“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Anne Lamott
Its onset can be almost imperceptible. A slight numbness where once there was excitement, vague but persistent feelings of dread, a growing sense of apathy when you know you should really care, and the whispers of self-doubt that tap, tap away in the back of your head. To everyone else, you may just seem a little quieter than usual. Everyone has their off days. But under the surface, your spark has dimmed, and as you poke around in the embers of your creative fire, there’s the creeping fear that maybe it’s burned away for good.
Although burnout feels like a modern affliction, it bears more than a passing resemblance to neurasthenia, the 19th-century disease of ‘living too fast’, characterised by the symptoms of fatigue, anxiety or depression that affected those who struggled with the pace of change in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Those in its grip were advised to take to their beds or reconnect with themselves away from the city. Sound advice.
Nowadays, however, that heady blend of hopelessness, extinguished ambition and sheer exhaustion that we call burnout is largely regarded as a fact of working life. But full-blown burnout is no joke. More than just a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that leaves us vulnerable to illness and disease, studies have shown it causes damaging changes to the brain. These affect our memory and ability to learn, and cause difficulty in controlling negative emotions. Burnout also causes a loss of connectivity across key regions of our brains associated with problem-solving and creativity.
If you’re good at what you do, at some point you will have too much asked of you