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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Norton

What do cancelled stadium tours tell us about relationships and burnout?

NME reports a newsworthy wave of recent tour cancellations:

Numerous acts have pulled shows citing mental health issues – is the talent finally able to stand up for itself and say enough is enough?

Some might say that these guys are well-rewarded, and knew what they were signing up for. That's an understandable reaction. But as a counsellor who uses empathy as a tool to investigate and counter burnout, I'm trying to imagine having a career where stadiums full of fans applaud me for expressing myself, where I have bandmates and others depending on me, and how easily I could start to rely on this career for self-definition and validation.

Combine that with only being as good as my latest release and the risk of spectacular foul-up every time I go on stage, and the additional challenges of limited recovery time and restricted access to any supportive personal relationships, and I'm only surprised there isn't more burnout in the profession.

The article ends on an optimistic note:

Burn-out is avoided, meaning longer, happier, more productive careers. And a clear message is sent to the industry as a whole; that artists need to be nurtured, not exploited. The days of wringing out an act until they’re a bloodless husk need to end, and it starts – right here – with the talent standing up for itself.

I'd agree that we should use whatever freedom of action we have to protect our mental health. But my experience, both personal and professional, is that when it comes to taking action, relationships often trump circumstances. For a long time I had a satisfying and exciting relationship with my work. I identified with my role as a creative techie in a software startup, happily spending late nights at my desk and weeks at a time on site in hotels, unconcerned by my dark and empty flat. Not exactly rock and roll, but I liked it. And it worked for me. Until - slowly but certainly - it didn't.

In my case the hard work of recovering from burnout wasn't so much the changing my behaviour at work, it was changing my relationship with work. It was growing a family and realising their fundamental importance. It was no longer defining myself - to myself, let alone to others - by reference to my long-gone dot-com glory days. It was reaching a new relationship with work, which allowed space for healthier personal relationships and a more balanced self-perspective. Once you get the relationships right, correcting the behaviour starts to come naturally.

The breakdown of social relationships runs through Freudenberger's seminal 12 Phases of Burnout, for example:

Phase 3 - Neglecting personal needs: You have no time for anything but work, you postpone tasks and you begin avoiding social contacts. You tell yourself that these sacrifices are proof of heroic performance.

Maybe you're not in the rock and roll business either, but do you know anyone who is neglecting their inner needs and personal relationships in order to pursue a heroic performance?

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