Boreout syndrome is real, and it’s time we addressed this simple but super important topic.
Mimicking the symptoms of burnout, boreout is the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s when a person is mentally underwhelmed and slowly wilts from the boredom that comes from living unchallenged.
Boreout is taboo, toxic, and if you’re an accompanying partner — you’re a prime target for it. You gave up everything meaningful to you in order to support your spouse on their assignment. All the ways you once used to identify yourself get taken away.
Once boreout settles in, it deteriorates your confidence and self-worth, and leads to a gradual loss of the will to act on a personal and professional level.
You scramble to find things to do and force yourself to do them, but that only seems to make it worse. As the distance widens between who you are now and who you once were, you become so bored you lose the drive to change it.
The good news? It’s completely reversible. We’re going to stop pretending it isn’t happening, stop judging ourselves, and get focused on healing.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The culture of wearing “busy” like a badge
- Advocating for your own needs
- Why support is contagious
- The grounding power of check-ins
- When burnout and boreout live in the same house
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
We’re delighted by our recent nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 7 am in New York, 1 am in Johannesburg and 6 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition
We’ve all heard of burnout, but have you heard of boreout? Yes boreout. It’s a thing.
I stumbled across this term because a friend of mine sent me an article about boreout and I dug a little deeper and I found out that there’s actually a book written in 2017 by Peter Werder and Phillipe Rothlin who are two Swiss business consultants and their book is called “Diagnose Boreout.”
It turns out that boreout isn’t to burnout in terms of symptoms, but it’s caused by mental under load. There is an expression in German, which plays on this idea of overwhelm, but it’s basically saying you’re underwhelmed and that’s a thing.
It’s a thing we need to take seriously and I think it’s super important to take seriously in this “I’m wearing busy like a badge culture.”
If you ask anybody how their week is going, they’re going to tell you they’re busy. “How was your weekend?” “Oh, it was busy”. “How was your week? “It’s busy.” How is today like?” “It’s busy.”
We live in this sort of culture where we’ve always got too much to do. So you can imagine the judgment when you feel underwhelmed and underloaded.
It’s like “Hey, I’d love to not have enough on my plate.” People would be envious of their zero space for when people have boreout or underloaded.
But let me tell you why we need to pay attention to this and especially why we have to pay attention in the global mobility space.
Psychologist Wolfgang Merkel says that the symptoms of boreout mirror burnout, including signs of depression, drive and insomnia and can include stomach upset, a headache and disease. This is when it’s diagnosed, but think about that that having too much to do and getting close to burnout has physical implications but having too little, being underwhelmed likewise has a health implication we have to pay attention to.
When on the psychological level when you’ve got boreout, it’s boredom, dissatisfaction and permanent frustration. And it’s this vicious cycle of the person who’s in it.
Now, here’s the thing. When I read this, when I see the symptoms, when I hear about the underload, the underwhelm, the lack of feeling challenged, I think I have many accompanying partners. Accompanying partners who gave up everything, their career, their social network, their routine, to move abroad for their partners job and to support the entire system, whether it’s the organization’s or the partner can get the travel done or their family system. And they no longer have their profession, maybe not even legal right to work where they are, they might not even have the need to do things like drive anymore because they can’t legally or because of security regulations, etc. etc.
I see this in accompanying partners and here’s why we need to pay attention, because when people are in this cycle of boreout, it leads to the gradual loss of the will to act on the professional level or the personal level and it hits you in your self-worth and self-esteem.
This is why I see parallels of boreout at work, when you’re underwhelmed, under challenged with accompanying partners. How I see this in accompanying partners is that they say things like this, “Sundae, I don’t know, I don’t understand, I should be doing something but I can’t motivate myself.” Or they say “I want to start my own project, but I don’t even know if I could do it anymore.” They’re feeling loss, loss of self-worth, motivation and self confidence. Loss from things that they thought they didn’t even want to have, even things like household chores. Some families have nannies suddenly and they’re not doing anything in their home anymore or their children are going to school because they’re getting older and they’re suddenly spending hours waiting for them by themselves at home, wondering, “What next, what do I do?” Or they used to spend their time doing their job, but they can’t in the country that they’re living, loss, loss, loss.
And at the doorstep of depression, loss of drive, physical symptoms and low self-esteem.
I know what you’re thinking, there’s a couple of you that are kind of getting judgy and you’re like, “You know what, there’s so much to do in a foreign city, you could be doing it.” You have the answer for them, “How can you be bored in Beijing? There’s so much to do.” Or maybe you’re saying something like, “You’re not bored, you’re boring because there’s always something to do.” Sure, we can always think of things to do, but that’s not the point. The point is it’s not that individuals who are feeling boreout lack creativity, lack ideas, it’s that they’re lacking purpose and meaning and it’s taking a toll, so the lack of action is a symptom of boreout.
And for those of you who are clinical psychologists, I’m not talking about official diagnosis, I’m talking about what I’m seeing, connections, I’m seeing how we can use this term of boreout, clinical diagnosis aside, this idea of being so bored we’ve lost the drive to change it. That’s what I’m talking about, a loose play with this clinical term of boreout.
Let’s pay attention to that, because if we don’t it might lead to something clinical. It’s like when you’re feeling super stressed and you’re super busy and you’re feeling on your edge, you leave that and it will go to clinical burnout. I know people in my own circle who were on the edge of too much, until one morning they couldn’t even get out of bed, landed into a clinic where adrenals have been tapped and they couldn’t even choose to go to work anymore because their body had made other decisions.
So this is good to have a term to hold onto, loose frameworks around burnout, not clinical but loose. Loose frameworks around boreout so that we can start seeing it before it becomes a real thing, notice when signs are cooking up for us, and maybe we need to shift something.
So in the accompanying partners, yes, I see burnout because they’re doing all of the things, but I also see boreout where that leads to this lack of momentum. And it’s so easy to judge people for that when you have too much to do and you’re like, “I wish I were you.” I just want us to just hold back from that because lack of purpose, you’ve heard me say this before, is life-threatening. We are built for purpose people with a strong sense of purpose actually live longer than those who have a weak sense of purpose. We are designed for purpose and when you are suddenly in a context where everything that was meaningful for you is at a distance or taken away, it’s important to pay attention to.
Now I want to take it to the next step.
Another thing I often see is you’ve got a dangerous combination, the person on the lead assignment is showing signs of burnout, the accompanying partner, boreout. So you’ve got two people in the same house on both ends of the spectrum. You can imagine what that means, the person on the brink of burnout is feeling overwhelmed and needs to shut down and retreat, confidence is high because all they’re doing is performing, but it’s too much.
So what do you think this person says when they come home? “I’ve had a huge day, this is going on.” It’s a mirror of all the things that are lacking in the person with boreout. Then the accompanying partner in this case could have boreout.
What do you think they need? They need stimulation, they want connection, maybe even adventure and their self-confidence has taken a hit.
So put a couple together who’s brink of burnout, brink of boreout. How do you think their weekends go? If you are being proactive because you’re so bored during the week, what do you want to do on the weekends with your partner? You want to get up and do things and see things and get involved and create connection. And your partner’s like, “Just put me in a hole and I want to go away from everyone.” So then this can create tension in your relationship and it becomes a downward spiral of “Well she doesn’t understand me?” Or “He doesn’t get me.” Or whatever that is.
So actually what’s going on with the individual based on their independent circumstance gets turned into a relationship problem. But the real problem isn’t about the relationship; the real problem is about their circumstances they’re navigating.
So I’ve got just a couple quick tips for you if you happen to be in a partnership where one individual has burnout and the other has boreout.
The first thing I’m going to do is super simple, just name it.
You might share this podcast with them and say, “Hey honey, which one do you think I’ve got? Which one have you got?” Give it a name, so “Yeah, I am kind of feeling burnout.” Or “Yeah, I do kind of resonate with this term of boreout.” Just name it, create some distance, it’s not about someone being a jerk, it’s about feeling, responding to the pressure of a situation. So number one name it.
Number two is create space.
So for example, if you’re the one who is interacting with your partner who has burnout, you can say, “Hey, what do we have to do for you to feel like you can recuperate? What should we do on the weekend so you can really retreat?”
The other partner if your partner is feeling in the boreout, same thing like, “Hey, you really need stimulation, you want to go out and do something more purposeful, what has to happen for you to feel that way?” How can you create space for each other?
Yes, there should be spaces that are overlapping for the both of you, but get those urgent needs met for retreating or for connection, whatever it is, for stimulation first so that you’re ready to engage together.
So number one name it, number two create space, simple conversation, “Hey, you’re kind of probably feeling burnt out right now, what can we do on the weekends for you to sort of rejuvenate?” Simple conversation and then exchange.
Number three is mutual support.
After your conversation you have come up with a few ideas, you’ve got a plan, then it’s about mutual support check in, “Hey this weekend we had a plan for you to kind of retreat, how did that go? Did that work for you?” And likewise, what can you do to support your partner? And support is kind of contagious, if you’re supporting your partner and showing enthusiasm for them to get their needs met in an ideal situation they will do the same for you.
Best-case scenario, you have something institutionalized in your routine where you check in and that could be something as simple as, 15 minutes before pizza Friday you sit together for 15 and say, “Hey, let’s check in with each other, how did it go this week?” Or maybe instead of a morning over pancakes, after the kids get up and leave the table you look at each other and you say, “Hey, is this a good time for our check in, because you are worth it.” That 15 minutes to check in could make the difference between a great week and a terrible one.
And that means step four is check in, put it into your schedule regularly.
So there you go. If you are in a partnership where you feel like one’s got burnout, the other one’s got boreout, number one name it, number to create space, three mutual support, and four check in.
Simple topic, super important. If you’re listening to this and you resonate with boreout, my request for you is that you don’t judge yourself for that, take it seriously because what I’ve seen in over a decade of working with expats is that boreout is a symptom of feeling a lack of purpose and meaning and that is important. It is worth taking seriously, as seriously as we would anyone on the brink of a burnout.
So I hope that’s given you some language to think about and some motivation on how to take better care of yourself and advocate for your own needs in your family.
If this resonates with you don’t hesitate to reach out to me, I’m happy to share more and we can have a one-on-one conversation. For those of you who are listening and are saying, “Oh my gosh Sundae, I work with expats, this is exactly what I have been seeing but didn’t have words for with my clients.” Then I would love to talk to you.
If you have not yet heard, I have just launched something called the Expat Coach Coalition, we’re together, we are stronger. I am looking for a handful of high-caliber professionals who are coaches, who are committed to supporting expats. And supporting expats through boreout and burnout is just one of the many things that we can do.
So if you haven’t checked it out yet or you and I have not hopped on the phone about the Expat Coach Coalition then do so now. I will make sure that I put the link in the show notes.
And if you are a coach who is sitting on your training and feeling boreout because you’re not coaching enough, you’re not able to really turn your business into something thriving at the level that sort of ignites you, even more reason to hop on the phone with me about Expat Coach Coalition, because we not only go over the techniques, art of coaching expats in transitions like this, but we also talked about how to build your business.
All right everybody, pay attention not only to burnout but also boreout because you are so worth it.
This is the Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Bean, thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with a quote of Arthur Schopenhauer, “The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.”