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  • Work and Burnout: Yes, You Can Burn Out and be Unaware of It

    By now, burnout is widely recognized as the phenomenon of debilitating exhaustion that individuals feel from their jobs. However, it’s only relatively recently that the World Health Organization has given it official recognition, describing it as a malady stemming from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

    Photo by Mizuno K 

    Burnout is a condition that has draw great attention in recent years. There is a gradually growing awareness that burnout is real, and that it can be debilitating for those who face it. What is less well known is that burnout can creep up on people who are unaware that they are experiencing it.

    Burnout is an important topic to consider from the point of view of Jungian depth psychotherapy and the individuation process, because our work and our relationship to it,is a key part of our life journey. If we are struggling with burnout, it probably indicates, to say the very least, that our current experience of work is not feeding our soul. 

    Three Stealthy Signs of Burnout 

    New York University neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki highlights three early, easy to miss signs of burnout. They are the following:

    • Procrastination. If you are finding more of a tendency to procrastinate than usual at work, it may indicate that you’re under a great deal of pressure with which your brain isn’t coping well, or you’re disengaged.
    • Constant Distraction. Similarly, constant distraction in the workplace may be as the result changes in your brain induced by burnout that make it harder to focus.
    • Apathy. While we might expect strong negative emotions to be associated with burnout, it can also be associated with an attitude of “I just don’t care anymore” in a person who previously did care a great deal about their work life.

    If some combination of these three early indicators are presenting themselves for us, it may be an important time to look at our feelings and emotions as they relate to work. What is really going on for us, in an emotional way, with our work? How do we feel about it?

    Feeling and Meaning in Work and Burnout

    One of the key steps in getting to the bottom of burnout is genuinely becoming aware of and acknowledging the feelings we have that relate to our work. This can be hard, because many of us have been extensively trained to regard our feelings as something we leave at the door when we come to work. 

    I’m aware of a physician who remembers that in the course of her medical education, internships and residency, she was taught to completely divorce herself from her feeling side. It was stressed to her that the medical sphere, her place of work, was to be, in the admonishing words of a senior supervising physician, “a feeling free zone”. But of course, it is not; as humans, our feeling and emotional side always presents itself in our work, in some way.

    Our feeling and emotional side is intimately involved in finding meaning and value in our work. A sense of meaning and value is essential to our journey as human beings. If we don’t find meaning and value in our work, which for many of us consumes a great many of our waking hours, we may well feel very impaired in our overall approach to life.

    Does Your Work Have Any Soul in It?

    It’s essential that we stay in touch with out emotional and feeling selves as we do our work. A fundamental question to answer is: how does my work actually make me feel?

    Frequently, in employment situations today, employees can feel undervalued and expendable. Especially in many corporate, government or other large settings, there may be limited or no eros or feeling level connection between employees—little or no connection other than occupying boxes on the same organizational chart. 

    In addition to all of this, the organization’s goals and objectives may have limited or no meaning or value to an individual employee. 

    If these are the factors that we face in a work setting, it’s essential that we acknowledge our feelings about them. It’s also essential that we acknowledge the impact—psychological, physiological and other—that such feelings have upon us as people. 

    Working with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of great importance in acknowledging the full range of our feelings about work. What is more, it can help a great deal in terms of the overall journey to value and meaning in our work and also in life as a whole, which is at the heart of the Jungian process of individuation.

    May connection with, and reflection upon, your personal journey, bring you into ever deeper contact with the value and meaning of your unique life.

    Brian Collinson 

    Registered Psychotherapist and 

    Certified Jungian Analyst (IAAP) 

    Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

    © Brian Collinson, 2024