Burnout – The New Norm? | Sian Green Clinical Psychologist

Burnout – The New Norm? | Sian Green Clinical Psychologist

Overworked burnout business man standing headless with smoke insOh my shattered nerves! Yup, that’s pretty much how we are functioning these days. A lovely relationship of we must do everything on the planet and when we don’t cope we blame ourselves, think poorly of ourselves and put ourselves down. I think even Chuck Norris would crumble under the pressure I see people putting themselves under. Burnout is real folks. It’s here and if we don’t take it by the horns, it is likely to stay and eat you alive. Burnout has become the new normal even though it sucks every last breath of our energy.


Burnout is a global phenomenon. If you do some Googling, it is quite striking to see how burnout is affecting the psychological and physical health of people around the world. I picked up the latest Natural Medicine Magazine (October 2016) and right there Dr Ela Manga (an integrative medical doctor) points out that “South Africa […] has been rated the second most stressed country in the world *after Nigeria”. This rating was out of 74 countries!

It’s so huge in SA, but do you know what burnout is?

BURNOUT – This is one confusing term as there is no clear definition. Burnout refers more to symptoms that emerge from stress and feeling (or being) overworked. In South Africa, the additional stressors in the environment (such as crime, political uncertainty, disruptions within systems and so forth) also increase our level of arousal at which we functioning and not the sexy kind of arousal, more the stress hormones—which, by the way, decreases sex drive.

Burnout leads to the inability to cope with daily demands in one’s environment from ongoing daily stress and exposure to such stress over time. I find the most adequate description being: depleted, drained and exhausted. It is the sense of not having energy or the want to get out of bed, feeling overly emotional for no apparent reason and having a general lack of motivation. With this, burnout is often accompanied by withdrawing from your normal social interactions because they are actually more tiring and irritating than enjoyable. The culmination of this is withdrawing deeper and deeper into isolation (be it consciously or not) and this cycle unfortunately contributes to greater escalation of unwanted psychological symptoms.

How does burnout develop?

When we live high pace, stressful lives our ‘baseline resting mode’ is elevated and relaxation becomes a long forgotten way of being, our mode of functioning becomes stress or rush. The more we go into this mode, the more difficult it is to find the pause button, to replenish our systems and refresh into a more natural, relaxed state.

We are strong and can cope (to a point)

We often have the resources to deal and cope (or at least try) with this rushed, high pace level of functioning. After some time, though, it starts dominating our existence, impacting our relationships and our performance in areas we used to excel. We also have disrupted sleep, low immune systems and so much more (see article – How Stress Affects The Body). So we carry on, probably really well for some time, and eventually without even being aware of it we enter survival mode and develop maladaptive patterns just to FREAKIN COPE (like increasing alcohol intake, smoking more or maybe starting to smoke, withdrawing from social interactions, and functioning on auto-pilot).

We cannot ignore this anymore

To be listed as the second most stressed country in the world is a big (and concerning) deal! Simply, we, as individuals and as societies (the collective – including families, friends groups and companies) need to find ways to re-establish health and happiness. With crime and so forth against us, it becomes even more of a priority! SELF CARE!!!!! It is not a privilege, it is vital and I believe should be worked into your life to keep you on track and feeling good about you. Of course, there will be dips – that is part of our existence! My question is are you trying to preserve you? You are the superstar of your life and the wheels don’t turn if you are not in tip top shape!

Feeling burnt out?

Heading towards the end of the year, burnout seems to be on the increase. If you are feeling burnt out, I recommend seeking assistance to restart the engines and then developing a sort of maintenance plan for yourself to maintain a space of being in the present (here-and-now)—as opposed to living in the future or the past, which is where the feeling of pressure, rush, chaos and ultimately stress boils from. This statement reminds me of a talk I attended earlier in the year with the theme tomorrow never comes. Essentially what was pointed out in this talk, was that often we try so hard to live in the tomorrow. Yes, of course, preparing and having direction for your tomorrow is important but to achieve that, you need to be present in the now. When the clock strikes midnight, the tomorrow you were desperately seeking is today. So if we are always stuck in today, let us try make today happen.

Written by Sian Green



List of references

Carod-Artal, F. J., & Vázquez-Cabrera, C. (2013). Burnout Syndrome in an International Setting. In S. Bährer-Kohler (Ed.), Burnout for expertes: Prevention in the context of living and working (pp. 15 -35). New York: Springer Science and Business Media. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-4391-9_2,

HeartMath Institute: Expanding heart connections. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.heartmath.org/resources/

Kia. (2016, March 19). World’s Most Stressed Countries – Ranked . Retrieved from Atlas & Boots: Travel with Abandon: http://www.atlasandboots.com/most-stressed-countries/

Manga, E. (2016, October). Burnout – is this you? Natural Medicine: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Living(136). (D. Totten, Ed.) South Africa.

Wheeler Johnson, M. (2013, August 01). Burnout is everywhere – Here’s what countries are doing to fix it. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/30/worker-burnout-worldwide-governments_n_3678460.html