It isn’t even a question in many homes, but here’s what the science has to say.

Footwear tracking bacteria into your home poses a lower health risk compared with other possible ways of contamination, experts say.

Maybe you kick off your shoes at home because you don’t want to track dirt across clean carpets or floors, or maybe it’s just a relief to shed them.

Taking off shoes inside the home is also a common practice observed in Asian and Middle Eastern countries and households. But if you regularly take them off mainly because you’re worried about harmful bacteria from the outside getting inside and making you sick, you can probably relax.

Those concerns are overblown, according to experts, who added that more pressing health risks are often overlooked.

Charles P. Gerba, a professor and microbiologist at the University of Arizona, studied how many and which kinds of bacteria linger on the bottom of shoes.

Sign up for Science Times

We’ll bring you stories that capture the wonders of the human body, nature and the cosmos.SIGN UP

In 2008, researchers tracked new shoes worn by 10 participants for two weeks and found that coliform bacteria like E. coli were extremely common on the outside of the shoes. E. coli is known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections as well as meningitis, among other illnesses.

“Our study also indicated that bacteria can be tracked by shoes over a long distance into your home or personal space,” Mr. Gerba said in a statement.

(The study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, involved a limited number of participants and was supported by the shoe company Rockport, which was testing machine-washable shoes.)

Mr. Gerba said in an interview this month that the study’s findings had made him change even some of his own behaviors: “It kept me from putting my feet on my desk.”

It’s possible to transmit germs from your footwear if you touch your shoes and then your face or mouth, for instance, or if you eat food that’s been dropped on the floor.

But in the hierarchy of potential health hazards at home, bacteria-caked shoes rank comparatively low, according to Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

He said there are more important considerations. Is anyone in the house sick? Are there frogs, turtles or snakes nearby, which can carry salmonella? Is food being stored and prepared properly?

Sponges, which retain water and food particles, are a “cesspool” of bacteria, said Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Outside the home, there are objects and surfaces that are frequently touched but seldom, if ever, washed, such as money, A.T.M. buttons and gas station pump handles, he said, adding, “Focusing on people’s shoes feels like focusing on the wrong vector.”

Over all, experts emphasized that washing your hands with soap and water remained the most important health practice.

Lisa A. Cuchara, professor of biomedical sciences at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., said that fecal bacteria were certainly transferred from your shoes to your floor at home but that “for most healthy adults, this level of contamination is more of a gross reaction than a health threat.”

Putting the threat in perspective, she noted that the floor in a public restroom has around two million bacteria per square inch. A toilet seat, on the other hand, has an average of about 50 per square inch.

“Think about that the next time you place your purse or knapsack on the bathroom floor and then bring it home and put it on the kitchen table or counter,” she said.

If you are concerned about what two-legged residents track in, then what about your dogs?

“We don’t wash the dog’s paws every time he comes in the house, and I don’t want to think about where he’s been walking,” said Dr. Carroll, who has a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Loki.

Andrea Kaufmann of Cape May Court House, N.J., said she changed out of her shoes into slippers to keep dirt off the floors, but added that she has two Labrador retrievers.

“I could sweep and vacuum three times a day and still have dirt on the floors from the dogs,” she said. “They can’t take their shoes off.”

Considering the benefits of modern-day sanitation, vaccinations and health care, the likelihood of getting sick from our shoes is “infinitesimally small as to almost be unwarranted,” said Jack A. Gilbert, a professor in the department of pediatrics and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Mr. Gilbert, an author of the book “Dirt Is Good,” said there were theories suggesting that bringing elements of the outdoors indoors could help stimulate immune systems, particularly in children.

In the first year of life, physical interaction with a dog can reduce a child’s likelihood of developing asthma by 13 percent, while interactions in a barn or farm can reduce it by 50 percent, he said.

Emily Ledgerwood, an assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, said her 3-year-old daughter had recently helped her crack eggs to make breakfast. When they were done, Ms. Ledgerwood made sure they both washed their hands to prevent any possible cross-contamination with salmonella.

Later, her daughter helped weed the garden and pick vegetables. Though she had been working in dirt, Ms. Ledgerwood let her have lunch without first washing her hands.

“When we find out about all the microbes in our environment, we can get a bit squeamish, but we’re not getting sick all the time,” she said.

It’s best to take your shoes off if you have young children crawling on floors or people in the home who have allergies, because pollen can be transferred to floors, especially to carpets.

“In cases where your immune system is compromised — people who have cancer, have undergone an organ transplant, have an infection — then there is much more of a reason to take your shoes off when you come home,” Ms. Cuchara said.

If the person you are visiting prefers that you take your shoes off, it’s sound etiquette to abide by their wishes, said April Masini, who writes about relationships and etiquette for her website, Ask April.

“Even if you don’t see shoes at the entrance, you can always ask if your host would like you to take off your shoes upon entering,” she said.

This practice is also often observed in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, said Benjamin Hiramatsu Ireland, an assistant professor of modern language studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

“Removing one’s shoes upon entering a home stems from the respectful observance of religious practices that have been integrated within the cultural fabric and expected ‘to-dos’ of each of these countries and, of course, for reasons pertaining to hygiene,” he said.



Is there a certain comfortable familiarity with being dissatisfied?

A basic assumption of human behavior is that people pursue pleasure and seek to avoid pain. Why is it, then, that some people seem content to wallow in their misery, even boasting about it as some sort of badge of honor? Even when given steps to improve their lives, they seem to prefer to continue complaining.

Is there a certain comfortable familiarity with being dissatisfied that becomes an obstacle to change? After getting a glimpse of joy, why do some people immediately shift back to what doesn’t work?

There are a number of possible explanations for this “addiction” to unhappiness:

  • Deep-rooted insecurity or lack of self-esteem may cause some people to feel undeserving of happiness.
  • People who grew up with a parenting style characterized by excessive discipline and unrealistic expectations may have learned to equate unhappiness with love and success.
  • Lifelong struggles with trauma or other negative experiences may fuel an unconscious desire to continually return to the status quo of unhappiness.
  • Some people who seem comfortable in their misery actually may be suffering from an underlying mental health disorder.
  • Some people pride themselves on realism, believing that being practical or realistic also means focusing on the negative.
  • Because of decisions or experiences in their past, some people are consumed by guilt or regret that they cannot overcome. Instead, they choose to punish themselves and/or others.
  • Some people are afraid to feel joy since positive feelings might be a “setup” for disappointment.
  • The prospect of happiness strikes fear of the unknown for those who have never felt anything but unhappiness.
  • Dissatisfaction becomes a motivator to work harder, change jobs, eat healthier, spend more time with friends and family, or prevent unwanted behaviors or situations.
  • Some people make it a personal mission to take on the world’s problems as their own. While noble in some respects, these individuals cannot allow themselves to feel happiness when, for example, people are starving or global warming is damaging the planet.

Then there’s the theory that people like negative feelings. A study by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen, which evaluated why people enjoy horror movies, concluded that some viewers are happy to be unhappy. The researchers found that people experience both negative and positive emotions at the same time, meaning they not only enjoy the relief they feel when the threat is removed but also enjoy being scared. This same theory, they argued, may help explain why humans are drawn to extreme sportsand other risky activities that elicit terror or disgust.

Characteristics of the Chronically Unhappy

How do you know if you’re one of these people who live in a perpetual state of unhappiness? People who are addicted to unhappiness tend to:

  • Find reasons to be miserable when life gets “too good.”
  • Prefer to play the victim role and blame others rather than take personal responsibility for their choices.
  • Compete with friends and colleagues to see who has it the hardest.
  • Have difficulty setting and achieving goals—or, conversely, achieve goals only to find that they can’t enjoy their success.
  • Struggle to bounce back when things don’t go their way.
  • Distract, escape, or cope by using drugsalcoholsex, food, or other addictive or compulsive behaviors.
  • Stop taking care of their basic needs, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.
  • Feel enslaved to their emotions or powerless to change.
  • Feel dissatisfied even when life is going well.
  • Have dramatic, unfulfilling relationships.

Is Happiness a Choice?

It is often said that “happiness is a choice.” But then why aren’t more people happy?

In my experience, happiness is complicated. Some people find happiness even in situations that would challenge the most optimistic person; some are unhappy despite having it all. For some, happiness is fleeting and depends on their present circumstances, whereas others seem to be generally happy or generally unhappy no matter what is happening in their lives. Then there’s the issue of how we should define happiness—by outward success, inward satisfaction, or something else?

In many cases, it may be true that happiness is a choice. To some extent, we choose our own thoughts and reactions, which impact the way we feel. We can improve our happiness quotient by taking steps to change our thinking (e.g., keeping a gratitude journal, staying mindful of the present moment, accepting what is, or developing healthier coping mechanisms). We can view our emotions as a signal that some aspect of life needs to change and take action to return to a better state of mind.

But for about 20 percent of American adults, mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety may mean that happiness is always just out of reach. They do not choose to be depressed or anxious; they do not know another way of being. While choosing to be happy, in these cases, is more complicated than making a choice to think positively, there is one important choice that can be made: the decision to get help, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

The unfortunate reality is that most chronically unhappy people refuse to get help. Nearly half of those with mental illness never seek treatment. Whether it’s fear, comfort, lack of awareness, or something else, we can’t be sure. What we do know is that unhappiness does not have to be terminal. With counseling and treatment, there is hope for happiness becoming the new norm.


When burnout comes for you, it’s not subtle. It casts an inexplicable darkness on the most mundane things: driving in traffic, showing up to work on time, filing an expense report. It feels like a weight tied to your waist, stealing any spark of energy you will into existence. 

You might confuse it for depression — and it very well could be — but, by reflecting on how and when it arrived, you suspect the culprit is the unraveling of your work life. At some point, you were pushed beyond a limit — or even more than one: a new boss who gave you more to do with less resources, another year passed without a raise, a manager accused of wrongdoing who faced no consequences. Now you feel exhausted, without a clue how to revive yourself. 

Memories of my own bout with burnout came rushing back when I read Anne Helen Petersen’s Buzzfeed essay on the subject in January. Based on how the piece, titled “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation,” rapidly pinged across the internet, I know I wasn’t the only one who saw themselves in her words. 

At first, I wholeheartedly agreed with Petersen’s conclusion. Burnout, she wrote, will be the “millennial condition” — the generation’s “permanent residence” — until we tear the system down, or in less revolutionary terms, fix capitalism so that it rewards quality over quantity. Yet the longer I thought about it, particularly from the perspective of someone who (obsessively) reports on mental health, the more I realized Petersen’s honest but fatalistic diagnosis might lead some down a misguided path in which they give up hope that their burnout will ever improve. 

Volume 0%00:0101:01More VideosThe computer worm that changed the worldWhich Mac tower is the best cheese grater?This e-bike will make you go farther and fasterThe untold stories behind the world’s worst cyberattacksStudy finds connection between using emoji and having sexA 400-year-old Japanese temple just introduced a robotic priestClose 

So I decided to learn as much as possible about how providers help people recover from burnout. To my surprise, few academics study this question because burnout, at least in the U.S., is not an official medical condition. Instead, researchers have focused on the sources of job-related stress and its consequences, which is why the solutions for burnout you see online or in news coverage can feel underwhelming compared to the severity of your exhaustion. Yet while the scientific evidence on burnout treatment is far from conclusive, there’s enough research to suggest that some strategies can relieve burnout symptoms — and people’s suffering. 

If you particularly loved Petersen’s warranted takedown of self-care as the fruitless work of personal “optimization,” you are not going to like what I discovered in my search, because much of what we know about treating burnout is all about self-care. 

The good news is that it’s not the version of self-care you’ve come to loathe, in which treating yourself well is more about consumption and branding than it is about recovery and healing. Instead, this type of self-care is about learning and practicing skills like stress management, relaxation, and anxiety reduction. These are acts that take effort. After all, you’re forming new habits, work that can feel daunting and comes with the risk of failure. 

You may also be pleased to learn that researchers who study burnout believe employers play an essential role; they’re aware that only so much will change when a company and its managers remain in denial about how their policies and behavior can physically and emotionally exhaust their employees. 

So until the day when we’ve transformed capitalism — and the culture of optimization and overwork that it breeds — into a more humane force, let this be your guide to navigating recovery from burnout.  

Our best bet against burnout is self-care, just not the kind you think

What we know about burnout

A standard Google search about getting over, treating, or dealing with burnout often leads to links with familiar suggestions: take a mental health day, get exercise, and talk to a supervisor about your concerns. The American Psychological Association offers more comprehensive advice for coping with stress at work, such as tracking your stressors, establishing clear boundaries between your personal and professional lives, and seeking help when necessary. 

The research on managing chronic job stress indicates that people benefit from taking sufficient time off from work, engaging in relaxing activities, developing meaningful pursuits outside of work, and getting enough high-quality sleep, says David Ballard, senior director of the office of applied psychology at the American Psychological Association. 

Still, tips like “exercise more” or “go on vacation” feel vague or too overwhelming to execute. It would be ideal if, like with depression or anxiety, we could access tested and proven treatment designed to improve our mental health; unfortunately no such evidence-based protocol exists for burnout. 

What we know is that burnout is characterized by feeling exhausted as well as mentally distant from or cynical about one’s job, which leads to being less effective at work. Research on the phenomenon has found that factors like an intense workloadexperiencing unfairness, and role conflict and ambiguity are associated with burnout. Meanwhile, people with traits like neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and difficulty expressing their emotions are more likely to hit the proverbial wall. 

The World Health Organization recently updated its definition of burnout to describe it as an occupational phenomenon in the International Classification of Diseases, a publication that countries, health systems, insurers, providers, and researchers use to track and make diagnoses. The resulting news coverage last month led to confusing headlines indicating that burnout is now an official medical condition. Alas, the update clarified that burnout isn’t a “medical condition,” but results from “chronic workplace stress.” 

If you live in Sweden or the Netherlands, however, news that burnout isn’t a medical condition might surprise you. Patients there can be diagnosed with work-related exhaustion and they receive treatment from clinicians who use different approaches to help people get better. Therapists in the U.S. still see burnout but may officially treat patients for anxiety, depression, or general adjustment disorder. What we know about what treatment could look like actually comes from studies conducted in Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, and a handful of other countries. 

Our best bet against burnout is self-care, just not the kind you think

The potential self-care solution

Though the research is far from conclusive, a few studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of treatment that focuses on developing skills to change a patient’s negative or harmful thinking patterns and learning new, positive behaviors, can alleviate burnout symptoms. Such skills include building greater confidence in one’s abilities, confronting one’s fears, relaxing the body and mind, and learning how to identify and reconsider distorted thoughts like over-generalizations and inaccurate assumptions.

A critical aspect of CBT is adopting habits that can feel difficult at first, like exercising while tired or taking a break during a busy time at work. With consistent practice — and self-compassion for when it feels like you’ve failed at using your new skills — those uncomfortable feelings should ebb or become manageable over time.  

Mental health providers trained in CBT can teach their patients these techniques, but there are also ways for people to explore CBT principles and practices through books. (The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, a professional organization, offers a handy guide for what to look for in a therapist and how to find one trained in CBT.) 

When Fredrik Santoft, a Swedish licensed psychologist and researcher at the Karolinska Institutet, tested CBT training in a randomized, controlled trial, he found it led to significant reductions in burnout symptoms compared to a standard return-to-work intervention designed to help people get back to their jobs. That form of treatment includes preliminary education about stress management but focuses primarily on working with a therapist to create a concrete plan for going back to work, which is then shared with the person’s employer. 

“In a way, our CBT treatment is self-care, but it’s really broad and involves every aspect of life.” 

All of the study participants received some exposure to basic CBT principles, but 42 of them were placed in a group given the full CBT treatment whereas 40 were treated with the return-to-work intervention. Those in the CBT group learned how to monitor their activities and moods, how to prioritize and schedule tasks, and how to evaluate the emotions surrounding their new behaviors. The researchers focused especially on the role of rejuvenating activities, with the assumption that people experiencing burnout feel guilt and anxiety when they try to take care of themselves. 

The full CBT treatment improved the participants’ sleep and their sense of competence, which in turn improved their burnout. His findings, published in May in the journal Behavior Therapy, indicate that CBT can be a powerful antidote for work-related exhaustion. The challenge is understanding when, why, and for whom it’s effective, and then designing treatment around that data. 

“In a way, our CBT treatment is self-care, but it’s really broad and involves every aspect of life,” says Santoft, who believes that one-off experiences or purchases like going to a yoga retreat or buying a fitness smartwatch won’t help people develop the critical, long-term skills needed to recover from clinical burnout. 

A separate Swedish study, published in 2018, found that CBT, mindfulness-based CBT, and traditional yoga all equally improved quality of life for 94 participants on sick leave because of burnout. The randomized, controlled trial used the three different interventions in groups of participants for 20 weeks. The mindfulness-based CBT taught patients specifically how to note and accept distressing thoughts and feelings through increased acceptance and self-awareness. 

Overall, each participant received three hours of training per week in various skills, which they also practiced on their own for an additional seven hours throughout the week. Their tasks included creating a “self-motivated day-to-day activity chart,” which they used to plan their schedules in advance. At each day’s end, they’d reflect on how emotions surfaced or changed and then rated how manageable the day had been. They also instituted a “micro-pause” wherein they focused for several minutes on physical sensations and feelings while doing a brief, practical chore. The break was designed to put the participants in touch with how they were feeling. 

The various skills taught in both studies redirect people’s energy toward problem-solving and away from the kind of desperation described by Petersen. “So what now?” she asks. “Should I meditate more, negotiate for more time off, delegate tasks within my relationship, perform acts of self-care, and institute timers on my social media? How, in other words, can I optimize myself to get those mundane tasks done and theoretically cure my burnout?” 

If you’re skeptical, even for legitimate reasons, that burnout can improve or go away entirely, recovery will most certainly seem like a fraud sold to you by our work-obsessed culture and the wellness industry. It doesn’t help that mental health providers have imprecise tools to aid recovery, or that mental health help is so hard to come by in the U.S. But what if getting through burnout is actually a learning process over which you have a decent amount of control? 

If we view burnout as a manifestation of stress, then it makes sense that CBT could help patients, says Raphael Rose, associate director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at UCLA and a clinical psychologist who practices CBT. Research shows the technique is effective at improving well-being when it comes to stress and exhaustion by giving people tools to ensure better sleep, healthier habits, and behavior changes, all of which can direct someone toward more fulfilling pursuits, making them feel enriched rather than wiped out. 

“You can start to see how CBT skills all sort of help your body refocus, recenter, regroup, re-energize,” he says. “It’s a physiological way of saying, ‘Let’s take a break from stressors and get back to a point where we’re better able to think about solutions.’”

Such skills require consistent emotional and psychological work that simply can’t be replaced by buying luxurious things or indulging in relaxing but fleeting experiences. Developing the capacity for mindfulness, stress management, and anxiety reduction isn’t an act of optimization but instead a commitment to personal growth wherein cultivating resilience is your goal. 

Santoft understands that some patients (ironically) may tire of trying so earnestly to get better, which is why he recommends learning skills and habits in a “stepwise manner.” That means smaller changes come first, along with fresh confidence and motivation. He also encourages curiosity about the “change process” so that patients feel empowered to experiment with their behavior, noting any revelations that come with replacing old patterns with new ones.   

“I understand that worry,” he says, acknowledging how the recovery process itself might feel exhausting. “However, an important question in that context is: What is the potential cost of not doing it?”  

Santoft continues to use CBT to treat clinical burnout. “No other treatment has shown results like this, to the best of my knowledge,” Santoft says. “And my clinical experience is that it works well for many patients.”

Given this recent research, it’s tempting to consider CBT as effective for treating burnout, but the science is more complicated. Prior to the publication of these two studies, a 2017 meta-analysis that evaluated 14 studies on burnout treatment — most of them conducted in Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands — showed disappointing results. The most common intervention featured in the review was CBT in both individual and group settings. In one case, a CBT program was combined with career counseling sessions. In another, the researchers taught some participants CBT and Qigong, the Chinese meditative physical exercise. 

“If there are adverse conditions at work, those skills can help you only so far.” 

One study showed that CBT-based stress management training led to decreased exhaustion and cynicism, but a control group saw the same outcome after following up in three and six months. Something similar happened in two other CBT studies, where burnout scores initially decreased and then, after several months, the difference between the intervention and control groups disappeared. The meta-analysis authors wrote that the inconsistent findings made it “impossible to draw guidelines regarding how to treat burnout.”

“The mixed results … suggest that there are other factors than the intervention affecting the outcome,” Kirsi Ahola, director of international affairs for the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and lead author of the meta-analysis, wrote in an email to Mashable. Those factors could include flawed study design or lack of statistical power to detect meaningful effects. 

To better understand CBT’s potential as a treatment for burnout, we need more well-designed studies that shed light on whether it works and, if so, why it’s effective. 

And while Ahola believes stress management skills can be immensely helpful for burned-out employees, she also insists that they’re not enough. 

“If there are adverse conditions at work, those skills can help you only so far,” she wrote, noting the importance of reasonable work conditions and hours as well as the ability to discuss expectations, demands, and problems at work with supervisors and colleagues. “It is not a good long-term plan to teach people to manage impossible situations when you can also make the situations a little less impossible.” 

Our best bet against burnout is self-care, just not the kind you think

Why employers must embrace self-care

This relentless tension, created by a system that values employers but not employees, is exactly what Petersen got right in her essay, and why a real solution seems like nothing more than fantasy. 

Ballard, of the APA, believes that too much emphasis has been placed exclusively on employees developing better coping skills, effectively letting employers off the hook for their toxic culture and practices. 

“You can’t really put the onus on the individual,” he says. “It’s important to monitor work levels and design jobs that provide enough variety and tasks, where people are engaged in worthwhile and meaningful activities.” 

Petersen’s view is much bleaker: “Until or in lieu of a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system, how can we hope to lessen or prevent — instead of just temporarily stanch — burnout?Change might come from legislation, or collective action, or continued feminist advocacy, but it’s folly to imagine it will come from companies themselves. Our capacity to burn out and keep working is our greatest value.” 

While Petersen’s incredulity is understandable — and relatable — there is a different way to think about solving the problem of burnout. J. Jay Miller, associate dean for research and director of the Self-Care Lab in the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky, rejects the argument that we must first overhaul capitalism before we can successfully tackle work-related exhaustion. 

“When we think about burnout, folks say we should start all over, and that’s not just a realistic place.” 

“When we think about burnout, folks say we should start all over, and that’s not just a realistic place,” Miller says. “And we don’t have to do that.” 

Miller believes that self-care must become a “professional practice skill” that every employee develops and that every employer invests in as a vital and valuable trait. For this to happen, we’d have to admit that the very qualities employers look for in desirable workers (come early, stay late, never say no), typically lead to burnout. 

Miller is also acutely aware of the generational divide when it comes to self-care. Millennials, he says, are seen as selfish for wanting a fulfilling personal life instead of sacrificing themselves at the altar of a nine-hour work day. Yet, while it’s become a sport to mock millennials, it’s clear that employers have gotten greedy

Meaningfully changing companies’ incentives to wring every bit of energy from workers requires making the business case that if an employer wants high productivity and output, they must invest in self-care as a skill, going beyond the average workforce wellness programs. 

Miller, who supervises several university employees, recently began implementing his own version of this. Deciding on effective self-care strategies is a formal process that now happens as part of a person’s annual evaluation, because Miller views it as an integral part of their work. (It is not a factor in whether they receive a raise or promotion.)

In these discussions, employees are encouraged to design a reasonable self-care plan for themselves that reflects their physical, emotional, and social interests and needs. Miller says plans have included regular structured family time, evenings set aside for connecting with friends, and fitness-related goals. While Miller says he offers guidance to help employees settle on goals that are within their reach, he tries to avoid making judgments on the types of self-care people choose. 

“What I’m always careful about is to not push my notion of what they should be doing for their own self-care,” he says. “I’m not a yoga person. I’m a scotch and cigar guy. The irony of telling folks what they should do for their own self care is just that — it’s an irony.” 

Once self-care plans are in place, colleagues meet with each other in groups to keep each other accountable and share struggles and successes. In a corporate setting, outside of academia, it’s easy to see this approach going haywire, with employees wanting privacy and employers turning self-care into another soulless metric by which performance is optimized and measured. These more general self-care tactics also don’t employ the precise stress management skills offered by a technique like CBT. 

Miller’s strategy, however, does two important things: It can create a dialogue between employees, managers, and colleagues about the effects of workplace demands — like Ahola recommends — while making it clear that self-care is a workplace value. Miller, meanwhile, doesn’t want people to confuse this version of self-care, which requires sustained reflection and accountability, with the popular definition, which typically creates only superficial change. 

“Some days you’re going to be good at it, some days you’re going to be bad at it.”

“Some days you’re going to be good at it, some days you’re going to be bad at it,” he says. “It’s a continuum — you work toward it. It’s not just some cute, nice thing we do; it’s a necessary part of skillful practice.” 

It will be hard to convince some employees and employers that self-care, both personal and institutional, could be the answer to the problem of burnout. Doing so will require more research in addition to a broader cultural and political shift away from overwork. Millennials who view their identity and self-worth through the lens of work will need to create firm boundaries between their life and job while learning new self-care skills that might be challenging or uncomfortable. Workplaces accustomed to taking everything they can from employees will need to own their culpability and turn self-care into a company priority. 

Petersen is right that capitalism will refuse to give any of this to workers without a fight. And yet, the suffering that comes with burnout need not be inevitable or permanent. With effective skill-based self-care, workers might just forge their own path to recovery. Meanwhile, a persuasive business case that burnout is counter to a company’s best interests could lead to structural changes we urgently need. If that knowledge can empower millennials to help themselves and fight for a more humane work culture, then we all win. 


%d bloggers like this: