“Burnout describes the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It manifests as restlessness, procrastination, apathy, and low-level persistent unhappiness.”
One of the paradoxes that arises from David Zahl’s description of the contemporary anthropology that gives rise to perfectionism and its fruit – burnout, anxiety, depression – is that the Church’s anthropology which has (should have) a different anthropology is also producing a culture of perfectionism that also bears the same destructive fruit, and also amplifies the senses of guilt and failure.
What binds together all aspects of perfectionism is the underlying anthropology. In order to be a perfectionist, you have to believe, consciously or otherwise, that human beings can get a lot closer to perfection than they are right now. You have to believe that some of us really can do it all, if we could just figure out the right strategy.
The internet takes whatever inclinations we have in this direction and runs with them. We all know what it’s like to gaze longingly, or despondently, at other people’s achievements. We may know that what we’re seeing is not less curated that what we put out there, but that knowledge seldom does much for us. Instead, we convince ourselves that perfection – or the appearance of it – lies within our reach. Then we spend our blood, sweat, and tears in that pursuit.
The result of the perfectionism has a name: burnout. Burnout describes the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It manifests as restlessness, procrastination, apathy, and low-level persistent unhappiness. To be burned out is to feel like you cannot take on one more task – and there’s always one more task. Your try too hard for too long to fulfil the demands of modern life, and then you lose the capacity to fulfil any of them. Errand paralysis is a commonly used term for it.
Burnout is more than tiredness. It is often accompanied by a nagging guilt over not feeling more grateful. On top of whatever listlessness you’re feeling lies the conviction that you have no right to feel that way, not when others have it so much worse.
David Zahl, Low Anthropology, Brazos Press, 2022, pgs 27-28.