The causes and treatment of extreme tiredness and burnout


Fatigue is prevalent and may be debilitating. How to cure this malaise?

Over a third of Americans report feeling fatigued most or all the time, and burnout diagnoses are at an all-time high. What’s causing our fatigue? How can we become more resilient?

Culture historian and burnout management coach Anna Katharina Schaffner was interviewed by scientific journalist David Robson. Her latest book, Exhausted: An A-Z for the Weary, explores the history and science of tiredness and gives evidence-based recommendations to handle life’s demands.

Difference between fatigue and burnout?

Saving energy and overusing it are perennial concerns. Ancient Chinese people concerned about tiredness and its causes, according to extensive evidence.

Burnout, however, has distinct symptoms. It is characterized as an occupational melancholy that causes lower energy and effectiveness and “depersonalisation”—a more cynical view of coworkers and employers.

Burnout represents the sharp edge of weariness. The condition is severe. Some burnout sufferers feel paralyzed. Their bodies refuse and quit working. They typically change careers and take years to recover.

Why is burnout rising?

various research demonstrate that burnout is rising worldwide in various fields of employment. Our increasingly unstable and competitive work culture may be to blame. Because work dominates our emotional world, we overvalue it. We demand prestige, wealth, and legitimization from employment today. It should give us purpose and self-realization.

In the past, work and pleasure were more distinct, but today we’re constantly linked. We struggle to disconnect from work and not check emails or Slack unless we are disciplined. This implies we think about work constantly.

Which factors cause burnout most?

Overwork, lack of autonomy, low pay, community collapse, mismatch of values, and injustice are the top six causes of burnout, according to research.

The unfairness component is perhaps my clients’ biggest issue. Lack of gratitude may create severe societal harm. A lack of appreciation might quadruple our risk of burning out, say research. This is sad since giving is simple, yet many managers are bad at making people feel appreciated.

How do our thoughts add to our fears?

Perfectionism is linked to burnout. Burnout is more probable if we set unreasonable goals and severely assess our performance. Many have a “inner critic”—a negative voice. It seems like someone is always criticizing us, which drains our vitality.

What evidence-based methods may assist individuals manage weariness and burnout?

To overcome weariness, we must first understand our preferences so we can limit our time beyond our comfort zone and know when to rest. We must also determine our key stresses and which ones we can manage.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) informs my coaching. Acceptance is acknowledging that “negative” emotions like fear, anger, and grief are natural and not worth fighting. In other therapies, you may attempt to show your inner critic incorrect, but it takes a lot of cognitive work to reason and rationalize. We utilize ACT to “de-fuse” bad ideas and emotions by being objective. Instead of “I’m really angry about x, y, and z” say “I note that I am experiencing anger” to gain distance, control, and authority.

People who are their own harshest critics benefit from it. If you keep thinking you’re awful at your work, ugly, or unlovable, recognize that this is your inner critic talking without taking it too seriously.

Our brain is like a sushi conveyor belt, always presenting new delicacies. Some are appealing, some are not. Not every one must be picked up and eaten. Acceptance in ACT is letting less nutritious foods pass without participating.

As a cultural historian, you’ve studied self-help. How might old methods complement ACT?

Stoic philosophy may help us control expectations. A great Marcus Aurelius quote is “Only a madman goes out to look for figs in winter”. It conveys that many of us have unrealistic life and inner life expectations. Misguided expectations lead to disappointment. To be joyful all the time, we cherry-pick the pleasant feelings and exclude the bad ones. Our sentiments naturally change, therefore this isn’t useful.

Also, high expectations might lead to shame and guilt about undesirable feelings. In ACT, this is termed “dirty pain”—adding suffering to anger or grief.

Like energy, we have days or months of greater energy and days or months of lower energy. Taking a Stoic perspective to oscillations may help us avoid mental overload.

Work has become too important in our lives, as you said. How to disengage?

When our identity is linked with our job, it might be frightening to quit and even consider doing anything different. Because working takes up more time and energy, leaving our other areas of life empty. We only notice these vacant “rooms” when we stop working and glance around. It’s crucial to progressively add significance, joy, and pleasure to our lives outside work.

Taking a hobby may help. They should be “non-instrumental activities” without competition or production goals. The goal is to reduce accomplishment pressure. A pastime should only provide us joy and peace of mind by being fun and non-productive.

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