World Mental Health Day was yesterday (October 10). Given the context of this article, it feels appropriate that we’re posting it a day late. Why? Let’s talk about stress, personal limits, and how they affect us all. I’m no exception.
For the past two years, occupational burnout has been a major focus of our work at Take This. We’ve hosted panels where game industry experts share their personal experiences, created resources specifically for content creators, and – thanks to support from studios like Riot and Ubisoft – developed a series of burnout videos, the last two being at the editor now.
If you’re asking, “Is burnout a real mental health disorder?” the answer is both yes and no. Burnout is classified by the World Health Organization as an occupational syndrome, meaning it’s a collection of a bunch of symptoms that tend to hang together but are not considered to be a formal disorder the same way things like major depressive disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder, however a few countries (e.g., Sweden) treat burnout as a formal, clinical diagnosis. Regardless, occupational burnout has a significantly harmful impact on mental well-being – impacting sleep, disrupting social support networks, and worsening mental health challenges you’re already managing.
Burnout is a significant problem, especially in game creation spaces. It is one of the most common and significant challenges we hear about from game streamers, content creators across all platforms, and game developers. While we could – and have – dug deep into the system and structures that push people past their limits and keep them there, it goes beyond burnout.
Occupational burnout is primarily caused by systemic factors. It’s also researched exclusively within the context of people’s workplace environments. However, stress obviously exists outside the workplace too. People discuss caregiver burnout when people who care for others are chronically pushed past their limits. Those who experience exclusion and marginalization based on single or multiple facets of their identities are at much greater rates of health challenges. This is partly due to the pervasive stress associated with being marginalized which may even involve regularly navigating threats to one’s physical safety.
What all of these ideas have in common is this: everyone has limits. Regardless of who you are, the stressors of this world can push you past them. Whether it’s at work or in our personal lives, it’s easy to think of one more task, one more commitment, or one more deadline as a drop in the bucket because we’re focusing on that single drop. However, they aren’t the only drops there, not all of the drops are in our control, and enough drops can make any bucket overflow. Systemic factors like poverty, marginalization status, chronic illness (especially when combined with a lack of access to healthcare), financial uncertainty of living paycheck to paycheck while working multiple jobs, among other factors, can blend into the background and become the status quo, making us sometimes forget of all the water heaped into our buckets that others don’t experience.
As I said at the outset of this article, even as a psychologist I’m not immune. I’m not immune to the insidious way stress can creep in. I’m not immune to focusing on each individual demand instead of seeing the whole picture because it seemed urgent (and might have been). Some of those creeping demands are within my control. Some aren’t. All are stressful.
Some stress is because I said yes to things when I reflexively thought, “It’s just one little thing, and good people say yes and help others!” Some stress is because the nature of autism and ADHD means that mundane tasks for others are often significantly harder for me. That stress is made worse by the fact that I’m not always the best at admitting the difficulties (Woo! Internalized ableism!) to myself and others because I “should” be able to do them as easily as other people. Some stress is because I had some significant physical injuries in the last year which unpredictably limit my physical mobility and require a lot of medical appointments.
I’m blessed enough to have access to healthcare and an understanding work environment – two things not everyone has. Even so, keeping up with it all takes significant time away from other important things like work, my family, and – ya know – miniscule things like self-care and joyful experiences like friends and hobbies. Furthermore, not all of the work gets done, which adds to the stress, especially for those of us who worry about letting others down. I only have so much space in my bucket, and being a psychologist doesn’t change that.
If you notice others past their limits, there are probably a lot of reasons why they are. The words of Ted Lasso, “Be curious. Not Judgemental,” are important here. In the 15 years I’ve worked with clients, the overwhelming majority of them faced many systemic barriers beyond their control. However, our “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality in the US – itself a tragic misuse of an expression meant to illustrate impossibility – left all of these clients blaming themselves for their perceived shortcomings. So much of our work centered on controlling what they could and losing the self-blame for the stuff they legitimately couldn’t control but still remained a hurdle.
If you’re feeling past your limit, I can all but guarantee you that you’re not alone. On an individual level, if you’re struggling and looking for mental health resources, Take This has a free, ever-expanding list of mental health resources. This includes a multitude of US-based directories on finding a therapist who can help you, including low-cost/no-cost options. On a systemic level, we have to change the playing field. This means creating new laws and electing officials at the local, regional, and national level who show a commitment to creating systemic change which is focused on the wellbeing of individuals by expanding access to wellness care for all. In the US, organizations like NAMI are already involved in this sort of advocacy work.
Provided you have the ability to stop, there’s no moral victory for pushing past your limits and suffering long-term consequences to health and wellbeing. There’s no moral failure for acknowledging your limits and – within the scope of what we can – controlling your stress levels. We all have limits. We all have needs. There’s no shame in that.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.