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Burn-out: An omen of a new world

Burnout is everywhere. Every week I hear a new story on the radio or I read a staggering new statistic in the newspaper. The analyses are thrown around: too much work, too little rest, too much distraction by new technology, too little resilience of the younger generations, too little self-discipline, stressful combination of work and family life. 

Burnout is not anymore about work. Proof be the burnouts among students, stay-at-home parents and burnouts among jobseekers. As a psychotherapist I’ve seen the myriad of people struck by burn-out: young, old, successful or at the bottom, with or without a job, healthy or sick, rich or poor. Burnout is the great equalizer it seems.

I’ve been fascinated by burnout for a long time and I’ve come to belief that burnout is not at all a disease, or a shortcoming. 

It is an omen, a symptom, a harbinger. Burn-out is telling us something is not working anymore. It is the canary in the coal-mines. An old world view is crumbling, and at the same time something new and exciting is being born into this world.


Two Choices

This virus is an X-ray of our society, I heard writer David Brooks say last week. It exposes the deep structures and vulnerabilities of our community. Things that until now could comfortably remain hidden in the everyday busy-ness of our unquestioned autopilot mode.


In “normal” times (personally I think the “old normal” is very radical but that is for a later blog) we do not have much time to dwell on important things for too long. We are always 

so tremendously busy! Too busy to feel  how we are doing in our important relationships, or what we want out of life, or what we think about our work choices – let alone reflecting on how the larger community is doing or where this world of ours is heading.

Through our collective self-generated frenzy, unimportant matters are made urgent so that the really important life questions are put on hold.  Busy-ness as an addiction and escape. “It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when they have lost their way,” Rollo May observed sharply.

This virus is now forcing all of us to slow down. And slowing down primordially causes one thing: it brings to life what was numb before. We notice more when we slow down, we experience more – both inside and outside us. And although it does sound very romantic to talk about ‘slowing down’, I see it in my practice (and myself) every day:  the art of noticing more first entails that shadows and disowned parts of us, which  were held under the surface with all our unconscious might, are now mercilessly poking through the veils. The distraction of our collective acceleration disappears. “This great big festering neon distraction” grunts the frontman of Tool in the venomous song Aenima.