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Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Understanding Burnout and How to Refuse Burnout Culture
By: Rhobie Toussaint and Akil Cole

Burnout—it’s the buzzword everyone is saying, feeling or both. It's that stubborn feeling of exhaustion, frustration, and overwhelm we get as we constantly face Life's stress. Burnout can be described in a few different ways, depending on the perspective it’s coming from, but often has negative impacts on multiple aspects of one's life.

“Burnout feels like a slow sinking feeling. Things that used to be easy begin to feel like an anchor attached to your ankle,” describes Daylin Delgado, recent graduate of Amherst College.

When one is burnt out, there is sometimes the cycle of feeling like you’re not doing enough, feeling too tired to do more, and then wishing more could be done.

“I would describe burnout as when you stopped enjoying the things you like doing,” says Dr. Michelle C. Powell, a family physician and the CEO of Powell Health Solutions.

From the perspective of an educator, the definition is a little different.

“Burnout occurs when your attempted level of output exceeds your physical, emotional, and psychological input,” said David Cole, Director of College Impact, a college prep program at Florida International University.

Burnout can come from many places such as school, work, family life, and relationships. The pressures that come from trying to excel can contribute to the burnout feelings. Partaking in activities in school, work, or other places that don’t fuel, but instead drain you or stifle your creative process can also contribute to this feeling.

“[Burnout can be caused by] dissatisfaction, the sense of futility, the sense that things are not going to get any better, and oftentimes, lack of creativity in the work that you’re doing,” said Dr. Powell.

Other times, it can come from taking on too many things that together are too much to handle.

“Saying yes to too many commitments can cause burnout. Even if you’re sleeping and eating well, if you’re going 24/7 but not taking time for relaxation, you’re going to feel burnt out,” emphasized Delgado.

In the United States, the constant pressure to be productive, to "rise and grind", or to 'hustle" has created a so-called "burnout culture." This culture makes important things like taking a break seem like things perpetuating ‘laziness.’

“Burnout culture is all about movement. Push your hobbies to make money. Every friendship must be a network connection. Every opportunity must be taken even if you don’t have the time to give it your 100%. It degrades resting and slowing your body down naturally,” said Delgado.

Burnout culture is even reflected in how workplaces and work systems are set up.

“In other countries there is a 36 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week because they recognize the importance of spending time with family. [In the U.S., there’s a push] to be robotic, to be automated, to not take into decision-making the human influence of things, which is caring, love, consideration, a desire to feel fulfilled, creativity,” said Dr. Powell.

With burnout culture encouraging the idea of non-stop work, and the pressures that come from everyday life, students often feel the weight of the helplessness and discouragement that comes with burnout. Burnout doesn’t only impact students. It can make people across several generations and occupations feel like they aren't doing enough, or like the joy has been taken out of different aspects of their lives.

“Burnout has made it hard for me to enjoy my hobbies or leave my bed long enough to socialize with my favorite people. It’s made my incredibly smart friends feel like failures because they’re unable to push forward or really show their capabilities,” added Delgado.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways for people to refuse burnout culture. One way is by simply finding out what replenishes your mental or physical energy and doing it.

“One thing you can do is create breathing spaces, or restorative spaces for yourself…You have to figure out what activities feed you physically, mentally, and emotionally,” said Cole. “It’s not enough to weed out the things that stress you out. You also have to add the things that lift you up.”

There is also value in learning how to say “no,” to additional commitments you know you can’t handle or events you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to go to.

“Even if you enjoy the activity, you don’t need to participate if it’s too much for the day, too much for your mind or body,” said Delgado.

Since burnout can come from various places, impact anyone, and occur at any time, it's important to recognize when you or a loved one is burnt out. That way, you can take steps to recharge your physical, mental, and emotional health.

“Take that nap. Watch that reality tv show. Hit the gym. Ask for that extension. Do what you need to do to protect your mind and body,” concluded Delgado.

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