Are loneliness and burnout connected?

An interesting article at Thrive Global this week connecting loneliness to burnout answered several lingering questions I’ve harbored for a few years.

While this article pertains more to people who are still working, the message applies to older people, too. In fact, I’d say it applies even more due to loneliness and isolation common to people over 50.

Written by Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen, the article noted how the concept of “work” has shifted from a place, such as a office or store, to a space, meaning that people can work from anywhere. COVID certainly added fuel to that situation.

“The never-offline and always-available work culture is today’s norm. For many people turning off work at 5 p.m. is an antiquated practice,” the authors wrote. “What’s typical for most is checking email prior to getting out of bed in the morning, shopping online while at work, exchanging texts with their managers after 8 p.m., and then starting the next week’s projects on Sunday afternoons.”

Consequently, many employers now EXPECT employees to be available at all times. In fact, research conducted by Randstad in 2020 found that 61 percent of employers expect their staff to be available outside regular work hours. Is it any wonder 69% of employees report symptoms of burnout?

Back in 2013, I truly loved my job. I was self-employed as the editor of an online news publication serving the recreation vehicle industry. I worked a lot of hours, but still had time to spend with friends and family. There was a park nearby that I would often visit at night to walk along the trails jutting into a man-made lake.

Life was good, but then I messed it all up.

I purchased a motorhome in 2014 and hit the road living and working in it full-time for three years. My job duties didn’t change, but I lost my support community. My weekends, which had been days of rest in the past, were often when I would move to a new location.

I was also completely isolated in that I lived by myself. Although I could meet new people everywhere and go to different churches, it wasn’t the same. I felt uprooted.

Within three years, my attitude had drastically worsened and I was seriously overweight. What used to bring me great satisfaction in writing stories every day soon became a chore. Exactly three years after I hopped into my motorhome to begin a new adventure, I jumped out completely and utterly fried mentally and physically.

Isolation vs. solitude

According to Thrive Global, the No. 1 issue I experienced was loneliness, or an absence of connection.

“Loneliness is a subjective feeling of the lack of trust, closeness, and affection of loved ones, close friends and community,” the article noted. “Loneliness is not defined by the lack of people because someone can still be lonely while surrounded by others. We need to be in the presence of others who value, appreciate, and ‘see’ us for everything we are.”

There is a big difference between isolation and solitude. Isolation is often a negative, while solitude can be refreshing.

“When we experience loneliness, we want to escape it as it is an unpleasant emotion. On the other hand, solitude is peaceful aloneness created by a state of voluntary isolation,” the authors wrote.

For people over 50 without a sense of purpose or a project that gets them out of the house and around other people, loneliness is sure to settle in. Once that happens, burnout follows quickly.

When someone is burned out on the job, that can often be rectified by changing jobs or even careers. However, when someone is burnout on life and sees no meaning for their existence, they must either start a new life or they’ll likely choose to end it.

A news article by CBC, a Canadian media company, reported the highest suicide rates in the United States and Canada are often men over the age of 50. Written in 2016, researchers were puzzled as to why that was the case. Yet, it appears we know the answer today.

Isolation + loneliness x lack of purpose is a deadly combination.

The full story can be found at Thrive Global.