Loneliness, Burnout, and Meeting One Another’s Needs

How is the quality of your relationships affecting your ability to offer care?

The idea that care work puts a lot of stress on the body and mind is nothing new or surprising, but the potential reasons behind this bear some exploration.

The book “Liquid Love” by Zygmunt Bauman notes that, as a society, we are pre-disposed to forming loose, temporary relationships because we fear we’ll be unwilling or unable to meet future expectations.

This sense can be more than just social conditioning—it can also stem from burnout. Loneliness, too, hovers in close proximity to this modern marvel of a condition, and both are running rampant over the well-being of Americans.

The loneliness epidemic

Research shows that 90 million American workers are lonely, and severe loneliness—essentially feeling like you have no one to turn to when in need—has a huge impact on care work. 

When we focus so fully on caring for others, we tend to neglect our own needs. This, in turn, leads to less energy to focus on those to whom we’re offering care, which can lead to cynicism and questioning whether we’re making a difference. If these outcomes sound familiar, that’s because they’re Dr. Chistina Maslach’s three symptoms of burnout.

The qualities of burnout

Officially, burnout requires an individual to experience exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. 

It’s not hard to imagine how any or all of these could have a hugely detrimental effect on a care worker and their charges. Exhaustion can stem from overextending and not receiving positive feedback about their efforts. A lack of relationships with healthy boundaries (loneliness, again) further emphasizes this feeling. 

Depersonalization leaves care workers feeling cynical, as though the people they’re caring for are problems, rather than humans needing help. Finally, a lack of personal accomplishment manifests as the sense that their work is not making a difference. 

Loneliness and burnout are serious issues with wide-reaching consequences, but building belonging is the solution, and it is attainable.

The first step: improve our relationships

If we can learn to face that fear of investing in long-term relationships that Zygmunt Bauman mentions, perhaps the loneliness epidemic can begin to ebb. 

Recognizing that relationships require compromise, and then fostering new relationships in a manner that protects and respects their longevity, rather than burns them out quickly and carelessly, are essential steps to building a supportive and long-lasting community of care around us. 

This community ensures our continued self-care, which we know is inextricably linked to our ability to care for others.

In this week’s episode of the Care Work podcast, Alida Miranda-Wolff delves deep into loneliness and burnout, especially for care workers who are also creators. Her insights help clarify why loneliness is so prevalent in our modern world and how we can make sure we’re showing up for the people we care for, professionally and personally, in ways that have as healing and beneficial an impact as possible.

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