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  • Facing The Great Exhaustion and Finding Your Way

    It wasn’t so long ago, in the days of the pandemic, that we often heard the term the Great Resignation, but a term which has come into currency more recently is “The Great Exhaustion”. This is a term related to the workplace, and as you might expect, also related to the current epidemic of burnout and anxiety. Yet it refers to more than just plain burnout.

    Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich 

    The Great Exhaustion refers to a specific type of burnout experience often endured by individuals, many of whom are in mid-career. Often these people work with intensity for very long hours, and experience a very high level of stress associated with working. However, that is not the end of the stress story for these folks.

    In addition to all the stressors and the exhaustion associated with work, these individuals also experience additional stress associated with their broader situation in life and with the state of the world. This involves issues such as climate change, international tensions, and political and social problems like housing and the ever-rising cost of living. The end result is the Great Exhaustion, which, according to organizational psychologist Jennifer Dimoff, is

    [a] collective experience of being burned-out, tired, emotionally fatigued, by work and all the things in our world… that go well beyond work.

    This sense of a general exhaustion in the face of the challenges of life has become the experience of significant number of people at or around midlife, and beyond. Is this part of your experience? If so, how should you respond to it?

    The Challenge of The Great Exhaustion

    A number of recent surveys have indicated that over half of respondents have negative feelings about work, and even more experience very significant stress from inflation, the economy and issues related to the high cost of housing. There is very strong evidence to suggest a link between these feelings and the continual flow of negative and politically polarized information stemming from social media.

    Sometimes it can be a struggle for individuals to acknowledge the reality of this stress and exhaustion, and the intensity of the feelings associated with it. For many people, there can be an strong inner pressure to not acknowledge these feelings, or their intensity, because they might disturb the process of making ends meet, or of meeting the needs of family and others who depend on the worker.

    However, it’s an essential part of our healing journey to accept ourselves and have compassion for ourselves right where we are. If we’re to be able to journey towards being ourselves and finding our own individual way in our lives, it’s essential to acknowledge the pain that we face. For many people that includes acknowledging that the Great Exhaustion is part of their experience, and realizing that it needs it to be addressed. Being able to share the feelings and emotions, doubts and fears with someone other than ourselves may be absolutely essential.

    The Danger of the Great Cynicism

    One of the dangers associated with The Great Exhaustion is that it can lead to a great cynicism. People in the grips of a state of burnout, in combination with an overall ominous feeling about the outer world, can easily come to feel resourceless and powerless. They can slip into a mental space where they feel that nothing positive is going to open up in their world, and that nothing is really ever going to change.

    It can be essential for individuals to talk about these feelings, and to gain a sense that they are being listened to and that there is support. It is also essential to develop compassion for oneself in the midst of such a sense of burnout, and to concretely turn attention to meeting one’s own needs and to connecting with what has meaning and value in one’s life.

    Wellsprings of Renewal

    One of the key elements of recovery from burnout, and finding an authentic and life-giving way to move forward is acknowledging the reality of the burnout. That involves finding a way to take one’s own needs seriously and to address them.

    A very important question for someone suffering from burnout or the Great Exhaustion is “What has energy or life for you now, in your personal journey?” It may take a considerable process to start to answer that question, to find what carries meaning or value for the individual now, and to begin to make practical decisions and life choices that bring the individual to a more life-giving new stage in their life story.

    A supportive and affirming relationship with a skilled depth psychotherapist can greatly facilitate an individual in the process of finding healing from the Great Exhaustion. Depth psychotherapy, and Jungian therapy in particular, can greatly assist in finding inner resources that can help us move forward at times when the ego, the conscious self, feels resourceless.

    With very best wishes for your continuing personal journey

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2024