‘Burnout’, a term that we have recently been hearing a lot about. Before the COVID hit our lives, we saw a wave of youngsters leaving their jobs and fulfilling their wanderlust or just finally going behind their passion and making it a reality. The term burnout started trending and we heard a lot of our peers explaining to their loved ones the need for a break as they felt burnout with their corporate jobs and profiles.
On an average it is said that women associate more with the term burnout. In our society, whether we want to accept it or not, the major responsibility of the household always ends up on a woman’s shoulder. Now add the corporate job stress to it and it is pretty obvious that women end up being burned out more often than their male counterparts.
However, the onset of pandemic has, if not changed, definitely made a shift in this scenario. The work from home module has blurred the lines between our professional and personal time. Men are now seen working beyond office hours just to cope with their work stress. The management now expects its employers to go beyond their normal office hours and complete their work even if the official working day has already ended.
This has resulted in more people, especially men getting burned out and complaining more of stress and anxiousness. While men are at home, it is now also expected that they contribute more to the household work, including parenting. On the other hand, those who are bachelors and living either on their own or with their flatmates, end up figuring out how to keep their household in a working condition while also managing their office stress.
So, how can men in today’s age go beyond that stage of burnout and what can be done to relieve the stress? Well, to understand this and figure out the solution, men of course first need to understand what are the signs and symptoms of it.
What is Burnout?
In very general and common man terms, burnout is described as a mental or physical (in some cases both) collapse, which is majorly caused due to overworking or stress. Due to burnout one will feel tired and mentally exhausted and unable to take the load. According to the Oxford Dictionary, burnout is ‘the state of being extremely tired or ill, either physically or mentally, because you have worked too hard’.
Note that the Oxford Dictionary does not specify that a burnout can happen only due to the stress of office work. One should understand and be conscious of their stress, as even though burnout majorly happens due to the office stress it is not confined to it. Burnout can happen at any time when one is feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious about the various demands of our modern life.
The signs and symptoms of a burnout are not limited to just mental and physical exhaustion but can range from tiredness, to stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, sadness, anger, irritability to even physical diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases and many others.
With the pandemic becoming a part and parcel of our lives, a new term COVID burnout has been emerging around the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pandemic fatigue or burnout is when an individual feels demotivated and exhausted with the demands of their life during the pandemic or COVID crisis.
The pandemic has blurred our lines of professionalism and personal space. Working men are expected to be always present at any time of the day and night to fulfill their professional duties. Add to this mix the responsibilities of running a household, making sure to be present in their personal life and then the fear of COVID and illness. Also, with the majority of our generation falling prey to the illness at this time and even losing their near and dear ones has added to the stress and anxiety of our lives. Fear, exhaustion and complacency are some common symptoms to watch out for.
COVID fatigue and burnout are definitely on the rise in men but as men are often raised with the concept of them not sharing their emotions as something that will make them strong, a larger portion of the gender does not even realise when they reach the burnout stage and often enough end up keeping it to themselves. So how exactly does a burnout affect men?
How does it affect men?
While talking about emotions and feelings, men are always hesitant. One of the major reasons is the way they are brought up with the idea of being strong means not sharing emotions. A child or a teen who comes out and shares some kind of vulnerability with their peers or even parents is deemed to be weak and not enough of a man.
It might sound like a stereotype but yes, men are generalised and told that crying, being open to their vulnerabilities and showing any signs of pain or failure is not macho. This inherent definition of machismo that is taught by our society, leads to many men confining to their emotional walls, leading to an adult who never shares and hinders their personal growth in the process.
This hesitation towards vulnerability can cause many mental health issues including stress, anxiety and ultimately burnout. When we humans hide what we are feeling more often than not those feelings come out in a way that is not something desired. Burnout is one such example. The tendency towards not sharing emotions is largely restricted to men and hence men can feel burnout in a completely different way than women do. Depersonalisation and Cynicism are two tell tale signs of it.
Depersonalisation is a feeling when men start feeling detached from other people and their own emotions. It’s an experience where one starts feeling that their thoughts, emotions and feelings are not their own and it all starts feeling unreal. It can be said that it is a way to cope up with the stress and anxiety as when one starts feeling that their emotions are not real, they will start detaching themselves with them and will ultimately collapse.
Another form of burnout seen in men is through cynicism. A very general understanding of cynicism is that when men start having a general mistrust in other people’s motives. Peter Sloterdijk in his book ‘Critique of Cynical Reason’ has defined the modern cynics as “borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and yet retain the ability to work, whatever might happen … indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work—in spite of anything that might happen.”
The boss who never loves any idea coming from the team and will always have some or the other problem with colleagues, juniors and even the intern, might likely be going through a burnout, ending up being a cynic. Although, when looked through our society’s lens, most probably your cynical boss will be rewarded by the management for being through not only with his work but even with others. Cynicism in our modern day society is generally taken as a sign of competence. The attitude is now rewarded and often appreciated.
What can Men do?
We have now understood what burnout is and how it affects men, the next vital step is to understand what can be done and how. Ofcourse prevention in any case is always better than the cure and the same can be applied here.
Men understand that now with work and personal life missing boundaries, it is very important and urgent for you to create a balance. You can not work the whole day and expect not to get any stress. The idea of keeping our work space and private life differently was to have a balance in our lives. Make sure to re-establish that. Create your working space at home which you will use only while working. Make sure to establish a certain boundary that you will access this place only when you are working. Next make sure that you are working only during office hours and have created enough space and time in your life which is filled with love and personal interaction with your loved ones. It is very important to have healthy and happy interactions with other beings which is not consumed with discussion about work.
Second tip once you have understood that you are on the path to burnout is to analyse. Analyse what and which part of your job is making you overwhelmed and stressed. What are the factors contributing to your anxiety at work and if you can see any solutions to it. For example if you feel that you are getting overworked and have been feeling tired and fatigued due to the high demands of your work, see if you can have a healthy chat about it with the management. Will compartmentalising and also asking help from colleagues help? Can you direct some part of your work to others in order to make your work happy and healthy for you again. One very small but important factor that I have noticed whenever I have felt overwhelmed at work is that taking a break always helps. It can be as small as your lunch break but giving our brain some time to think and focus on what is important definitely helps with managing stress.
Although, if you have now already reached a point where focusing on matters is becoming a task and you are overwhelmed to a point that the stress and anxiety have taken over your decision making capabilities, well then the only way forward is to reach out to a mental health expert. Some might find this as an excruciating task and would rather just prefer to travel. The truth is that yes traveling might help many to take off the load and focus on things that are not work related, but at the end you will have to come face to face with the fact that the stress and anxiety are still there and the only way to resolve those is to ask for professional help.
With our boundaries becoming a blur between professional and personal lives, it is important to understand burnout and how it is affecting our youth and urban men. The feeling of always tiredness, cynicism, irritability, depersonalisation and stress to a point that you can not operate fully and it starts affecting your quality of work can actually be burnout. Many of us rather than talking to a professional or being vulnerable with others tend to just take it lightly and think traveling is the way to go.
Burnout in all its sincerity should not be taken lightly. People and corporations should take positive steps to ensure that men and their mental health are given priority. Understanding that men burnout but in often cases due to many other factors do not speak, causing permanent and irreplaceable damages. We as a society should and need to come together and understand mental health from the eyes of our men.