to function effectively, ultimately eroding the quality of their work. It's essential to recognize that burnout is a real and serious condition.
Regrettably, many of us, rather than seeking professional help or sharing our vulnerability with others, tend to downplay its significance and resort to activities like travel as a supposed remedy.
However, burnout should never be underestimated. It's crucial for both individuals and organizations to take proactive measures to prioritize men's mental health. While it's acknowledged that men do experience burnout, there are often numerous factors preventing them from seeking help, resulting in enduring and irreparable damage.
As a society, we must unite and broaden our understanding of mental health through the lens of men. By acknowledging the significance of this issue and fostering an environment of open dialogue and support, we can work towards preventing and addressing burnout among men and ensuring their overall well-being.
Written by: Aakanksha Bajpai
Edited by: Aniket Joshi