When we hear the mention of the term “burnout” we get a sensory experience of exactly what it means. But what is the larger picture?
Is burnout related to anxiety, depression, or is it something else entirely?
Burnout is not something that occurs overnight.
We tend to go back and forth with it for a while before making the leap. Knowing this is helpful… since you can get ahead of it before it takes you into deeper waters.
In our success-driven culture, we can often end up on the fast lane to burnout. We forget to get our regularly scheduled oil check and we attempt to reach our goals with one foot on the brake and one on the gas.
The “oil change” that I speak of here is self-care. You can literally burn out just like an engine. And like the little plastic sticker on our windshields that serve as a reminder to change our oil; receiving some guidance to help manage our stress can be helpful as well.
Without the proper tools and support, there can be serious consequences from living under constant stress and great mental burden. But feeling burned out is not something that is new to our modern culture.
Great thinkers have been proselytizing about this since ancient times. Maybe the one historical figure who spoke to this human condition most specifically was Siddhartha Gautama – also known as “The Buddha”.
Buddhism reflects on a timeless inner conflict that is inherent to all living beings: the nature of suffering and impermanence. The Buddha understood the constant stress and dissatisfaction in life, regardless of place and time. He saw how the energy that we tirelessly spend on seeking relief is only a form of suffering. And too much suffering leads us to exhaustion. This then causes us to burnout.
The Buddha has mapped this situation so thoroughly, he has also offered a solution: The Four Noble Truths, aka the route from burned out to blissed-out
If you are feeling burned out or have ever experienced work-related exhaustion, you may recognize some of the symptoms:
But prolonged excessive workloads will eventually lead you towards burnout. We tip the scales too far in one direction and lose sight of ourselves.
This can rear its head in many different ways, all leading to burnout.
But it’s not all gloomy skies and stormy weather. You can always choose to remember that you do have control over your life. You can reach out for help from your support system. We can also choose to view burnout as serving to teach us something.
Burnout could be a call to re-evaluate what you are doing and the direction that you are headed. Or it could be that you are headed in the right direction, but need to relax a little, loosen up your grip, and let life unfold with some faith and trust.
It could be a call to look after your health or well-being.
And it could be many numbers of things.
Life is suffering
This may be quite a big bite to chew on. You can rest assured in knowing that the translation of “life is suffering”, or “life involves suffering” may actually be incorrect. According to Buddhist scholars, a more accurate translation would be “life is stressful” or “there is dissatisfaction, discontent, pain, sorrow, sadness, disappointment, etc. in life”.
Burnout is one of the major ways that this is dealt with.
A factor that greatly contributes to burnout, aka suffering, is our tendency to want to control the uncontrollable (or impermanent). How often do you try to hold onto things in fear that they will slip away…jobs, relationships, money, status positions, your identity?
This is amplified in people who own their own business or work for themselves. In this position, it can seem that you are responsible for everything. There is a lot of work to do and so much is always riding on your success. We ruminate believing that we can somehow control the outcomes.
This can make your business fertile ground for suffering. For many, it’s their primary source of stress. Without tools and support, this is a sure way to burnout.
The first of the Four Noble Truths is an open invitation for you to be still and take a moment to reflect on your life and motivations. It calls you to examine what about your beliefs and actions that are causing you to do the things that make you feel burned out.
Finding shelter from the storm through meditation or quiet time, you can rest and relax. From this vantage point you can view your situation with clarity and wisdom. It gives you the energy to take action where needed.
The cause of suffering is greed or desire
An alternate version of the Second Noble Truth is clinging, craving, attachment, and aversion. We rely on the external factors that we enjoy and avoid the ones that we don’t.
Desire is both wonderful and natural. It is the attachment to it that causes suffering (and our burnouts). Think about it… All that energy you are spending trying to attain your desire, all the anxiety, fear, shame, blame that arises on the journey. How helpful is it?
No amount of success (however you choose to define the term) can ever free you from this condition.
The Buddha taught “The Middle-Way”, which is the path to help you avoid any extremes. The Middle Way teaches balance. It’s not to deny your needs and wants, but also not to become too wrapped up in them either.
Here you can ask yourself:
The Solution to Suffering is letting go of attachments
Complete enlightenment isn’t expected of anybody, only that we may acknowledge what is causing suffering and work towards a shift.
There is a fair concern that you may become dull, boring, uncreative, and so forth in the process. This is an understandable fear. But it’s the complete opposite of what actually takes place when you begin to change.
A more helpful way to view this process is of letting go of the things that do not serve you. This includes thoughts, emotions, objects, goals, and people.
You can take a page from Marie Kondo’s book, “Spark Joy”, and literally let go of anything in your life that doesn’t “spark joy”. This is an excellent gauge in determining what in your life is holding you down and keeping you from experiencing the happiness and productivity that you deserve.
You enter into a more empowered place when you let go of what isn’t serving you. You’re left with a feeling of greater connection; which is more loving, more creative, more compassionate, more powerful, healthier, happier, and free.
An easy step is to ask yourself: Where am I holding on where I could be letting go?
The Eightfold Path; the road that frees us from suffering
The last of The Four Noble Truths is the path to end “suffering” by achieving nirvana (awakening, peace of mind, liberation).
This is called The Eight Fold Path. It is the action step of The Four Noble Truths and where the fruit of the practice is found. Below we will take a look at The Eight Fold path through the scope of burning out.
The Four Noble Truths gives us an excellent lens to examine our lives. It can bring new perspectives on burnout and exhaustion. It offers solutions to lessen life’s burdens and gives you the stress relief through its techniques – allowing you to cope while reducing the effect that burnout and exhaustion can have.