Burnout is no laughing matter. It is a mental health affliction, which can affect not only a person’s psychological health, but also their emotional and physical health.
One of the best things to do to treat burnout, obviously, is to take a break. To stop working, to stop putting the nose to the grind, to stop with the daily monotony.
Easier said than done.
The human body can only take so much. Like all other basic human functions, the body cannot “store for later”. If the body needs food, it needs to eat now. If the body needs sleep, it needs to rest now. It cannot put aside the hunger and the exhaustion, and say, “okay, we can do that tonight when we have some free time.” Putting aside the basic necessities leads to a myriad of problems. For example, skipping food can lead to nausea, low energy, bloating, and gastritis. Not having enough rest can cause the body to shut down unexpectedly, which can be extremely dangerous if the person is driving.
The need to address burnout is just the same. If we do not treat burnout, it can lead to psychological distress, which can lead to a whole lot of other problems such as depression and self-harm.
The problem is that in reality, we cannot just up and take a long break. Many of us have responsibilities, to our work, our families, ourselves. We do not have the luxury of just taking a vacation or a sabbatical. Even if we wanted to, there are consequences that have to be dealt with.
We can’t just quit work without notice. We have bills to pay. We have dependents that need to be taken care of.
Telling someone going through burnout to “take a break” is not helpful. In fact, it is the very opposite of helpful. It shows a complete lack of understanding and/or empathy for what the person is going through.
The person going through burnout KNOWS that they need to take a break. They are not masochists who will keep forcing them to work when they can opt out. Who in their right minds will keep subjecting themselves to psychological damage on purpose?
Telling them to “take a break” implies that they are clueless about handling their situation, that they don’t know what they should do and need help.
To them, you are trying to present yourself as a problem-solver with the solution that you perceive them to lack. To them, you are trying to accomplish your own good deed for the day by giving them advice that, in all honesty, is pointless, useless, and meaningless. To them, you are just offering empty words of textbook advice that have no weight in the real world.
They do not need you to be a hero.
If you really want to help, then offer them help. Ask what you can do to alleviate some of the stress that they are going through. It can be something like helping them with their children, or practical solutions to specific problems that they are dealing with. It can even be just a listening ear, perhaps over wine or tea.
If you don’t have the capacity to offer help or support, or if you don’t feel that you are in the position to offer or have that relationship to, of even if you plain do not want to, then DON’T.
Support can be offered in other ways. Just sending them good vibes and virtual hugs can also make them feel better, because they feel heard and seen.
And remember that they are not obligated to accept your help or support. They may not feel up to it, or maybe they do not feel you are the right person right now.
You should not feel offended in this case. If you do, then you should question your own intention in offering to help. Are you there to be their hero, or are you there to genuinely help?
This applies to all forms of people who are going through different mental health issues. But I am writing about burnout specifically because I’m battling it right now.
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