Existential Psychology

Take Burnout Seriously

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There is a classic series of sci-fi books called ‘The Wheel of Time’ where the One Power, a type of magic, is wielded by women called Aes Sedai. Different women have different thresholds for how much of Saidar, the female half of the True Source, they can hold, so that some are inherently more powerful than others, although all depend on the same True Source, which is the river from which they draw the One Power. And all are equally at risk of burning out, which happens when they take in more than they are capable of holding, either by accident or because the sensation is just so sweet. If and when burnout happens they are severed from Saidar forever, still able to sense it but never able to touch it or channel it again.

This is actually potent imagery for how burnout happens in real life. It’s kind of like pulling a rubber band, where up to a point it will bounce back to its previous form quickly but if you pull it back too far it will snap for good.

All of us in psychologically and emotionally demanding fields need to take burnout seriously. In the mental health industry you see it all the time. Counselors seem to be going along just fine but they take on more emotional and psychological  stress than they are capable of taking on and finally reach a breaking point, they burn out and never recover, just like Aes Sedai who pull in too much of the One Power.

Part of protecting yourself from burnout is being able to accurately assess how much you’re capable of taking on and working within those parameters. Always be thinking long-term. Whether it’s hubris, mindlessness, or anywhere in between, many of us bite off more than we can chew in our endeavors and at some point we pay the price, for some of us it’s the ultimate price of burnout. Increasing mindfulness to keep those stressors at reasonable levels while finding self-care strategies that work is the antidote.