The Epidemic Nobody Talks About: Burnout

Burnout makes everyone uncomfortable, so it’s largely a silent epidemic.

Epidemics are not just biological in origin. A strong case can be made that a silent epidemic has been sweeping the nation for years, an epidemic few acknowledge: burnout.

People say “I’m really burned out,” and most of the time they mean they’re temporarily exhausted, but after a weekend of respite they’re back at work on Monday.

The epidemic kind of burnout isn’t temporary. Taking a weekend off doesn’t restore one’s ability to work. This kind of burnout is the collapse of one’s ability to go to work at all, a physical, emotional and psychological collapse.

Burnout isn’t just the result of overwork. It’s the collapse of the entire no limits, self-exploitation way of life.

People who haven’t burned out are at a loss to understand this collapse, as it’s so far outside their experience. Those who love their jobs and have boundless energy can’t understand those who have been running on empty for far too long and are now too exhausted to get out of bed.

Lacking any direct experience of such a collapse, the non-burned-out person may offer suggestions that work on temporary exhaustion but do not help the truly burned out: take the weekend off, listen to calming music, etc.

I could not understand what burnout felt like until I experienced it myself. I burned out at age 33 and more recently, again at age 65.

Work has changed dramatically in the 52 years I’ve been working. Some jobs have remained pretty much the same, but most have changed in ways few recognize or understand.

The pressure on workers has increased on multiple levels. Insecurity is the norm. As I’ve repeatedly documented, the purchasing power of labor has declined for 45 years.

Financialization and globalization have tended to make the already-wealthy much wealthier while increasing the psychological and financial pressure on the non-wealthy.

From the point of view of the already-wealthy who dominate the media, politics, healthcare, academia and institutions, the status quo works great because they’re doing great.

In my view, our society and economy are now optimized to burn people out. It’s cause and effect: the only possible output of a system optimized for self-exploitation, financial insecurity and open-ended work responsibilities is burnout.

Even those with high status and income are burning out. (See chart of physicians below.)

I realize many people will object to this characterization of our economy, and by extension, our society. But those who object must ask if their own privileged position has something to do with their objection.

I’ve addressed these changes in the economy and work since 2009. The pressures on non-wealthy participants have accelerated sharply since 2008.

Burnout Nation (May 14, 2019)

Push Them Hard Enough and the Productive Class Will Opt Out of Servitude (April 26, 2019)

Three decades ago, there were near-zero resources to aid the burnout. There are more resources now, but the vast majority are focused on getting the burnout back to the life that burned them out in the first place.

I couldn’t find any book or account that spoke to my experiences. None provided what I was looking for: a practical guide to the entire experience and recovery process of burnout.

I realized that I should write the book I wanted but could not find.

This book is my account of what helped me: a practical reckoning that laid the foundations for a practical renewal. This book is focused on burnout in the context of the society and economy we live in. My hope is that it will help those who aren’t burned out better understand those who have burned out.

I am not an expert in burnout, I am only an expert in my burnout.

You can read the Introduction and Table of Contents and the first chapters for free.

Burnout makes everyone uncomfortable, so it’s largely a silent epidemic.

In my experience, there are no easy one-size-fits-all answers to burnout, but there is a way forward.

Recent podcasts/videos:

The Big Problems And Crash Dynamics Of The Spring/Summer 2022 Housing Market Crisis, Simplified (1:08 hr)

My new book is now available at a 10% discount this month:When You Can’t Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal.

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