“Nothing in excess”

I’ve been writing a post forever on burnout – a rather serious condition, and one that I wanted to warn my students about – but I am by now burnt out even thinking about it.  Too much of a good thing does you no good.  Μηδὲν ἄγαν, as someone saidSuperflua nocent.  The other night I decided to give myself some extra calcium by way of yogurt, a cup of which contains 40% of your daily calcium dose.  I had three cups thereof and ended up cramping all night.  Turns out too much calcium does something to your magnesium levels, as a result of which your legs cramp.  

Now, it’s not as if I force-fed myself the yogurt.  I actually felt like eating it at the time, and the quantity seemed absolutely right.  It’s only afterwards that I came to doubt my decision.  Funny, those decisions always seem right at the moment you make them… 

According to some psychologists cited on the Wikipedia burnout entry, there are twelve steps on the road to peril, and it’s not necessary to take them in the order below:

  • A compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting one’s own needs
  • Displacement of conflicts (the person does not realize the root cause of the distress)
  • Revision of values (friends or hobbies are completely dismissed)
  • Denial of emerging problems (cynicism and aggression become apparent)
  • Withdrawal (reducing social contacts to a minimum, becoming walled off; alcohol or other substance abuse may occur)
  • Behavioral changes become obvious to others
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome

Have you been down this road?  I have.  It all starts with the desire to prove yourself worthy – as if you are not already.  But the harder you try, the more elusive the goal.  Things become especially painful when you aspire to be like someone else, because you’re your own person and can’t be anyone else.  I am not saying that we should not be inspired by other people, just that trying to reproduce exactly what they did to become great may not work for you.  And you neglect your own needs, as a result. 

An example – once upon a time, I thought something was seriously screwed up with me, because I couldn’t sit down and study for 10 hours straight.  I’d force myself to do it, though, because this is what I thought was the essence of being a student and a scholar.  You read all those article about people being disciplined and devoting a predetermined portion of their day to study.  Well – I can do it, provided that I take frequent breaks and 15-minute naps (the naps work wonders for me but may not work for someone else).  It’s essential, in my case, that the breaks be spontaneously taken; if I set a time for the break, I keep thinking about it and everything goes downhill.  The break may be in the form of quick stretching (which I just did) or of boot review, but I have to have it.

Can you overdo the breaks?  Not if they are spontaneous; yes, if you are bored.  To me, boredom is a wall, and I have to find a way around it by reading seemingly unrelated stuff and talking to people (say, on the SBP blog).  Amazing breakthroughs may come as a result of random discussions. 

So for me, the right balance between seriousness and levity works best because I am inclined to both.  Disturb this balance, and intellectual cramps ensue.  I think this is the case with everyone, although the exact proportions vary with each person.  What say ye?

P.S.  In addition to the Burnout Syndrome, there is something called Boreout – here’s a link or two.  Three’s a charm.  Plus you can test yourselves and see if you are bored out.


8 thoughts on ““Nothing in excess”

  1. I posted something on burnout in sports on the Silver and Black Pride blog – here’s the link.
    Also, I learned how to ski a few years ago. To be precise, I am still learning. Now, if my focus had remained on becoming like Jude (who’s an expert skier and superb athlete by nature), I’d have ditched skiing long ago, because I may never dare the things he does. Fortunately, I “reframed” early on…

  2. Actually – your body needs the magnesium (and vitamin D) in order to absorb the calcium. Try taking a calcium supplement with magnesium and vitamin D in it already, or be ready to take a magnesium supplement along with whatever you eat and you won’t get those cramps. Careful not to take too much magnesium, though – it is often used as a laxative.

    If the yogurt tasted good to you, then you probably needed something it was supplying.

    So, burnout eh? I think you can burn out (or bore out) of just about anything. Even a vacation can burn you out. The trick is balance. There is a ton of research out there on well being, burnout, resilience………… I write about it daily. Good for you for addressing it within the academic world! I recently read Well Being by Tim Rath and another author I can’t think of at the moment. These authors advocated the notion that different areas of our lives(career, physical wellness, social, etc.) are not independent from each from each other, but instead are interdependent. They also indicated that people tend to be happiest when they have balance between these area.

    One key to avoiding burnout – or recovering from it is to take the time to take care of yourself and your needs. Again………balance. 😀

    1. Absolutely! Balance is the key. Thanks for the tips!

      I take a multivitamin and eat pretty healthily. That’s why I thought the yogurt did it. My favorite dairy food is cottage cheese with cherry jam and fruit.

  3. That list of symptoms sounds like an average day for me. Since when are those bad things? Take my signature symptom, withdrawal. If it’s really symptomatic of a psychological syndrome that needs repair, half of the great religious figures in the world would be deemed psychological misfits instead of luminaries.

    1. I think religious withdrawal is different from the withdrawal that accompanies burnout. I don’t think true religious leaders were depressed or lonely.

      This withdrawal here is diabolic.

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