6 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Burnout is closely related to depression and anxiety, and often it has a lot of the same symptoms.
With the challenges that work, family and life in general pose – it’s not surprising that many men are overwhelmed. Checking in with your friends is a great way to bring it up in conversation.
Helping a friend avoid burnout starts with checking in and having a conversation.
Learn about the signs of depression and anxiety in men, so you can better support your friend’s mental health.
We’ve all been there. The very brink of burnout. It’s generally experienced when you’re overwhelmed, unrested or stressed. The result may be getting sick and rundown, having random bursts of emotion (like anger, frustration, anxiety, or sadness), or reacting to the tiniest of inconveniences (e.g. the toaster not working) in an irrational manner (e.g. throwing toast across the room).
The lead-up to burnout is usually obvious from an outside perspective, but may be less so to the person experiencing it. For example, you can tell that someone working 60-hour weeks, caring for an elderly parent, and spending every weekend knee-deep in kitchen renovations probably isn’t going to keep all that up for too long.
Working ourselves to the bone can have a negative impact on our relationships, physical health and mental health. In fact, some medical professionals argue that depression/anxiety is linked to burnout and say that it often bears a lot of the same traits.
If you notice a friend on the brink of burnout, here’s some advice on how you can help him.
Work-life balance is often a conversation we reserve for women, but guys need support in this area too. There’s a lot of pressure on men (particularly dads) to lead successful careers, be epic father figures and keep the house ship-shape — all while trying to maintain a social life, stay fit and healthy, and be a good son, brother, nephew etc. It really is a lot.
The work-life juggling act has become all the more obvious thanks to COVID-19, which has thrown home life and working styles into disarray. Many men have had to work from home (an adjustment in itself) and some have to do so while homeschooling kids as well.
Worrying about family, friends and colleagues has become a constant. This means that a lot of men are at the brink right now and in need of support.
Let’s just acknowledge that we can’t do it all. It’s too much. And we probably shouldn’t. That’s why friends (like you) are there to step in when the going gets tough. But some can find it tough to admit that they’re struggling. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us all to check in with each other.
The first step is to actually catch your friend for long enough between their frantic activities to have a talk. A quick text or video call can be a great way to catch them for a short but meaningful conversation. Just make sure you choose an appropriate time, so your friend isn’t distracted or stressed out by other stuff. If you don’t know a time that would suit, just ask them. Invite them to name a time to catch up, though don’t let them brush you off with vague plans. Instead get a concrete time and date locked in.
When you do sit down to talk, try to move past the usual “how are you?”, “yeah fine” style conversation. But also hold back from attacking them with a lecture on self-care. Ask open-ended questions about what’s going on in their life (i.e. questions that need more than a one word, yes/no, answer, such as “what’s been happening for you lately?”) and take it deeper by asking clarifying questions, such as “what do you mean by that?”. This will show that you’re listening and genuinely interested. Remember to put your phone on silent, turn the TV off, and give them your full attention.
You may be able to offer some practical, immediate solutions to help them avoid burnout. Ask “How can I help?” or “Can I let you know what helped me?”. For example, you could help out with housework, do the shopping for them or look after the kids for a bit.
It’s important to realise that burnout is deeply linked to the state of our mental health. To help someone on the verge of burning out, you may need to address the elephant in the room and actually ask about their mental health.
Speaking openly about mental health might not be something you're used to and in fact may be very different from most (or all) of the conversations you usually have with a friend. But even if you’ve never spoken about feelings or mental health, that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be super helpful. The trick is to have this important conversation before they reach breaking point.
Often, just being there to talk is a great help when supporting a friend who’s stressed out. You could ask a question like “You seem a bit overwhelmed. How are things going with you at the moment?”. Observational questions like this can encourage them to open up.
Demonstrate that it’s okay to get real by sharing some of your own struggles. But be sure not to make it about you. Ask plenty of questions about your friend, including whether they’ve thought about speaking to someone else about the situation.
If your friend is obviously struggling to hold it all together during a stressful period, after you’ve really listened to what’s going on with them, try to encourage a problem-solving attitude. For example, you could suggest speaking to their boss about flexible working options.
Encouraging your friend to get creative can help them see that there are options and they don’t need to keep living at this unsustainable pace.
If you’re really worried, you may need to have a very upfront conversation with your friend. Help them understand that they can’t take care of everyone else if they’re not taking care of themselves. We’ll call this a ‘burnout intervention’ – a raw and real talk about changes they need to make to take better care of themselves before things get really bad.
We get that these conversations can be awkward. So here are some tips on how to hold a successful burnout intervention chat.
Burnout can be closely linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. So if you’re checking in with a friend to help them avoid burnout, watch out for any signs that may indicate they need professional help.
Symptoms of depression in men may include:
If your friend seems more stressed than their circumstances warrant, or is overreacting, it could be a sign of anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety in men include:
Remember, we all experience stress and feel overwhelmed from time to time. It’s just part of being a human in the 21st century. But sometimes it gets more intense and can lead to burnout. If you have a friend skating on the edge of burnout, intervening and encouraging them to make some changes may just keep them from dealing with more problematic mental health challenges down the track.