Burnout and PTSD
March 7, 2022 10:06 AM   Subscribe

The thing that made me wonder the most about what burnout might actually be, in terms of a diagnostic definition, was when we headed back into winter in 2020 after a summer of lockdown, before vaccines were rolled out, and my friends and colleagues started expressing a relationship to time and the future that alarmed me. They began talking about the future as if it didn’t exist, as if their imaginative powers were gone. There was no future, there was only this moment, this week, this day, and getting through it. We could be stuck here forever was the vibe at large. This shift was alarming, because up until that point, I was the only person I knew who consistently related to time that way — thanks to complex PTSD.
posted by curious nu (71 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hastick defines burnout as “the inability to sustain your wellness,” which severs the definitional tie between burnout and the workplace, and flips the focus onto what is being harmed. Instead of burnout being a set of symptoms, it’s a situation, she says. If that’s the case, in order for healing to happen, the person’s circumstances must change.

This rings very true to me.
posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on March 7 [24 favorites]


I've lost track of how many years I have been burnt out. But I can't leave (trust me, NOBODY WANTS ME) and if I am not employed, I probably die because I have no prospects. I can't stop putting up with it all. That's not an option. Even if I went on a vacation, I still feel the same when I'm back.

It sucked to go back to work today after 3 days of doing what I like and immediately going back into "I'm so angry, I'm so upset, I hate myself" mode within a minute of turning on my non-working work computer. It took a half hour to get everything on my computer to work this morning and I've been trying to do something for an HOUR that used to be super simple before they "upgraded" and now it JUST WON'T WORK no matter what I try. Asked my boss for help AGAIN (she's the only one who can ever get it to work) but she's busy. I feel so stupid not being able to get a tiny "easy" thing to work. The system will never be fixed.

I have no option but to just keep swimming, until the fish dies.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:35 AM on March 7 [75 favorites]


Have We Been Thinking About Burnout All Wrong?

"We" is doing a lot of deflection here. The medical community - where you can draw a straight line from physician burnout to failures of patient care - has long recognized burnout as an institutional problem that requires institutional solutions.

Another way to say that is that is: people don't burn out, they are burned out by their managers and their organization.
posted by mhoye at 11:37 AM on March 7 [92 favorites]


It sucked to go back to work today after 3 days of doing what I like and immediately going back into "I'm so angry, I'm so upset, I hate myself" mode within a minute of turning on my non-working work computer.

jenfullmoon, we are spirit kin because this is me to a T. The second I log in on Monday morning it is just white hot rage and anger upon checking all of my emails and IMs and even looking at my calendar and being continually dismayed by how many meetings I have. Every work day is simply a countdown to when the day will just be fucking over, and every week is a countdown to when the week will be over so I can get my 36 full hours to not have to think about work at all. I spend a majority of my life waiting for my days and my weeks to just be over.

So Sunday nights are getting harder and harder - I usually only get about 3 or 4 hours of sleep because my brain is like, "yup weekend is over, time to start Bad Feelings time tomorrow - brace yourself!!" I often wonder how much the lack of sleep and spikes in cortisol is having very serious harmful impacts on my physical and mental health, and deeply sense that I've changed for the worse over the course of the last five years - more anxious, withdrawn, introverted. I know that I hit burnout a long time ago and am still trudging through it, like trying to lift a weight long after my muscles have hit failure.
posted by windbox at 11:40 AM on March 7 [57 favorites]


Right there with you, jenfullmoon and windbox.

The linked article is excellent, and the first time I’ve seen burnout discussed in terms of C-PTSD (which I have, but at least I’ve been able to stave off burnout). But what’ll we do? I’ve read articles and essays and blog posts and tweets and editorials about the wreck that is late-stage capitalism and the progressing failure of our society, but nobody knows what to do. (Neither do I.) Act like nothing’s wrong? Keep shopping? Keep staring at our phones? Put one foot in front of the other. Again. Again.
posted by scratch at 11:50 AM on March 7 [24 favorites]


Hi from the person who was just sobbing in front of their work computer a second ago.
posted by bleep at 11:54 AM on March 7 [39 favorites]


One of the conversations we're having at work goes like this:
Me: this schedule is untenable. This will burn people out.
Them: we will just hire more people
Me: ok and are you going to tell them this is the schedule when they ask? Will they still want to work here?
Them: we'll just ask for a "start up mindset"
Me: (not expressed bc want to keep job) that just means "accept a lot of abuse in exchange for a lottery ticket". Am I getting a lottery ticket?? No?? So...
posted by bleep at 11:58 AM on March 7 [16 favorites]


One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way. I know work isn't there to manage our emotions but the lack of mentioning anything at all approaching what the reality is (or maybe being oblivious or uncaring towards it) makes me the most upset.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:59 AM on March 7 [14 favorites]


A couple of times recently I've seen the date expressed as "March 736, 2020".
posted by clawsoon at 12:17 PM on March 7 [33 favorites]


windbox: I spend a majority of my life waiting for my days and my weeks to just be over

JFC this hit hard for me. That's the most succinct way of putting it I've ever encountered, and it's alarming to me that I'm resonating with it so strongly.
posted by myfavoriteband at 12:22 PM on March 7 [28 favorites]


I’ve read articles and essays and blog posts and tweets and editorials about the wreck that is late-stage capitalism and the progressing failure of our society, but nobody knows what to do.

Step 1: Unions

Step 2: Do a socialism

Intro step 0: Follow Jorts the Cat on Twitter would also be a reasonable starting point.
posted by eviemath at 12:27 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


Maybe this will be a societal shift that will create more space for things like Autistic burnout (and other neurocognitive conditions) to be better understood. Often things that have been affecting disabled people for a long time finally get attention when they start disabling a large number of formerly abled people.

Dr. Devon Price has a book called Laziness Does Not Exist that I’ve been meaning to read, could be a good related resource for people interested in this topic.
posted by matildaben at 12:29 PM on March 7 [29 favorites]


(AOC’s “Message From the Future” Green New Deal video has some reasonable ideas, too.)
posted by eviemath at 12:30 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


but nobody knows what to do. (Neither do I.) Act like nothing’s wrong? Keep shopping? Keep staring at our phones? Put one foot in front of the other. Again. Again.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, Until you die or get fired. Period. That's it. Oh, I guess you could also play the lottery. But frankly, even those who want to change something at my job are completely disempowered by those who are higher up that don't.

Me: this schedule is untenable. This will burn people out.
Them: we will just hire more people


1. That requires more money, especially if "hire more people" is intended to hire more people than you currently have.
2. My job has a terrible time of staying fully staffed in my unit. I think we were last fully stocked for two months in 2018 or so? HR super hampers actual hiring to boot.

One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way. I know work isn't there to manage our emotions but the lack of mentioning anything at all approaching what the reality is (or maybe being oblivious or uncaring towards it) makes me the most upset.

Seconded. Having to fake being okay when you are super not okay is really draining. I really like it when I hear the occasional higher-up be all "Management doesn't care what we think" in a large meeting. Just acknowledging the suck really helps, at least a bit.

Step 1: Unions

My union (The Famous One) has been awful to me personally. I appreciate their group efforts, but the upper management literally abandoned me when I was in need and actually had to contact them for help. I want to be pro-union, and I am in theory, but my experience has been so shit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:32 PM on March 7 [15 favorites]


Great article. Lots of good stuff in here. I was aware of my c-ptsd before but the pandemic is bringing it into focus. This article talks about “not playing by the old rules” with work and I have to agree. I first got better by redefining the rules under which I engaged with the world, and with an increase in symptoms I am going to have to do that again. Work is not particularly loving that but I’m not giving in. Close to retirement and wanting to take it early but not ready yet, so I am going to take some initiative (applied for a supervisors position) and see if I can help work be better to us.
posted by cybrcamper at 12:51 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way

I'll note that my company often acknowledges this often and promotes a lot of "hey y'all make sure you are doing *self care* and *taking time off*" stuff which is funny because it's mostly to make HR feel good and squishy and progressive. Our clients simply do not give a fuck that we have instituted "no meetings day" or what have you, they need to talk about this issue right now so no offense but fuck your no meetings day is the line of thinking.

I have often said that none of these cool and progressive and anti-burnout policies that companies try to implement will ever work unless everyone is in it together and doing it together and fully committed as an industry. Four day workweek or bust. Overtime pay or bust. Across the damn board, for everyone. Or else none of this stuff works, it's otherwise just idealistic lip service policies that allows "progressive" management to pat themselves on the back while workers continue to judge each other for daring to take vacation days during the busy period and getting pissed off that fucking STEVE seriously took TWO DAYS off this week when we had the big quarterly meeting or whatever
posted by windbox at 1:11 PM on March 7 [41 favorites]


One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way. I know work isn't there to manage our emotions but the lack of mentioning anything at all approaching what the reality is (or maybe being oblivious or uncaring towards it) makes me the most upset.

IDK; when my work email sends me chirpy little reminders about self care my immediate response is fury--because the acknowledgement feels like saying, you know there is a problem, you know this is not sustainable, but sending the chirpy reminders that I should take care of myself on my own time and my own dime just feels like more victim blaming. Not taking sufficient care of myself is somehow my fault, too, not the fault of the systematic expectations I'm wrestling with.

And like matildaben, I was thinking heavily about autistic burnout as I was reading this. I'm lucky in that my current job is relatively safe for me to take a little bit of extra time to recover right now, and I'm doing my best to use that safety wisely and well. That said, it is so terrifying when you briefly lose things and skills you always had--like the ability to produce language!--as a consequence of long term chronic stress.

Incidentally, I was very "eyebrows raised" at the definition of trauma as inherently surprising? Like, in the stress literature, there is often this very blase attitude to habituation, like stresses magically don't count as much once the individual habituates and stops behaviorally responding as strongly to them, and there's an emphasis on bigger and more extreme and less predictable stresses to avoid this habituation effect. I think that is short-sighted, because I think that chronic, habituated-stress effects probably produce subtle changes in things like energetic investment and decision-making that aren't quite as obvious as sudden acute stressors--things that get overlooked when huge swathes of the field are focusing exclusively on acute unpredictable stressors!

Maybe it's because I look at stress in the context of plasticity and energy investment rather than in the context of behavioral changes, where changes to internal states can drive behavioral shifts that aren't obviously connected? But it seems like a fairly substantial oversight to me.
posted by sciatrix at 1:18 PM on March 7 [38 favorites]


One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way.

Honestly the only thing keeping me in my current job is that over the last six months, there has been a tangible shift in how our bosses talk about workloads and staffing. For years now, my boss has been saying "I don't want people working overnight or on weekends for this [but also never miss a deadline]," which is demoralizing in the extreme. But now it's "I don't want people working overnight or on weekends for this [so what does the new deadline need to be, to keep this from happening?]" And sometimes it's, "I don't want people working overtime, and we can't move the date, so please let me know the impact on quality so I can prepare the folks upstairs."

Truly just the basic acknowledgement of reality is enough. I no longer have a resignation email in my drafts folder ready to go at a moment's notice; I am no longer actively non-participant in meetings.

It's kind of funny to observe this coinciding with the change of presidential administrations here in the US. Like...everyone in my company is pretty liberal, but somehow it had infected us too, and now everyone is waking up from a horrible dreamscape where you could never say a true thing or know a real thing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:19 PM on March 7 [59 favorites]


I have often said that none of these cool and progressive and anti-burnout policies that companies try to implement will ever work unless everyone is in it together and doing it together and fully committed as an industry.

100% agree.

I got reamed by a customer for not answering the phone about a billing question on Sunday. We're not open on Sunday and have never been open on Sundays. We are a small business, not Amazon or anywhere else with 24/7 help. What's nice is that I'm the manager who stepped in to talk to the customer, and my boss backs me 100%.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:21 PM on March 7 [15 favorites]


I think this is an important take on the issues we are all confronting (am aware it's some of us more than others) - prolonged stress has organic consequences which can even have generational effects: Why Zebras Don't Have Ulcers.

Honestly, at this point it's safe to say we are just going to have a few f*cked generations.
posted by doggod at 1:29 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


My union (The Famous One) has been awful to me personally. I appreciate their group efforts, but the upper management literally abandoned me when I was in need and actually had to contact them for help. I want to be pro-union, and I am in theory, but my experience has been so shit.

I'm not unionized but I have two close friends who belong to a fairly prominent union, and both of them have had similar experiences with their locals - it is very much an old-boy's-club and your ability to get your complaints or requests dealt with in a fair and efficient manner depends very much on your access to and favor in this circle - one of my friends complained that she can either fight management or her own local, just not both at the same time. I'm as pro-union as they come but recognize in practice tossing out "unionization" and "unions" as panaceas without doing the hard work of ensuring they are actually accountable can just compound worker's issues.
posted by fortitude25 at 1:32 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


One thing that would help me is if management would acknowledge in any way that any of us are feeling this way.

I interpreted that more along the lines of "Yeah, this is a problem. We have no solution, and might never have one. But we know you can't solve it either, so at least we won't blame it on you." Chirpy reminders about self-care are the very opposite of that, and would also enrage me.
posted by sohalt at 1:34 PM on March 7 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think "old boys club" applies in a mostly-female industry, but I don't know who the heck they consider worthy of help. A friend of mine was really pro-union and used to beg me to participate, and even she got fed up and quit. Much as I hate leaders and leadership in general/as a concept, the fish rots from the head, and shitty leadership makes it bad for all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Put one foot in front of the other. Again. Again.

This feels kind of like me these days. And I have a job I like, and reasonable financial and personal security, and I reckon that in real-world terms I'm far more fortunate than many. But there is a certain respect in which every day feels like a struggle with a sort of gray repetitiveness. It centers mostly around dinner for me, the attempt to turn the crap in our fridge into something which will not make the day feel like a dreary part of an endless cycle. I used to regularly get inspired by something we didn't have on hand and go out for groceries. I'm not going to go grocery shopping more than I really have to nowadays, so these days I try to just make do and build up a comforting and comfortable repertoire. "I've put off starvation for a day and haven't made anyone want to kill themselves in the process," I say every night.

So, yeah, even if you're not being overtly pressured by your work or other obligations (and so many people are), there's still a lot of psychological processing to be done around the realities we all face.
posted by jackbishop at 1:43 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


Most of my experience with unions has been that they don't do much individually but make a significant or huge difference in shifting the Overton window. Like I'm currently employed with a company that has several trades under a single umbrella. My trade is the only one that is unionized and we also are the only ones who get travel pay, flush toilets and water wash stations, payment for COVID testing on our own time, washing up time covered by employer (ie the employer pays for the time required to wash before breaks) and a lot of other things. Our arguments are about whether we should get a missed meal payment on test days not whether they should pay us for that work.
posted by Mitheral at 1:49 PM on March 7 [19 favorites]


I started at my current job just a couple of weeks after the workplace had voted overwhelmingly to unionize. But it took a couple more years for the union and the company to come to agreement about a first contract. In the meantime, many of the dysfunctional practices that had spurred the unionization in the first place continued, and drove me to such a level of anxiety and unhappiness that I almost quit.

After we got our contract, things improved dramatically, in terms of pay, job security, and productivity expectations. I recognize that I'm fortunate to have a union whose leadership, at our workplace, is pretty great -- attentive to people's concerns, and relatively inclusive and democratic. I've gotten involved in union stuff myself to a degree, partly out of self-interest -- my particular team at the company is small, and our work is not well-understood by others, so I figured if the union was going to look out for me and my teammates, somebody needed to be speaking up for us. Fortunately, my participation has been welcomed, and over time, I've actually been invited to increase my level of involvement.

The feeling that I can take action to make my working conditions better is great, even if my job is still stressful and far from ideal in some ways. I realize that in other unionized workplaces, the union isn't always paying attention to everyone's needs, and isn't always open to everyone's participation. Even so, I tend to think that workers are almost always better off having a union than not having one.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:22 PM on March 7 [13 favorites]


Incidentally, I was very "eyebrows raised" at the definition of trauma as inherently surprising?
Yeah that part of the article I thought there's no way that can be true. Trauma just means hurt. Ask anyone who's ever been traumatized if the ones they weren't surprised about should not count. Those ones should count double in terms of harm caused.
posted by bleep at 2:37 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I'm not unionized but I have two close friends who belong to a fairly prominent union, and both of them have had similar experiences with their locals - it is very much an old-boy's-club and your ability to get your complaints or requests dealt with in a fair and efficient manner depends very much on your access to and favor in this circle

Like so many other organisations that start out with a clear intent of doing something good, unions now exist mostly to further the union itself, often at the expense of their members. Unions, historically and collectively, have improved the lot of the average worker to an enormous degree. But they no longer exist for the sole purpose of doing so and have lost their way. The rise of 'mega unions' resulting from the merger of smaller unions, theoretically with the goal of giving workers more power to negotiate (and to avoid bans on 'sympathetic' industrial action), has resulted in just more corporate entities with the maintenance and growth of themselves as their only goal.
posted by dg at 2:37 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah, unions are still a microcosm of broader society, with all of the problems that entails; and there are a very large number of small steps that go into my somewhat glib initial reply. (Eg. Build or join better, more democratic unions is sometimes an important step.) I know that the interpersonal and political dynamics within unions are often not any less sexist, for example, so my sympathies with your experiences, jenfullmoon. Figuring out how to get started on solving a problem, especially one as big as what to do about how shitty late stage capitalism is for so many people, is often the hardest step, I find, so I do think that even imperfect steps like unionization with some of the not-ideal unions that are currently dominant in eg. the US can be helpful. But the imperfections sure are frustrating and can be quite discouraging, for sure. (Which is the point when I go looking around for even better alternatives; but I realize not everyone has the option or time and energy for that.)
posted by eviemath at 2:38 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Actually it makes a lot more sense to think that the union is only interested in helping the collective, not to actually help any one individual having problems. (Clearly false advertising going around here.) Thanks for that insight! That makes a lot more sense as to their behavior.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:40 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I've been thinking about this article all day and is it just me or does it get right up to the line of saying "hey perhaps burnout is another word for trauma and people shouldn't and can't be traumatized like this anymore or they will get sick." But it stays in this grey area of like "Why are these two things so similar even if grammar tells us they're different???????"
posted by bleep at 3:02 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


I spend a majority of my life waiting for my days and my weeks to just be over.

Amen. That’s been me for roughly 30-35 years. Just burned out from trying.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:16 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


I actively resent any sort of "work life balance" initiatives at my job because it feels like a condescending pat on the head--which I don't think is the intent--but in medical admin or medical anything, I need more than just the occasional "hey we bought you all lunch!" or "we decided to give you all a random Friday off!"

As someone upthread said, much like their clients, patients do not give a fuck if we need a mental health day. That work will just be piled up after our mental health day and there will be twice as much of it, and people will be angry.

I really want to leave the medical field. I have done for nearly five years in unionized and non-unionized positions. It pays well compared to other work I've done in my adult life but I see why so many people in the field go on stress leave constantly.
posted by Kitteh at 3:32 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


>[I]s it just me or does it get right up to the line of saying "hey perhaps burnout is another word for trauma and people shouldn't and can't be traumatized like this anymore or they will get sick."

Either "cooling off the mark" where it's bad (mmkay) but you'll try again tomorrow or moving the Overton window in baby steps toward joining those dots. (Maybe I'll join this label of "late stage capitalism" up with "fascism won the cold war" tomorrow -- such an idea makes no sense today.)

Changing our institutions to end the stress is vital, live-or-die stuff. Individual workers are replaceable, the business thinks, but using mostly-stick day by day while saying 'the paycheck is the carrot' is just poison to for cameraderie and morale.
posted by k3ninho at 3:44 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


This time last year, our head of HR texted me on my personal phone at 9.15pm on a Saturday night to ask why I'd missed a day. I explained that I'd had a seizure on a bicycle and gone headfirst into a wall, and was in hospital and was bleeding heavily.

Her response: "OK, but by Monday I need a medical cert to put on your file".

A couple of weeks ago she handed in her notice. Apparently she's burned out. Poor thing.
posted by kersplunk at 3:56 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


That last comment may have been unnecessarily harsh. Another person in work gave me a copy of a book called "The Burnout Solution" because we were at a stage where we were both toast. One thing burnout does is that because staff usually can't force senior management to change, they can end up taking their frustrations out on each other.
posted by kersplunk at 4:09 PM on March 7 [11 favorites]


Coming to this article from a slightly different angle, and the reason I like the definition of burnout that involves "an inability to sustain your wellness" is because what I'm worried about is caretaker burnout. It's not NOT work related, though it's not paid work or employment, but it's an entirely different emotional space that this problem takes up, and less directly tied to capitalism (at least for me, since financially we're okay).

I have always had a lot of problems with focus and follow-through because of ADHD-related things, but I can't hate my situation the way I have hated some jobs, and I can't do anything to change it (or not without hurting someone I love and do not want to hurt). But this sense of the future not existing, of only being here and just getting through today when there is no tomorrow to look forward to--I don't think I'd even realized I felt that way till I read that. My relationship with time is currently very wonky.

But I am definitely unable to maintain my own wellness, both situationally and, at this point, functionally. But there doesn't seem to be any answer but to push through and keep doing it, so here I am.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:18 PM on March 7 [17 favorites]


I can't hate my situation the way I have hated some jobs, and I can't do anything to change it (or not without hurting someone I love and do not want to hurt). But this sense of the future not existing, of only being here and just getting through today when there is no tomorrow to look forward to--I don't think I'd even realized I felt that way till I read that. My relationship with time is currently very wonky.

Oh yeah man. In fact I feel like the sub rosa, internet-forum type discussions of caregiver burnout might have been on my radar even longer than the corporate ones, because you can ultimately change or quit your job, but you can't just leave a loved one to die. I'm watching that future barrel down on me now and already I feel the time horizon shrinking and closing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:32 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


..what? "A couple of times recently I've seen the date expressed as "March 736, 2020".
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:44 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I stumbled upon this graph of the zoom meetings at my workplace over time, starting when the pandemic was already well underway. I'm not sure what it would look like if I pulled that graph now, probably follow that same trend line.

It just feels like someone higher up would notice that calendars were getting more and more packed and do something since it's clearly unsustainable but nope.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:25 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


I think it’s totally reasonable to also blame capitalism for the lack of adequate resources and help that generates or at least contributes to caregiver burnout. (But keeping in mind the need to hold space for folks’ obviously important and emotionally charged personal experiences, I’ll avoid commenting in that area again for a bit!)
posted by eviemath at 7:32 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Wait, people only just started to feel massive existential dread clinging over everything they do like a barbed wire shadow during the pandemic? It's not their default state, barely tempered by fleeting moments of happiness? It's not what they have known their entire conscious life? HUH
posted by Jacen at 7:42 PM on March 7 [18 favorites]


You can't plan for the future in the middle of a crisis. In the pandemic, especially with TFG in office, it was some new unexpected thing all the time. That's crisis. You can't spend energy on plans that may collapse. You need to hoard it for whatever might happen.

And the effects continue still, just in waves.

Will any if us ever feel like seriously planning for the future again? It's a question I'm afraid to ask.
posted by emjaybee at 7:53 PM on March 7 [12 favorites]


I stumbled upon this graph of the zoom meetings at my workplace over time, starting when the pandemic was already well underway. I'm not sure what it would look like if I pulled that graph now, probably follow that same trend line.
Is it possible that represents people using Zoom for what they would back in AC (ante covid) times have just wandered over to the next cubicle with a coffee in hand for, rather than an increase in actual meetings?
posted by dg at 7:59 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid to plan any farther ahead than about three months at a time to do a play, and then things have fucking changed on me in almost every show thanks to covid. I'm afraid to buy tickets in advance to anything months away. I won't commit to teaching six months from now. I don't know how anyone plans a wedding.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:05 PM on March 7 [8 favorites]


I don't know how anyone plans a wedding.
You do what we did - make a decision to hold a wedding, pick a date about a month away and spend the next four weeks of your life scrambling like lunatics to get everything organised, then hold your breath.

One tiny shred of positive in all this mess is that it's now much easier to organise things at short notice, because nobody is planning anything much in advance. When we organised our first (cancelled) wedding, we quickly found that six months wasn't nearly enough time to get all the things booked and organised, because weddings were planned at least a year in advance and everyone and everything was booked solid for that period.

More broadly, I've come to accept that anything planned well in advance has to be subject to change and I need to weigh up the cost vs risk. Sometimes it's worth taking the risk for something you really want to do and sometimes it's not. I'm not in any way trying to tell you how to live your life, but I personally have decided that I won't let COVID continue to ruin everything for me. I do read refund provisions much more closely than I ever have before, though.
posted by dg at 8:32 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I think it’s totally reasonable to also blame capitalism for the lack of adequate resources and help that generates or at least contributes to caregiver burnout. (But keeping in mind the need to hold space for folks’ obviously important and emotionally charged personal experiences, I’ll avoid commenting in that area again for a bit!)

I don't think anyone was...not? blaming? capitalism? for anything at all really, it's the toxic sludge that renders all life functionally unlivable.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:33 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Yeah that part of the article I thought there's no way that can be true. Trauma just means hurt.

Eh, he's an expert speaking from in his home field and I'm not, so I certainly wouldn't go that far. One thing that's worth noting when you're talking to technical experts is that generally we use technical terms with definitions that have agreed upon limits. I mentioned that there's this thing in the stress literature which tends to define stressful experiences in opposition to habituation? Habituation a behavioral term that means, essentially, learning to tune a signal out. Kind of like I am currently tuning my dog, who is whining to nudge me to go to bed, out--I have habituated to her signal such that it does not drive the desired behavioral response, so she has to perform the signal for much louder and longer durations to get me to move. In animals and humans we often define the behavioral responses in terms of corticosterone responses and fear- or anxiety-associated behaviors. You have to be able to quantify something somehow, right?

We do habituate to stressful stimuli, too. Like, you can in fact find something extremely stressful when you first encounter it and find that it causes you less and less visible, obvious discomfort over time; you change your behavior less and less to respond to the signal; it becomes less and less obvious to see what you are doing in response to the stressor. Sometimes, you habituate the stressor right out of your worry zone: when I first started teaching and speaking in front of crowds, I found it stressful, but with experience it's a lot less so. Swimming was very stressful until I learned how to do it. We are learning creatures, and one of the things we sometimes learn is that a thing that is frightening is maybe more survivable than we first think. But sometimes we learn that the frightening thing is not surviveable at all, and that it exists in a frightening world, and that we need to be vigilant so we can make sure it doesn't eat us. When we learn that so well that we find it hard to adjust to the possibility that our world no longer contains the frightening thing.... that's post-stress trauma.

Dr Karatzias is a researcher on traumatic stress, and one of the central questions in his field is why some stresses create long lasting traumas that last beyond the actual stressful inciting incident that causes the trauma. That's why he's drawing the distinction between stress, the reaction that happens while the bad thing is actively happening, and trauma, the reaction that continues happening even when the bad thing has stopped. This is generally a field that thinks about stressful events as one-offs that are specific to some incident and get generalized over time, and while I am not particularly familiar with Dr Karatzias' specific work, I suspect that his background is in approaching the question as: "why do some people people flip out about threats that aren't there in a world that is basically safe?" The field is asking: why do some people not habituate to scary things? We know that expecting something that is stressful to be stressful can reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic injury, especially if the expected thing feels within the control of the person going through it, and we know that habituation happens more powerfully when you repeat it. So one of the things that people in his field wrestle with, with respect to post-traumatic stress and why some stress causes trauma and some doesn't, is trying to figure out why habituation doesn't happen over the long term. And because of the context of the history of the way we frame PTSD work--shellshock in veterans, rape in women, to paint with some very broad strokes--the history of that study has tended to frame PTSD as a failure to habituate to stress or as a reaction to an unexpected and therefore particularly severe experience of really bad stress.

I approach the question here from a different angle for a bunch of reasons, not least of which that my training is fundamentally about non-human animals in a foreign context. What I think, when I look at animal behavioral responses to stressful circumstances like the presence of predators or unpredictable weather patterns or scarcities of food, is "how do individual organisms adapt to environments that vary in hostility? How do you make the best of the situation you are in?" And that gives me a very different lens when I think about lasting traumas after stressful experiences: I think less about why are these people diverging from a baseline, and more about what things are these people learning about the environment, and what decisions is their body making about the relative safety of that environment based on that information?

We're fish trying to understand the effects of water, in a way. Stress is everywhere, and our current understandings of society, behavior, and ourselves don't have a lot of room for understanding why some things heal up after a blow and why some things shatter. So like... I raise my eyebrows because I'm perceiving something I see as a flaw in the thinking of the field as a whole, but I might be totally wrong, or I might be barking down the wrong trail. But I don't think he's totally wrong either; I just think he's approaching the problem from a framework I think is a little shortsighted in a couple of particular areas, just like he could probably make some pretty effective criticisms of mine.
posted by sciatrix at 8:50 PM on March 7 [36 favorites]


I don't know how anyone plans a wedding.

Get engaged several months later than planned because ring shopping definitely wasn’t happening in April 2020.

Participate in the Pfizer vaccine trial because why not do anything that helps us get one step closer to being with loved ones

Wait until presidential election results are in because you know there’s no hope of things improving with the orange man in office.

Hope for a “traditional” ceremony and reception, and give the new President a year and a half to get the vaccine into arms across the country.

Watch friends get engaged after you and married before you with the most dubious of COVID safety choices.

See the amazing impact that vaccines have made and start making more wedding plans. Let all your friends and family know a year in advance so they can plan.

Delta. Don’t get exited about the wedding at all. Know that it could be canceled at anytime and it’s not worth anyone getting sick over. See more friends get married.

Pay more deposits.

Omicron. Don’t get your hopes up- if that’s even possible at this point.

Require that all attendees be vaccinated.

Remove a federal mask mandate a 6 weeks in advance. Let people know that they are always welcome to wear a mask at the reception (does that really need to be said?)

Give up. Everything is basically paid for. In for a penny, in for a pound. Let guests know the precautions your taking and leave to rest to them.

Cross your fingers and hope.

Don’t feel excitement at any point in the process.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:57 PM on March 7 [11 favorites]


IDK; when my work email sends me chirpy little reminders about self care my immediate response is fury--because the acknowledgement feels like saying, you know there is a problem, you know this is not sustainable, but sending the chirpy reminders that I should take care of myself on my own time and my own dime just feels like more victim blaming. Not taking sufficient care of myself is somehow my fault, too, not the fault of the systematic expectations I'm wrestling with.

(MILHOUSE VOICE) So this is what it feels like when…doves cry!

For real. I work in an administrative/financial management capacity for a mental health research institute. When email no. 3,476 of the day is the cheerful reminder to take a one-hour break from tasks that have been piling up since the Before Times, and try mindful meditation, I just want to burn stuff. And break stuff. And drink stuff. ALL THE STUFF.

If mindfulness were really one of our values, my team wouldn’t be chronically understaffed and undercompensated. If our experts are so good at talking people off ledges, let them prove it already.
posted by armeowda at 9:42 PM on March 7 [13 favorites]


Stress is everywhere, and our current understandings of society, behavior, and ourselves don't have a lot of room for understanding why some things heal up after a blow and why some things shatter.

That's the crux of the matter, for me. All of us are always trying to juggle too many balls at once. One has to let go of the illusion that one will never drop one of them - the trick is to know which ball will bounce back and which will shatter. I can actually do quite a lot, if you give me clear priorities and a margin of error.

One my biggest frustrations in my old office job was that upper management would never be entirely honest about priorities. No matter what problem you're trying to solve - the solution can't be fast, cheap _and_ good. You always have to sacrifice - at least! - one. And upper management would never outright tell us which - too dangerous to put in writing, I guess, in case you pick the wrong one and have to take responsbility. So they did have a clear priority, after all, but it was "Cover your ass", which just doesn't make for a terribly inspiring work environment.

Still, I have fairly fond memories of my office job ("my cushy office job", in my own nostalgic retelling), because my immediate boss wasn't like that. We could talk honestly about priorities, conflicting goals and trade-offs and plot and plan accordingly. My boss would listen to me, and I never had to mince words when I felt that we couldn't pull something off. Sometimes she said to try it anyway (and if only so we could show the grand-boss that we had, at least, tried) but she always was realistic about prospects of success and wouldn't hold failure against me.

Turns out the energy saved by not mincing words can go quite a long way towards actual trouble shooting. My boss usually had a fairly good sense which ball would bounce back/which corner we could afford to cut/which stakeholder we could afford to - occasionaly - not too often course! - disappoint/which mistake we would get away with or at least get a chance to correct after the fact, and when she - rarely - miscalculated, she would take the responsibilty. To me, that made all the difference. But that's good leadership, and good leadership is hard to find.

When I talk about my own burn-out in my mid-twenties, I tend to frame it as crisis of faith - in the purpose of my work, in my ability to contribute something meaningful. A feeling that my efforts could never be enough, because they were misguided in the first place, because all my ambitions felt empty. But thinking about it now, I did more or less stay in the field, and all my later jobs have been somewhat related and reasonably satisfying.

It's probably not a coincidence that my burn-out happened when I had a perfectionist boss, who always made you feel like all the balls would shatter, and the only thing you could ever sacrifice was yourself.
posted by sohalt at 11:22 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


Is it possible that represents people using Zoom for what they would back in AC (ante covid) times have just wandered over to the next cubicle with a coffee in hand for, rather than an increase in actual meetings?

It starts in Sept 2020, when we had already been remote for 7 months. So, not a change based on going remote. (Also, we use teams for the 'just gonna call you real quick to explain this spreadsheet to me' questions)
posted by geegollygosh at 3:08 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


My organization has a yearly online training module dedicated to burn out. It hasn't changed in the decade or so since it was introduced as a part of our annual requirements. Their advice is the typical nonsense about taking time out of your day for exercise, eating right, getting plenty of sleep and learning to not let things out of your control "bother you." Yeah, that's easier said than done. They might as well have just made the module one sentence long: "Stop being stressed."

My cynical side has me thinking that the only reason it's included in our annual training is just in case there is a wrongful death suit after an employee commits suicide and the cause is traced back to our hopelessly-toxic and debilitatingly-stressful work environment. That training module can be offered as evidence that the employer took "necessary steps", etc.
posted by drstrangelove at 6:41 AM on March 8 [11 favorites]


This isn't the same as job burnout because eventually I will either graduate from college or drop out (I'm in my 30s).

One of my classes last semester had a self-care component where daily we had to either do yoga, meditate, mindfulness practice, etc and then journal about it. In each journal I would talk about how the practice is helpful but I just don't have time to dedicate to it and what I really need is 30 minutes, not 5 or whatever. My professor would always write a chirpy note "even taking a moment to breathe before you walk in a patient's room helps!" Yeah lady. I know it "helps" and I am saying that ONE BREATH before doing yet another task in my endless day doesn't replace actual rest.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:19 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]


It's not what they have known their entire conscious life?

I find it fun interesting educational to discover viewpoints at complete odds to my own experience. This one reminds me that not everyone identifies with the coyote rather than the roadrunner. And that I'd so much like to identify with the roadrunner but never going to happen.

It's starting to look like instead of the couple of years my current employer was hoping to get at our current site it'll be a couple months and one of the guys I work with is like "I don't understand why some of the workers are stressed about the contract". And I'm like "Dude! You've been working and well compensated for a decade now mostly because of fortuitous geography. John over there has worked nine months in the last three years. Try to have some empathy." But I can understand that it is tough to really put yourself in another person's shoes. And the flip side of that applies to my self where I can't see myself ever not being worried going forward. Even though I know people who are really having essentially their best year ever.
posted by Mitheral at 9:05 AM on March 8


My burnout is tied to work; it takes the form of knee-jerk incendiary rage at each new burden on top of everything else that was already loaded on. More projects, more meetings, more expectations; and my reactiveness has started to register with my boss. I expect a talking-to soon.

My response will be, dude; I am effing burned out and I cannot keep taking on more and more work when I got basically zero raise last year despite trudging through the pandemic. Most of the new shit is not even technically mine to manage or handle but because "we all need to pitch in," the new shit takes 3 times longer because: 1) I don't understand it; 2) I don't have the access to even do it; 3) the person who used to do it has either quit or is powerful enough to foist it off onto someone else, and they refuse to share knowledge or be on the hook in any way. Meanwhile all the existing stuff is still there, getting not-done.

What makes me the tiniest bit relieved? Applying for jobs. Knowing I could get a new job and walk away from all this is like a cracked-open window in an airless room. It keeps me breathing.

Yes, I know that's not an answer, and a new job could end up being worse then the old one. But you take what you can get. And it would at least be more money (since I will not change unless it's worth it). So there's that at least.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:30 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


My burnout is tied to work; it takes the form of knee-jerk incendiary rage at each new burden on top of everything else that was already loaded on. More projects, more meetings, more expectations;

Yes. Add in pandemic stress I'm not sure I'm over and the fact that I don't want another job despite this and yes.
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:32 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


my cynical side has me thinking that the only reason it's included in our annual training

No - that's the real answer. Anything foisted onto you by training, HR and policies/handbooks is to defer and manage risk.

The emailed reminders about work-life-balance? Managing risk. Executing the program put in place for wellness.
posted by rozcakj at 10:36 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I'm the last non-manager left on this team with a PE seal. I came back from a 5-day weekend on Monday and was immediately exhausted.

The thing that bugs me the most about the above is the inevitability of doing it all now. When I had coworkers, every time I'd hear a new project was coming up that I really didn't want to do, usually because it was for a shit client, at least there was a chance I wouldn't get that project. Now? All of it. There's no possibility someone else will get the job.

We've interviewed three soon-to-be graduates in the last two weeks and apparently offers have been extended to two of them. Neither can start until August, and they won't actually be helpful for months after that.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 11:19 AM on March 8


"Adulthood is just saying "If I can just get through this week" over and over again until you die." Why is this an acceptable life?

Erm....because we can't engineer a life of our own that works better? Yeah, my life would be much better on a daily basis if I could just run a business and DIY, but I'm not smart enough (or wanting to) for that. Nor would that be very stable, esp. in a pandemic. We put up with what we have to to stay alive, and because we can't design our own life that works with the rest of the world's requirements.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:03 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


The answer to that question is that a traumatizing, awful, desperate life for the masses is extremely good for the people who own nearly all the wealth in society. People who can't imagine anything more than just getting through the week, people who are desperate for a job, any job, don't revolt, don't fight back, don't organize. And societies, by and large, are organized the way their wealthiest and most powerful members want. That's what wealth and power are for. That's why no amount of money is ever enough for them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:09 PM on March 8 [14 favorites]


I've basically been working full time since I was 16. I'm 43 now. I learned a few years ago that switching jobs was not the cure for burnout for me and I can't remember a time where I wasn't really tired at my current job so after a stock vest comes up in July I'm 90% sure that I'm just to resign and just take a few months off. It's never a convenient time and I really would actually like to buy a house in my new city first, but I've come to the conclusion that I really just need some actual rest. Puttering around the house, maybe finally doing that roadtrip through the southwest I've been planning.

The shitty part of all this is that as an American your worth as a human is directly tied to employment, so moving to bad/nonexistent health coverage for the duration of my funemployment is scary, as is the fear of finding a job after 6 months or so. Logically I know that my skills are now more in demand than ever, psychologically there's the fear of ending up homeless under a bridge.

If that doesn't work, I don't know what else to do, to be honest. If it does work, I'm excited for my wife to meet a version of me that I don't think she's seen yet.
posted by mikesch at 1:21 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Lately I've watched a lot of people make bizarre mistakes.. as in, increasingly bizarre mistakes that don't even make sense. "March 736, 2020" experiences or worse. Still an increasingly weird era.
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:48 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Okay, you've mentioned it a few times so.. do you not get what March 736, 2020 means?

There are 365 days in a year. Since it is 2 years roughly from the start of lockdowns, it's been 365x2=730. They said it on March 6, clearly. It's a joke.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:54 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Thanks. Actually thought it referenced something else. That's actually clear now. Cool joke.
posted by firstdaffodils at 7:53 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


COVID Standard TIme
Discussed here.
posted by dg at 7:57 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I was hoping someone would respond this way, actually.^ Context for my post above actually still fits.
posted by firstdaffodils at 8:01 PM on March 8


I totally burned out at work a few years back. My company got taken over (when I joined, the owners were a group of unions, the new owners were a private equity group), management was nonexistent or worse, I hated my boss, the work was pointless (every task was about meeting some impossible timeline that an idiot had set to please their boss, and the new owners had their own COMPANY that did what our team did - we were basically in a boredom room), the environment sucked blah blah. My partner had been telling me to just quit for more than a year, and one day (just after coming back from a short but lovely holiday into groundhog-office) I did.

Hindsight: If I'd stayed six more months I'd've got a nice redundancy payment, but I'd've been totally broken by then.

After running down savings, and being supported by my partner for (quite a) while, I got a great new job in a different industry. Meaningful work with great coworkers. So that's lovely.

...and yeah, now I feel very similar burnout after all the fires, the plague, the deaths, the lockdowns, the more fires, the floods, the brazen corruption of our leaders, the fascists, the fucking cookers importing Qanon lunacy, and now imperalist war in Europe and the return to nuclear paranoia....

This one I can't quit. There's no redundancy payout potential (The Jackpot is not for the likes of me). I feel like discounting thoughts of the future is just a natural defence mechanism. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other - why the fuck would I want to think about what's around the next corner?
posted by pompomtom at 3:01 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I relate to all this entirely too much. In a more civilized society, I would be approaching retirement
instead of having to start all over from scratch.

My personal story of burnout: For a brief beautiful moment, I had well paying work with awesome colleagues, and we were doing great with work from home. Due to a horrible breakup, I moved across the country to be with my family with my works' permission and support.

Between a moving scam and the breakup, I lost everything I owned in the world that I didn't carry on the plane with me when I moved.

Next, my work rolled out a hybrid work model, where the virus stays home three days a week, and we would 'safely' return to commuting to the office so we could hold remote Zoom meetings from there.

I kind of snapped, and decided that no one could pay me enough to risk a second case of COVID, let alone ending up being an unknowing vector. Plus, I had nothing left to return to on the east coast. It seemed completely ridiculous that we were supposed to pretend that the pandemic was over because Capitalism. There had to be better options!

So, I resigned in the confidence that I am good at what I do and surely remote opportunities were available. And now? I can't get any responses to my many job applications and even temp agencies seem to be ghosting me.

I am at my wits end living off what little savings I had accumulated in what was meant to be my retirement fund. Where and how am I supposed to find the physical, emotional, (and hell, financial!) reserves to find work while the world falls down around my ears?! Worse, I am living with immunocompromised family and in-person work has become even less tenable than before.

I veer between abject terror of global catastrophe and panic that I have finally succeeded in irrevocably ruining my life. I fear there's no recovery from this at my age and I feel paralyzed. This feels worse than burnout and I don't see how society can change quickly enough to make any same solution workable. I don't have any answers, only dread and I know that's not the energy that's going to help me and mine right now.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:21 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


(My point is, it's been a long time since I have been able to think of my life as anything other than just getting through the next specific time period. I have always envious and confused by people who can plan out multiple years into the future, when it feels like such a struggle just getting through the day.)
posted by Space Kitty at 4:33 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


"I’ve struggled with planning and time management for forever, and routinely joke that “time is fake,” as if I’m some kind of stoner bro. I’m not, I just really struggle with imagining possible futures. Only a crisis makes me feel truly alive."

What's... the difference between this and ADHD?
posted by Elysum at 3:52 AM on March 30


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