Remember: Burnout and cynicism go hand-in-hand

Takeaway: In addition to exhaustion and reduced productivity, cynicism is a core attribute of burnout. Keep this in mind as you consume information and process your thoughts.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes, 50s.

According to the World Health Organization, as well as pioneering research conducted by Christina Maslach, the world’s foremost burnout researcher, there are three dimensions that indicate we are fully burnt out

  1. Exhaustion;
  2. Lack of productivity; and 
  3. Cynicism. 

When it comes to burnout, we tend to focus on exhaustion far more than the other characteristics. I write about the second attribute, productivity, quite a bit on the website and in my books. But I find the third attribute, cynicism, especially interesting right now. 

The negative consequences of the pandemic have not been distributed equally—and yet we’ve all found the last year and a half more taxing than usual. There’s been more to deal with emotionally, financially, socially, mentally, the list goes on. And, given the amount of stress many of us felt before the pandemic, it’s no surprise that a greater number of us have reached the point of burnout.  

Burnout is caused by one thing: unrelenting chronic stress. This is stress we face repeatedly and without an end in sight. When we experience enough of it over a prolonged period, it builds to the point of burnout. Pandemic-related sources of stress are pushing a lot of us across this line. 

Burnout research shows that cynicism is an easy way out when we don’t have the mental resources to cope. It’s no surprise that cynicism is a core attribute of the burnout equation: during a time of ongoing stress it’s much easier to be pessimistic than it is to mobilize and make a difference. 

Nearly all of us have more chronic stress in our lives than we did before the pandemic—and this includes those who write, film, and record the stuff you consume. Similar to what I wrote about the News Negativity Bias, it’s helpful to keep this cynicism bias in mind when consuming information, including what you see on social media.  

This weird period of stress and global anxiety continues. It will pass—but before it does, remember that more people are leaning towards cynicism. Make sure this is a consideration as you process your thoughts, consume information, and work to keep yourself and those around you healthy! 

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