# Emotional Exhaustion, Unpaid Work, and its Personal Implications Last week Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's Prime Minister, formally resigned. But this post is not about politics. This post is about burnout. In [her resignation speech](https://news.sky.com/video/jacinda-ardern-resigns-i-no-longer-have-enough-in-the-tank-12789917) she utters the words that so many women feel deeply, "...I no longer have enough in the tank". "I am human," she says. And she is. We all are. Explaining that she has given all that she can, for as long as she can, and she now has nothing left to give. "And now it's time", she says, to spend time with her family once again, "Arguably, they are the ones who have sacrificed out of all of us". Aren't they always? ## Physical and emotional exhaustion The term 'burnout' was developed in the 1970s to describe "the physical and emotional exhaustion that workers may experience on the job, especially those who provide some type of service to others".[^1] It was characterised by the appearance of three factors: 1. emotional exhaustion, which resulted in a progressive loss of energy 2. depersonalisation in the form of negative attitudes towards patients and coworkers 3. feelings of low personal accomplishment or a loss of confidence Since the original formulation, researchers have discovered that it is the first element, emotional exhaustion, that is mostly linked to negative impacts on our health[^2], relationships, and work. And this is especially the case for women.[^3] ## Burnout is not reserved for the rich or the famous or the profoundly successful I have spoken to so many women over the past few years who are suffering from burnout. The majority of them don’t even realise it. Because when we feel exhausted and burned out, we feel that we do not have the right to be. As [[Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist|Shauna Niequist]] says…. > “Part of the crazy of it is that we don’t allow people to fall apart unless they’re massively successful. > > You can’t be just a normal lady with a normal job and burn yourself out—that’s only for bigshot people. And so the normal, exhausted, soul-starved people keep going because we’re not special enough to burn out. > > Burnout is not reserved for the rich or the famous or the profoundly successful. It’s happening to so many of us, people across all kinds of careers and lifestyles.” ## Burnout is not reserved for paid work And why is it that when we talk about work, we discuss only that which is paid? We forget all the other hours that we spend on unpaid work. And it's bullshit. What about the woman who cares for her sick mother? Or the woman who homeschools her child? Or the woman who has 3 children of different ages in different schools? What about the meals cooked? The bedsheets changed? The clothes ironed? Dishes washed? The doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, parent's evenings? This is all work, too.[^4] And as women, we disproportionately carry this extra burden, spending an average of 3–6 hours per day on unpaid work, while men contribute 0·5–2 hours. But I do not write this to point the finger at men. I write this so as women, we can appreciate just how much we do. How much work, paid or otherwise, we carry out each and every day. Honestly, I have never met a woman who felt that she does enough. ## Burnout is personal Some studies have tried to put a time on how much work (paid and/or unpaid) leads to changes in mental health. But the truth is, burnout is personal. There is no universally accepted point at which work is deemed too high or unmanageable. And you certainly do not need to have a certain role or pay structure. Yet when we compare ourselves to those around us, to those who carry more than we do, who do more than we do, we feel shame for how we feel. But if the life we have created for ourselves is too heavy, it’s too heavy. No matter what. When we have nothing left in the tank, this is the time we need to remember that we are allowed to rest, to pause, to say no. We are allowed to ask for help, change course, and let go. There is no shame in any of it. We do not need to be Superwoman. And we certainly do not need to be Prime Minister before we realise we are human. [^1]: Membrive-Jiménez, M.J. _et al._ (2020) ‘Burnout in Nursing Managers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Related Factors, Levels and Prevalence’, _International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health_, 17(11), p. 3983. Available at: [LINK](https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17113983). [^2]: Burnout has been shown to alter immune function, endocrine systems and the nervous system. "Consequences of burnout include increased allostatic load, structural and functional brain changes, excito-toxicity, systemic inflammation, immunosuppression, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and premature death." (Bayes, Tavella and Parker, 2021) [^3]: [Burnout by Emily Nagoski](https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burnout-secret-solving-stress-cycle-ebook/dp/B07CLYYRX2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1686913939&sr=1-1) [^4]: "Although there is no universally recognised term or definition for unpaid labour (also referred to as unpaid work, unpaid care work, domestic labour or work, or household labour or work), unpaid labour is typically conceptualised as and broadly inclusive of all responsibilities and tasks done to maintain a household and its family members without any explicit monetary compensation." (Ervin et al., 2022)