Cognitive Psychology

Are We Too Burned Out to #SaveOurDemocracy


Burnout is making it harder to do the things we need to do to save and restore our democracy. Burnout is the condition of being unable to cope with prolonged stress. We’ve all been stressed since 2016 and particularly stressed since the start of the pandemic.

Burnout is all around us. It is like we’re living in a forest right after the forest fire. All we see are the blackened husks of trees. All we hear is the crunch of ash beneath our feet. All we smell is the residual smoke. All we feel is the numbed pain of grief for what once was.

And that is the funny thing, isn’t it? We aren’t collectively grieving the almost one million official deaths from #COVID19. Thanks MAGA. Keeping us divided over the mitigation efforts of vaxxing, masking, and distancing keeps prevents us from collectively grieving because we aren’t collectively doing anything but fighting. Even though, Biden started off his administration by holding a national memorial service for the 500,000 dead up to that point. There was a moment there when it felt like we might, just might, come together as a country, but oops the GQP noped out on that one, too.

We’re burned out about #COVID19, the fight over mask and vaxx mandates by governments or workplaces. We’re burned out on trying to get Biden’s agenda passed. We’re burned out about the accusations and bogus counter accusations used to just muddy the water and keep us from moving forward. We’re burned out by the fight over the Big Lie. We’re burned out by the struggle for voting rights. We’re burned out about abortion, guns, LGBTQ+ rights, mass shootings, the 6 January Insurrection, and everything else big and small plaguing the country.

Let me know in the comments what’s got you burned out, especially if I’ve missed it in the list.

What is Burnout?

Let’s see who among us is burned out by answering these three simple questions:

  1. Do you feel depleted or exhausted or just lacking energy in one or more areas of your life?
  2. Are you attempting to distance yourself from one or more issues in your life, especially by using sarcasm and cynicism or just feeling negative about it or them?
  3. Are you feeling like it is difficult or impossible to achieve your goals or desired outcomes in these areas of your life?

Seriously, are you feeling hopeless about #COVID19, politics, the elections, climate change, war with Russia, investigations, and everything else we seem to disagree on in the country? Well, then brother and sisters, you are not alone. You are one of the many because according to the APA’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, 60% of those surveyed reported a lack of motivation, interest, energy, or effort at work. Forty-four percent reported feeling physical fatigue and a third reported feeling cognitive weariness and emotional exhaustion. These are all up substantially from 2019.

We can see the same effects in other polls, too. In January the results of the Global Strategy Group/GBAO/ Navigator Research survey were released. They found that 52% of Americans were frustrated by politics. This reaction broke down by political affiliation with 78% of Republicans, 55% of independents, and 29% of Democrats reporting feeling frustrated by politics.

Frankly, I’m shocked that it is only a third of Democrats and four-fifths of Republicans. I woulda thought it the other way round what with all the Republican success in gutting abortion rights, rolling back LGBTQ+ rights, stymying Biden’s legislative agenda, and attacking school boards and local health authorities. I guess, it only goes to show that the Republican propaganda machine is being very successful in keeping the base feeling frustrated and ornery.

Reacting to Burnout

A common reaction to burnout is to give up and quit. Why not? One cause of burnout is feeling like the situation is hopeless or there’s nothing you can do to change it. You’re having emotions that, for whatever reason, you cannot process adequately. A perfectly reasonable thing to do under those circumstances is quit.

Unfortunately, burnout adds a bit of drama to a lot of quitting, right? Everyone remembers Steven SlaterYou don’t? I bet you remember the flight attendant who announced over the intercom that he quit as the flight rolled to a stop, grabbed a few cans of beer, popped the emergency exit, and slid down to the tarmac, though right?

That guy was burned out. Had he realized it sooner, he might coulda quit in a way that didn’t make his career nearly impossible to resurrect.

Right now, we’re all Steven Slater. The GQP is piling on the stressors. They’re guaranteeing that the pandemic won’t be ending this year by continuing their disinformation campaign about all things #COVID19. They are continuing to propagate the Big Lie and using it to pass voter suppression and nullification legislation. They’re acting on their voter nullification legislation. MAGA is becoming increasingly unhinged and acting out in public over every little slight that Tucker Carlson et al. imagines that they’ve endured. The Congressional Republicans have noped child poverty into doubling and have thwarted all legislation. The list is endless, because they want us to feel like we’re drowning.

Coping with Burnout

So, here’s what you need to do to survive our extraordinary times without giving up and continuing not only to fight for our democracy, but also, probably chalk up one in the win column:

  • TAKE TIME OUT. Pace yourself. Schedule vacations from political news and social media. The political world is continue to turn whether you post that meme with the sick burn in it or not. You don’t need to know about every little thing that Laura Ingraham says and does on her show. Screaming at Josh Rogan isn’t going to actually stop him from keeping MAGA agitated. You’re important. We need you in the fight, but it’s a marathon, so pace yourself.
  • BECOME A HELPER. Remember Mr. Roger’s advice to look for the helpers? The corollary is to look for ways to be a helper. A good way to cut your stress is to do something for someone else. Make it a habit to smile at people during the day. It will help you feel better, and them, too. Open the door for someone. Help them carry something heavy or awkward. If you have the time in your schedule, volunteer for an organization that addresses a cause you believe in.
  • BLOG ABOUT IT. Probably better to write a journal, really, but either way, one of the causes of burnout is sitting on a heap of unprocessed pent up emotion. So unpent it. Let it out. A really safe way to do that is to start writing. Kick it old school and start a blog. Or go real old school and get a paper journal and pen. Seriously. It’s gotten me through some of my worst times.
  • FIND SOME BALANCE. Let something go. If you’re stressed out, you’re probably doing too much. Find some way to lighten the load. Get some balance back in your life. Given the way my weeks and days go, scheduling has been a godsend. I am now doing my laundry twice a week, and I reward myself by watching a TV show while the washer runs. I write blog posts during smaller blocks of time, and schedule them for posting when they’re done. I even schedule when I check and respond to email. My life is much better now, and I’m a hopeless procrastinator.
  • EXERCISE. Nothing burns cortisol, the stress hormone, like exercise. I know, something else to schedule, but so worth it. Just walking will help. And, bonus, if you exercise with your spouse, you’ll feel closer together and it will improve your relationship. If you exercise with a friend, you’ll have a much stronger friendship.
  • CONTRIBUTE TO OUR POLITICAL SITUATION in some way other than meming on social media. Write a letter to the editor. Make a regular contribution to a political organization or politician. Volunteer for a campaign or political organization. Join an Indivisible group. Doing something effective to help the situation will help you feel like you’re more in control.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do to help you cope with our horrific national situation, so please feel free to add to it in the comments! Let us know what you’re doing to cope with all the crazy shit that is going on around us… in the comments. It’s good for you. It’ll help you feel less stressed, you know.

Help someone out and tell them about Ye Olde Blogge!

It’ll help your stress levels and help a friend, family member, acquaintane, or a complete stranger.

Like or rate the blog. You’ll make me feel better and yourself, too!

Leave a comment! You might even make a new friend in our lively commenting community.

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Image Attribution

“Near Burnout – feeling the Blues” by Rolf Dietrich Brecher is licensed under CC BY 2.0

49 replies »

  1. I think that the cognitive effects of burnout go in two opposite directions. On one hand, it can get us to over-estimate risks and under-estimate our ability and resources to deal with them. On the other hand, we can under-estimate risks, or simply stop thinking about them and avoid information about them. And, those tendencies are likely to be applied to different perceived risks.

    My go-to method of burnout reduction is getting out and walking (can’t run due to bad knee), getting away for the TV and computer, greeting people and dogs on the Greenway without talk of politics or COVID, and keeping the cell phone in the pocket unless it demands attention (i.e., not streaming news or such on it, or talking and making calls, being present where I physically am). It really helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      Maybe that burnout thing is a two step process. The first step you begin over-estimating risk and under-estimating your ability and end up avoiding crap as best you can until you go all Steve Slater on the situation. I remember the beginnings of burnout when I worked AIDS and at a university in Busan. I realized that if I didn’t make changes, I was going to force myself to make some changes by doing something stupid that I’d regret.

      Everyone leaves their jobs in different ways, don’t they? Some people can’t leave until they’re completely burned out and angry. Others doing stupid shit so they get fired. Some just disappear or check out. We’ve all seen plenty of people leave jobs, but it is interesting how they do it.

      I’ve always done better when I’ve exercised. In the States I bicycled. I’m running again and it’s made a big difference. The thing that makes the most difference is helping folks, though. Looking for ways to being helpful.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those early signs of burnout come is many ways. My first clear sign of it when I was working Crisis was after two calls from people threatening suicide who said they had guns. One was very drunk and also saying he would shoot the police if I sent them. It was a small town and they knew him and went anyway. The whole time I had him on the phone there was a clicking and scraping sound in the background. It turned out he was trying to load a .38 clip into a .45 gun and too drunk to figure out what was going wrong. That’s when I began having the thought that sooner or later I would hear a loud noise on one of those late night calls.

        Another thing that helps is not having cable news (any version) or talk radio on all day as background noise. I get by fine with NPR’s hourly headlines between the classical music.

        Speaking of total burnout cases, there is this item of descent into bonkersville: https://www.them.us/story/conservative-conspiracy-school-litter-box-furries-tucker-carlson-mms?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=spotlight-nl&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=thematic_spotlight_012522_2&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bd6730124c17c1048004ec8&cndid=31950619&hasha=f928381c17165d018c0bf4c042428f4f&hashb=2a43bdc929dc1ce4a25d4bf8543452933c28257e&hashc=ebe61e290ff5f6dab2702263b67c4c485180ab2deb59e026490fcd63c88404f5&esrc=FYL_SEG_APR18&sourcecode=thematic_spotlight&utm_term=Thematic_Spotlight

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          Working hotlines of any kind is always high stress. I used to volunteer for our local rape crisis center and did a couple hotline shifts for them a month. I also did oncall intake for a private for profit hospital. I just can’t imagine talking to someone wondering if you’ll hear the shot or not.

          Our 24-7 news cycle isn’t helping. Our race to out scoop and predict each other on the social medias, isn’t either. A world that thrives on likes and shares is high stress and lends itself to burnout.

          I don’t know which is worse, though, a parent going to a school board meeting to complain about an absurdly impossible situation that no sane person — mass psychosis really does mean you’ll believe anything — would believe exists or a national opinion show host who actually seems to believe that the goal of progressives is to desexualize and androgynize anthropomorphic cartoon characters. I guess it’s a good thing, I’ve got an old bag of MnMs here, so I can open it up and have a drink with the brown and green ones. I need it.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              The kitty litter box and furries is pretty strong support for the mass psychosis hypothesis. These folks really will believe anything. The closed feedback loop keeps folks ginned up and outraged. The drink was good. Baileys seemed like the best thing to pair with MnM’s.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

              • I keep having the thought that there are people out there in social media land saying to each other, “Lets see if they will fall for this one.”, and trying to get farther and farther out to top each other.

                That sounds like a good combo.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  I used to moderate a FB political discussion page with some friends back in 2014 – 2016. There were a substantial number of rightwing trolls on the site that made it difficult to moderate. It was easy to see them IM’ing each other to see what they could do to get our goats then. It’s only gotten worse now. I’m sure the various forums and social media platforms are full of people who are trying to push the boundaries to see what they can get MAGA to believe and also to just harass more liberal social media accounts with.

                  In a world governed by the number of likes and shares you get, you get sensationalism.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      It’s another of the ends justifies the means situations. The thing that gets the clicks is owning the other side. It is the partisan sick burns that everyone clicks on. So, when clicks are all that matter, acting with reckless cruelty becomes acceptable.

                      When the newsroom is guided by who gets the most clicks on their stories drives the both sideism and accusations of misconduct of Dems so that they are on par with those leveled against the Republicans. It’s confounding. It’s done as a matter of course without conscious thought or awareness. It’s just a knee jerk reaction that started with Reagan as they drove the liberal media bias argument home.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The sad thing is that with the Citizen’s United decision, we lost the Congressional and Executive pillars of our democracy. Now, they have eroded the Judicial. The only thing left is the citizenry. We’ll see if we can rescue it from ourselves.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • By the end of this term, SCOTUS will have issued a raft of decisions which will upset a great many people (abortion, guns, preferencing (some) religion, and more), but most truly damaging will be the attack on the regulatory state (EPA, OSHA). Ruling against the ability/authority of EPA to regulate green house emissions will almost guarantee that we will not meet climate targets. They don’t care. The Court as currently populated will have become an existential danger. The issue will be whether the Democrats can ram through an expansion of the court before January 2023 when the next Congress is seated, unless the majority in both Houses is retained.

                      https://www.huffpost.com/entry/supreme-court-2022-term_n_61f42070e4b04f9a12bcef52

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      They won’t ram through an expansion of the court. They won’t admit two new states to the union. It will be up to the voters to give the Dems a big enough advantage in Congress to be functional over Manchin’s and Sinema’s objections. I don’t know if the Dems have it in them to actually do that. I don’t know if the American electorate has it in them.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I agree on all counts. The Dems need to gain at least two Senate seats (preferrably 12, but fat chance of that), unless Manchin gets a primary challenge and loses to a Democrat who then wins the seat. A lot of Manchin’s attitude is based on his belief that he is the only Democrat who can hope to win in WV. Unfortunately, he is probably right.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And the Republicans are betting on two things: (1) Their ability to gum up the issues with hysterical rhetoric about just about any trivial vaguely threatening incident and (2) the willingness of the electorate (white people) to fall for it and vote for them. That is the thing that worries me most about the ’22 election: will the Dems be able to keep the public discourse focused on the big issues of saving democracy and the climate.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The Dems have to do the one thing they are so often bad at, dominating the media conversation, defining the terms of debate, and the framing of the questions. In any debate, once you accept the other side’s definitions of what the words mean, you have lost.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      The media is also complicit in accepting the Republican framing of issues and interpretations of events. The whole Manchin-Sinema-Biden drama was framed as internecine war when the more accurate reporting was that the Republicans were obstructing and voting against raising half of our impoverished children out of poverty and limiting the price of insulin for diabetics. Part of the issue comes from trying for such a big tent coalition and listen to everyone’s sometimes conflicting worries and concerns. But, we’ll have to have a coherent message, though.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The media are drama addicts, so, we got the unending focus on the personalities in the Manchin-Sinema-Biden “negotiations”, and speculation on the eventual outcome instead of focus on the GOP obstruction and the damage that does. Part of that is because the McConnell stone wall has been taken as simply a fact of life when it has gone on so long and quietly. They don’t have to explain themselves in actual debate, just let it be known they will vote “No”.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And, now McConnell doesn’t want to run on policy in ’22. Big surprise. All social wedge issues all the time. He doesn’t think he has to declare what they are for because voters cannot hold them accountable. If the press falls for it, it’s a cinch that the general public will, too.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • As long as the press sticks to, “So and so said, and other so and so said.”, it will be up to the Dems and allied groups like Indivisible to keep keep the pressure up on the press to report on, “But what are they (GOP) really FOR besides vague and empty noises about Liberty, Freedom, and Rights?”, and on GOP candidates to say what they are for, on policy, if only to show they have none they care to reveal.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I guess one of the biggest problems the press has is trying to explain complex nuanced issues using fifth grade English. It’s just easier to use the vague empty noise the Republicans use since it convinces the Republican constituents, the reporter, and their readers by appealing to the same emotional issues rather than the more reasoned ones. One way to look at it is that we need a better class of reporters and better news outlets. The problem is trying to get a news organization to be competitive with the major MSM outlets without using the same editorial rubric that they use.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • It is very difficult to communicate nuance using sound bites of less than one minute. And, there is another actor in the whole problem, the advertisers, the sponsors who pay for the whole thing. Trying not to offend them can’t help watering down the product.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      When you put it all together, you come up with the weakest stalest pablum possible. Is it any wonder that we’ve got the problems understanding and coping with our complex world?

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Right now, I’m looking at a headline from NYT.

                      “Good Morning. Inflation is up, and Americans are mad. But it’s not a simple story.”

                      Scrolling down, I see this paragraph:

                      “Krugman suggests that the main reason is a national narrative that focuses on inflation and ignores the economy’s strengths. And I don’t doubt that this negative narrative plays a role in the country’s dissatisfaction. As regular Morning readers know, I agree that we in the media have a bad-news bias.”

                      It is hard to argue with that. There is truth in the old canard, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

                      And, who, but other media people, liberal activists, and academics actually reads long form reporting in newspapers and magazines these days?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Sometime during my undergrad years, I had a professor point out that Dante’s Inferno was much thicker than his Paradiso because people enjoyed reading about misery and hardship much more than success and happiness. Apparently, she was right.

                      I know I’ve been fighting the TL;DR boogeyman for years. It just doesn’t pay to write long form any more. No body is interested in reading it. We just don’t have the sustained attention for it.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      What we’re learning about our fellow humans that are now extinct is really interesting. Europe was the place where there was the most homo sapien-neanderthal interaction, so it would make sense that there would be more neanderthal genes in Europeans. What that implies is anyone’s guess since we don’t know much about what neanderthals were like. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to listen to the podcast. I didn’t want to let too much time pass without responding to your email.

                      Who doesn’t love themselves a little Schadenfreude?

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Part of the podcast observation is about the speculation on the effect of those genes. It seems that some are wanting to credit them with what they see as White Superiority, and therefore viewing Neanderthals as more White and not so much as the stupid, slouching cave people.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      It is an interesting reversal, isn’t it? Rather on par with the GQP’s support of Putin, only this reversal can’t be explained by the purchasing power of Putin’s rubles or by the open lust for a kleptocracy. I guess people will clutch at any explanation to justify their indefensible beliefs.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • That we could breed tells us how closely we were related. Maybe one day, we’ll clone a neanderthal and find out what they were really like. Wouldn’t that be something?

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Authoritarian governments are usually populated people with clusters of the dark tetrad personality traits. I’ve always thought that you could call it psychopathocracy. So anytime we’re talking autocracy or other non-democratic forms of government, it seems like narcissism is being addressed.

                      Thanks for the link. I don’t read enough feathered sleep.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

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