Men, Mental Health, And Burnout: An Underdiscussed Issue

Men's Burnout

In this Article


In our modern era, we are still all afflicted by burnout at one time or another. The very nature of our society is one of hyperactivity, overproduction, and stress—all things that can contribute to burnout.

Burnout can have a lot of consequences. The signs and symptoms of burnout often mimic those of depression and anxiety. In fact, burnout and the aforementioned symptoms are often confused with depression. And sometimes treated as such, leading to unnecessary medicating.

One of the biggest issues contributing to these problems is the stigma men face against expressing their feelings. Typical gender roles assign men the duty of working themselves to the extremes. They have to live without ever showing signs of fatigue or discouragement. The more a man can output physically and mentally without complaint, the more of a ‘man’ he is seen to be.

At least, that’s how things used to be. Nowadays, it’s time that we put men back into mental health. As more men begin to speak up about their struggles with symptoms of burnout and mental health, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many men—about 77% of the American population show symptoms of burnout in a fairly gender-balanced survey—are actively struggling to maintain their composure.

Most of the literature about burnout thus far has been indiscriminate regarding gender. If anything, it tends towards women. This is a symptom of the same patriarchal toxicology that has made it difficult for men to speak out. In repressing their emotional lives, men unconsciously project the idea that women are more susceptible to breaking down from symptoms of burnout.

Burnout causes depression

What Exactly Is Burnout?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is an “occupation phenomenon conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Though the human brain might be the most incredibly complex structure in the universe, in some ways, it’s pretty simple. For it, they cannot truly dedicate its attention to more than one thing, something that a machine can do hundreds of times.

Despite this limitation, we live in a society that constantly demands our attention. Our focus is pulled in every direction simultaneously, both in the workplace and outside. Men can burn out from simply trying to survive in society, and if their job adds additional demands and stimulation, they’ll likely burn out quicker and harder. 

There are several symptoms that one might experience when burning out. Symptoms often differ between men and women, mainly due to a difference in the balance of hormones. Regardless, treat yourself like you’re burnt out if you feel burnt out. Take extra care of yourself.

General symptoms of burnout include:

  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Skin issues
  • Digestive imbalance, discomfort when eating
  • Headaches,
  • Self-doubt
  • Isolation
  • Pessimism 
  • Feeling empty

Symptoms that are especially prominent in men include:

  • Aggression and irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of hope and ambition
  • Fatigue, difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating

Differences Between Symptoms Of Burnout in Men and Women

There has been much interest, but comparably little study, in the differences between the experience of burnout for men and women. The experience is different, if only because men typically feel pressured not to express their feelings. However, the depth of differences goes much further than that.

Firstly, the physiological impact of burnout differs between men and women. Burnout causes depression and anxiety, which causes numerous physical issues. Studies reveal that the problems experienced by males are different and have different causes than those women would struggle with.

Among women, burnout tended to lead to increased inflammation in the body. Anxiety led to the same response. Men had no inflammatory reaction to burnout or anxiety, but depression increased inflammation throughout the body.

Further analysis shows that high demands in the workplace with little control over one’s workflow or space led to higher burnout rates in women and higher cardiovascular health risks in men.

Maslach Burnout

One of the more comprehensive studies on male versus female burnout evaluated several general practicing physicians. They used the Maslach Burnout Inventory measure, one of the only clinical tools for diagnosing symptoms of burnout, to analyze how they reacted to excessive pressure and stress.

The Maslach Inventory observes three aspects of burning out:

  • Exhaustion, both physically and mentally/emotionally.
  • Cynicism. During burnout, people tend to develop a negative attitude regarding the future, the present, and the possibility of being free from whatever cycle is causing them stress. Cynicism can manifest as irritability, social withdrawal, dispassionate discussions, and so on.
  • Inefficacy. As one might expect, people become less efficient when burning out.

The Experience

However, men and women tend to experience these aspects in unique ways. They differentiate both chronologically and experientially. 

Women, for example, tend to experience exhaustion before cynicism, followed by inefficacy. Men, on the other hand, tended towards cynicism followed by exhaustion. 

Most of the men couldn’t remain in the study regarding inefficacy because it required the study members to decide to take time away from work. Few men in the study believed that their cynicism and exhaustion impacted their ability to provide for their clients.

Much could be said about that, but for now, let’s leave it acknowledged that this is a pretty standard response to expect from the average guy. Throughout history, men have always believed and acted like they’re capable of giving it their all. Even when they’re broken down, fatigued, half-asleep, incapable of coherent conversation, hungover, and injured. “Nah, don’t worry,” the Men of History would shout in chorus while they worked themselves far beyond the threshold of burning out and towards a legitimately shorter lifespan, “I’m fine!”

Burnout causes anxiety

Managing and Preventing Burnout

If you’re already burnt out, don’t worry. Here are many ways to work to prevent the symptoms from worsening and many ways to accelerate your return to normal energy levels. If you’re not burnt out, it pays to prepare yourself for the possibility by following several preventative measures and aligning with the circadian rhythms. 

Preventing Burnout

Here are a few tried and true tricks for preventing yourself from burning out.

1. Understanding & Balancing Your Doshas

Your dosha, your Ayurvedic constitution, is your unique body type. The idea of the dosha differs significantly from the Western “one-size-fits-all” model in that it suggests each individual has specific needs that must meet a certain way.

Each dosha will respond a certain way regarding stress and work burnout. It is imperative to understand your dosha, learn to work with it and adapt your lifestyle and diet to one suitable for your dosha. This will both prevent and help correct burnout.

  • The Vata dosha embodies the elements of air and ether. Vata people are often wiry and thin, operating with sporadic bursts of energy and alternating moments of low energy. Vata people are highly susceptible to burnout and must regulate their days, diets, and lifestyles carefully, so they don’t throw their dosha out of whack.
  • The Pitta dosha embodies the elements of fire and water. If anything, Pitta folk are likely going to drive themselves to the brink of burnout simply because they feel there’s no other way. Highly driven and passionate people, the Pitta dosha can be markedly aggressive or fiery when tested.
  • The Kapha dosha is the most resilient to burning out or producing the outward appearance of this being. Like the bodies, their minds are heavier set and less easily disturbed. This makes them tend to react cautiously and process things slowly but surely to reach concrete conclusions. Rigid and unassuming Kapha can take on a lot before their bottle pops.

How to Balance Each Dosha

Each dosha becomes aggravated when they take on too much energy with similar qualities to those inherent to the dosha. For example, Vata people, naturally springy and spontaneous, require structure and stability. They can become easily frustrated and overwhelmed if their jobs are unpredictable, spontaneous, and inconsistent.

Likewise, the slow and steady Kapha must remember to include plenty of movement and activity in their lives. A desk job would likely be detrimental to a Kapha who naturally desires to remain at rest. Instead, seeking out employment outdoors as a landscaper or in careers like archeology that involve fieldwork could benefit Kapha. 

The pitta soul must avoid too much fire and passion. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be passionate about their jobs—they almost certainly are already passionate about it, just like everything else they do—but rather that they must make time to cool the flames, drink plenty of water, soothe and wash the skin with cooling moisturizers, and slow down. Read a book. Take a walk. For fifteen minutes a few times a day, stop juggling a half-dozen tasks and see if you can do nothing.

2. Following Your Circadian Rhythm

Ayurveda is a natural science that works with natural circadian rhythms and principles. As humans realize, the best scientific and technological developments are often made in nature’s image, embodying natural laws, mechanics, forms, and functions.

Ayurveda is different, and one of the staple lifestyle recommendations in Ayurveda is to rise and fall with the sun.

Our bodies are incredibly well-wired to do this naturally. Only in the last few years, with the rampant explosion of blue-light emitting screens on cell phones and computers, our circadian rhythms have fallen out of whack. 

The pituitary gland and the pineal gland produce melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy when light is absent. When constantly bathed in unnatural light, our bodies don’t know when to produce melatonin. This disrupts your circadian rhythm—your sleep-wake cycle—and can lead to hormonal and cognitive problems.

Of course, rising and falling with the sun might have been somewhat more pleasant in Kerala, the warm and sunny tropical region in India where Ayurveda finds its roots. Nonetheless, even in the colder parts of the world, the best hours to awaken are during Vata hours: between 2 AM and 6 AM. (Most sane people would err on the later end of this timeframe since starting your morning routine at 2 AM every day might arouse suspicion or irritation in neighbors, spouses, and downstairs neighbors).

3. The Dosha Diet & Sattvic Foods

You should eat foods that help to balance your dosha.

  • For Vata, this means grounding, oily, warm foods that counteract Vata’s cool, dry, and hyperactive nature.
  • Pitta requires cooling, nourishing foods, and fluids to help tame their fiery passion. Sustained carbs like grains can provide sustained rather than sporadic energy.
  • Kapha should enjoy abundant light foods: fresh fruits and vegetables and other gentle foods to lighten up their heavy constitution.

Foods also embody varying quantities of the three qualities, or gunas, each bearing a dominant quality. The three gunas are sattva (serene, peaceful, and clear), tamas (lethargy, sloth, ignorance), and rajas (fiery, passionate, hot). 

Sattvic foods should dominate the diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of herbal teas will lead to clarity of mind and more presence in your daily dealings.

Final Thoughts on Men’s Burnout

Men certainly experience burnout, and while they might experience it a little differently than women, that doesn’t mean they should be any less cautious about dealing with it. Burnout can lead to numerous health problems if left unattended for too long.

Following the Ayurvedic practices of balancing your doshas and practicing a sattvic diet and lifestyle can help manage stress and reduce burnout. For more details, get in touch with an Ayurvedic practitioner.