Within the last couple years, burnout has made it into the official international classifications of diseases published by the World Health Organization. First classed as a “state of vital exhaustion” under problems associated with “life-management difficulty” it just got pushed over into “problems associated with employment or unemployment”.
I prefer the “state of vital exhaustion” definition. Burnout feels much broader than a work problem. Especially now, while we are dealing with social isolation, the death of loved ones, ongoing disease threats, and associated closures and workplace changes, it seems like everyone I know is burned out to one degree or another. Everyone is depleted. Everyone is to some degree disheartened, feeling low, second-guessing themselves, and wondering uneasily about the future.
I will expect a new definition in the 2021 handbook of ailments:
PANDEMIC BURNOUT: A pervasive state of vital exhaustion, coupled with a disturbing sense that things will never be the same again. Often accompanied by a lack of hope bordering on despair, and a sense of futility. Symptoms include disengagement from others, and a sense of absolute isolation, even with loved ones available by phone or video. For workers over 45, there may be an element of strong fear and confusion regarding the technologies for working from a home office. For the economically vulnerable, symptoms include economic disaster and loss of housing. Additional exacerbations caused by the countless moral micro-decisions, such as whether to wear a mask outside, whether to attend a funeral, or whether to move off the sidewalk each time one meets a pedestrian, add to the pervasive sense of not knowing the possibly disastrous affects of one’s simplest actions. This causes catastrophic thinking in anxious patients.
Of course we could each add several symptoms to the above list. But the section I would like to read would be entitled “effective treatments” to revitalize people with this conditions. Ways to encourage, enliven, and cheer up those of us who have fallen low and lost some of our resilience. Societal and personal changes that could lead to the “new normal” becoming a good normal. A sustainable normal. An acceptable normal. A healthy and vigorous normal. Both for societies and the world. And for us puny, frail, and very human individuals. I hope for effective treatment and positive change. There. I have given myself something to look forward to, after all.