Four matches next to each other. Each is progressively more burned than the one before it, with the last match being almost completely burnt.

The Causes of Burnout Are a Lot More Common Than We Think

by Jessie Quinn

If 2020 was the year of the pandemic, 2021 is the year of burnout. After the events of last year, many of us are experiencing burnout, which has us feeling drained, physically and mentally tired, and an all-around lack of energy to do everything from our jobs to house chores to even things we love, like hobbies. And, while feelings of burnout might be unfamiliar to some of us experiencing it for the first time, the causes of burnout are actually very common

“While the cause of burnout for each person is unique, burnout can often be tracked back to a few main themes: Excessive stress, not living from your values, high responsibility [and] low control, and a lack of community or support network,” says Hannah Keyes, a a Productivity Strategist & Burnout Expert with over 12 years of experience in corporate administration, executive support, and entrepreneurship. “Many of these causes are commonplace in today’s culture, which leads to burnout happening more often and also being more difficult to spot at the same time,” she adds. 

What Causes Burnout?

“Learning about the common causes of burnout cannot happen effectively through just a laundry list of things, but rather requires a fundamental understanding of three things: Your nervous system, your life circumstances, and you,” says Chrissy Papetti, an Occupational Therapist, Self Mastery Mentor, Success Coach, and Speaker. According to Papetti, when we are faced with feelings of burnout, our minds and bodies enter a state of “shutdown,” which is also known as the Dorsal Vagal Parasympathetic Nervous System. “In order to get to shutdown, [the mind] has to go through prolonged, excessive time spent in fight-or-flight mode [aka, the Sympathetic Nervous System],” she explains. 

All of us humans have the same nervous system functions — but our systems can reach a point of overdrive in different ways. “What sends one person’s nervous system into overdrive may not be the same things that send another person’s nervous system into ultimate burnout,” says Papetti. Because of this factor, life circumstances and who we are “will determine what are likely to be your primary causes for burnout,” she adds. This all comes down to our own personal “windows of tolerance” for what we (i.e. our nervous systems) are able to handle, plus the reality of our energy levels. 

Common Causes of Burnout 

According to Papetti, we might have our unique “life conditions and tolerances,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t share common causes for burnout. They often come down to: home and work environments, relationships (including friendships), finances, career, health and well-being, and spiritually

Home and Work Environments: Where we live and work can have an impact on our well-being and, if we are experiencing “unsafe or unsupportive living conditions, uncomfortable dynamics with housemates, and distance to travel from home to work” we could end up feeling burnt out, says Papetti. The same applies to work environments. 

Relationships and Friendships: As humans, connection to other humans is important to us. But, a lack of support or connection to our network of loved ones can leave us feeling drained. Additionally, feeling isolated, misunderstood, loneliness, disconnected, and a lack of intimacy can also play into feelings of burnout, says Papetti. And, “spending time with others who bring you down” also contributes.  

Finances: Money stress is real and can even lead to feelings of burnout. According to Papetti, “inconsistent or unreliable financial support, mismanagement of funds, an unexpected loss of money, or an investment with no ROI” can make us feel fully depleted. 

Career: Our jobs and careers can play an intricate role in burnout. Papetti says if you feel unfilled at work, have unrealistic job expectations from your boss, work excessive hours, or are involved in high-stakes work, you might end up feeling burnt out. You can also feel burnt out if your capabilities don’t match your job’s demands. 

Health and Well-Being: Our bodies’ physical health can also contribute to the causes of burnout. “Lack of sleep, medical conditions, mental or physical health challenges, and inadequate nutrition, excessive or infrequent physical movement” are all causes of burnout, according to Papetti. 

Spirituality: “Questioning your own existence and the meaning of life, conflicting beliefs with loved ones, religious or spiritual rules, or restriction of freedom” all contribute to burnout, says Papetti. 

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Jessie Quinn