Reipas tyttö finds herself in burnout
”Totaalinen työ = Tilanne, jossa kaikkea inhimillistä toimintaa rytmittää vaatimus hyödyllisyydestä. Työ ei ole olemassa ihmisiä varten, vaan ihmiset työtä varten. Ihmiset eivät lepää virkistyäkseen työn rasituksista, vaan virkistyäkseen uutta työpäivää varten.” – (Hantula, 2021) This is how my dear friend described the situation she feels our society is in. A loose translation to this would be that the total work is a situation where all our humane activities are under pressure for productivity and work is not for us, but we are here for work and only resting to be cheerful for another day at work. I saw this post, she made on Instagram about her burnout and how she saw our culture and society pushing people more and more into burnout because we always need to be productive at everything we do. When I saw the post and read it through, I started to cry. I felt like she was talking to me, about me. My eyes opened and I realized that I kept pushing so much for being productive all the time that, I was exhausted too. Due to this realization, I wanted to dive into the topic of burnout and possibly save myself from falling into it.
Mantu and Lehtola describe burnout in their Yle article as an extreme means of survival from the brain. When we get a stressful situation, our brains prepare ourselves and our body to fight or flee mode and for a short period this is a good thing, but when it becomes long enough our brain is damaged. Like a rubber band, our brain’s elasticity starts to weaken and our capability of rebooting ourselves from the stress gets also worse. This leads us to the ultimate situation where we end up in burnout. Our brain overheats and makes us incapable of doing normal tasks to make us stop and recover properly. (Mantu & Lehtola, 2019)
In her book Lujasti Lempeä, Maaret Kallio talks about how our society sells this false idea of a perfect life to us and we keep reaching for it in any measures necessary even though as she says life and perfection are two words that can never truly coexist. We talk about so-called “super people” living their “super lives” and we are jealous of them, even though behind closed doors the life and the people are not so super. According to Kallio, we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and our lives and social media are not making it any better. (Kallio, 2016)
According to Solarch. fi, social media has both positive and negative impacts on our wellbeing. The positive effects include interacting with people like us and creating the feeling of belonging to a community. Social media can also increase the creativity of a person and help develop new skills. The negative part is about how we compare ourselves to others online. We feel like we’re not enough as who we are because we only see the positive and perfect-looking parts of others’ lives. (Solarch, n.d.)
Kallio talks about how we feel ashamed for not being perfect and not living the perfect life we’d like to live. The speed of our life keeps getting faster as we desperately fight against our imperfections to become perfect. No matter how much we achieve, we keep thinking that we could’ve always done better or gotten more. When the world around us alleges that “everything is possible”, we feel difficult to understand the boundaries of life. The more we seem to fail at our attempts to being perfect wives, mothers, workers, and people, the harder we push and punish ourselves. We keep comparing to others and thinking that why are we not making it if they can. The reality is that no one can be perfect in all areas of their lives, but one or more will always suffer from pushing others to perfection. (Kallio, 2016)
When Kallio talks about burnout, she says that being tough and capable of everything or being able to endure anything are just shields that cover the humanity in us. When we’re tough the tolerance for weakness is zero and the tougher, we get the harder we push. We falsely believe that we can do anything, and we don’t need anyone else that the only thing that matters is our attitude, but the reality is the end of toughness is breaking and burnout. (Kallio, 2016)
In an article about burnout for Yle, Tikkanen says that about every fourth of work-age people are experiencing some level of symptoms of burnout. (Tikkanen, 2018) But is this due to our society? Kallio says that often when we talk about being tired, anxious, or even experiencing burnout, we keep bumping into comments like “It’s all about the attitude” or “You can choose happiness” and this makes it look like it’s all up to you whether or not you’ll end up in a burnout. (Kallio, 2016) This is similar to what my friend talked about in her post saying that we keep treating burnout as if we must fix ourselves to being capable of working. She highlights how there are guides to sleeping, eating, and overall living better as if they would fix the problem of burnout. I agree with her that it’s funny how little we talk about the things at work usually causing burnout and how we could fix them. (Hantula, 2021)
In her book Lujasti Lempeä, Kallio talks about how toxic and unhealthy our self-help books are that tell us that it’s all about the attitude we choose to have. One can’t simply choose how to feel and ignoring negative feelings is very harmful to our brain and wellbeing. We can’t wire our brains to a better mood, but we can accept our negative emotions and feelings and deal with them in a healthier way than just pushing them aside. According to Kallio the emotions we keep pushing away from our mind tend to be the ones controlling us the most. Meaning if you push your anger aside it more likely takes hold of you in one way or another than if you would’ve accepted the fact that you’re angry and dived into the reasons behind your anger. (Kallio, 2016)
Kallio is also talking about the syndrome of a brisk girl or “reipas tyttö” as it’s said in Finnish. This type of person does not need help from anyone ever, they will carry the responsibilities of others, if necessary, always keeps their promise, is always helpful, and deals with their emotions by themselves without taking any space from others. The “reipas tyttö” can survive on their own, but in the end, she is not seen by her weaknesses but only through her strengths. In her book, Kallio talks about this syndrome and says that under all that effectiveness and briskness, there usually is a very lonely heart and a little girl who does not get the attention she would need. When this type of person is meeting doctors or therapists, they are so effective, they basically do the work for them and openly share everything and most of the time seem to be doing just fine because they are actively participating in the conversation. Because of this, their vulnerable side is unseen and unheard because they don’t want to burden anyone and for this reason, Kallio says that sometimes the people that seem to need the least help should be the ones we offer the help to. She emphasizes that no one is capable of staying brisk all the time. (Kallio, 2016)
When I read this part of the book about the “reipas tyttö”, I could understand what she was saying and see myself in that description. I’ve always been very effective and often end up doing other people’s work as well and am very eager to help. I oftentimes forget myself and keep helping everyone else around me, not realizing that putting my own needs first would be the most beneficial sometimes to all. I think I’m an example of someone who has this syndrome because I keep pushing and pushing and often feel like I don’t need any help that I can survive on my own but realize that even I do need other people from time to time.
I think that for myself and my effective nature, my father has had a huge impact on me. Kallio says that how we see our parents treat themselves and what kind of a work ethic they pursue is how we end up treating ourselves. We often get labeled already as kids and these labels can stay with us throughout our lives. (Kallio, 2016) I remember that ever since I was a kid I have been labeled as the one who gets things done and quicker than expected. This has stayed with me throughout my life so far because I often catch myself doing things faster or better than what the expectation was. From my father I have seen that when it’s time to work you work until your body breaks. My family has a strawberry farm so during the season they work around the clock every day and get very little sleep, pushing their bodies into exhaustion when summer ends. I’ve been part of this crazy working culture ever since I was able to work and have witnessed it firsthand. It might be okay when pushing yourself to exhaustion only lasts for a couple of months, but when I ended up at a workplace that offered me work throughout the year, I burned out. My father is also extremely perfectionist and has very high expectations for everyone on everything and this I see in my overachieving personality, trying to always excel at everything I do. In one way this thrives for perfection and hard work ethic has been a good thing since it has gotten me where I’m now and helps me to push forward even when I do not necessarily feel like it and I can always count on getting things done. But at the same time, it puts me in danger of possible burnout and exhaustion.
When I read my friend’s Instagram post about her burnout something came to my mind. A self-leadership course that our team had during Autumn 2020 was a great one. It sparked so much desire in our team to reach for the stars and push ourselves to find the ultimate potential that each of us has. In many ways, I enjoyed the course because it also sparked my desire for greatness and how I wanted to find my full potential. However, I noticed the dangers of this type of course that tells you to do only things that are productive and help you develop yourself into a person like me. An overachieving, brisk daughter of a perfectionist like me, ended up eventually crying on the phone to a friend saying how exhausted I was at developing myself constantly. I felt guilty of doing anything that was not reaching for greatness, no matter was it hanging out with my boyfriend, watching Netflix, or reading books about dragons and witches. Trying to push into this unrealistic image of perfection that I had about myself and my capabilities being endless, I cracked. I had to cry out and be told by someone else that “You know, you can also just enjoy life sometimes and do things that make you happy”, was what I needed to hear to stop pushing myself too much. Even though I recognize this problem now, I have to focus on it a lot to avoid pushing myself constantly. Still, when I watch guilty pleasure from Netflix, I catch myself saying I’m too lazy and not productive enough, but now I sat to myself “Yes, and that is exactly what I need to be right now”.
Hantula, H. 2020. Totaalisen työn kulttuuri. Instagram Post. Published 16.04.2020. Read 16.04.2020. https://www.instagram.com/p/CNunNdXhbzA/?utm_medium=copy_link
Kallio, M. 2016. Lujasti Lempeä. 1. Painos. Helsinki: WSOY.
Mantu, E. Lehtola, M. 2019. Aivot ovat viisaat. Article. Published 10.12.2019. Updated 16.12.2019. Read 04.06.2021. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2019/12/10/aivot-ovat-viisaat-ne-ajavat-itsensa-burnoutiin-jos-stressi-jatkuu-liian
Solarch, n.d. Somen vaikutus hyvinvointiin. Website. Read 04.06.2021. http://solarch.fi/somen-vaikutus-hyvinvointiin/
Tikkanen, T. 2018. Lähes neljäsosa työikäisistä kokee työuupumuksen oireita – näistä merkeistä tiedät, kannattaako läheisestä huolestua. Article. Published 04.11.2018. Updated 09.11.2018. Read 04.06.2021. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2018/11/04/lahes-neljasosa-tyoikaisista-kokee-tyouupumuksen-oireita-naista-merkeista
Written By: Emilia Parikka