When the Pressure to Perform Becomes too Much
Headlines around the world are still shining a light on Simone Biles' announcement that she would be pulling out of the 2021 Olympics team final. "I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being," the 24-year-old gymnast said about her decision to resign from the competition in Tokyo.
Biles' choice to remove herself from the Tokyo Olympics' women's gymnastics team final came less than two months after 23-year-old Naomi Osaka's decision to withdrawal from the French Open and Wimbledon due to mental health struggles.
Stress, loneliness, and mental health issues are on the rise - and not just among elite athletes. Disruptions to daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a spike in burnout and symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation.
The term "burnout" originated in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberg, who used it to describe extreme stress caused by high expectations in "helping" professions. While the term was originally applied to people who worked in healthcare professions, any individual who self-sacrifices for the good of others can suffer from burnout. Burnout can affect anyone from healthcare workers and career-driven individuals to elite athletes and stay-at-home parents.
The three main symptoms associated with burnout include:
- Exhaustion: People who suffer from burnout are emotionally drained to a point where they feel they can't cope with the demands placed on them. They may even exhibit physical symptoms like stomach (gastrointestinal) problems and body pain.
- Reduced performance: Burnout can lead to feelings of hopelessness and negatively impact concentration, creativity, and work output.
Burnout Syndrome (BOS) was added to the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11) by the World Health Organization in 2019. The mental and physical effects of burnout are a recognized health issue, yet many people hesitate to seek help.
Public stigma can prevent many people from seeking mental health care. Studies have shown that regardless of education, employment, and income, older adults who live in rural counties, especially males, show higher levels of public and self-stigma and lower levels of psychological openness compared to older adults in urban areas.
Parents caring for young children feel the demands of being fully responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of their kids while also navigating a global pandemic. Those who are ambitious in their careers may feel the need to always perform at exceptional levels to maintain their job or provide for their families. Caring for an aging family member can feel helpless and overwhelming, as time and energy are split between caring for that individual and the caretaker's own immediate family. Despite the vast age ranges and responsibilities of these different groups, all can be lonely and experience burnout, anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles because of the perceived pressure they feel to perform.
Mental health is just as important as physical health and needs to be prioritized as such. To perform at our best, we must be at our best— physically, emotionally, and mentally. Biles said as much in another statement surrounding her decision to step away from the Olympics: "At the end of the day, we're human too," said Biles. "So, we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do." And Naomi Osaka stated it directly in a recent interview with TIME magazine, "it's O.K. to not be O.K."
Reid Health is here to help you navigate and treat the symptoms of burnout. First, speak with your primary care physician. If you don't have one or are searching for a new primary care provider, let us help you. Additionally, Reid Health has outpatient behavioral health services to assist you.