Live in This Northeastern State? There’s a Fierce Chance You’re Clinically Burnt-Out
Online search data reveals the #1 most-searched symptom that has Americans desperate for relief from stress, overwork, and lack of support.
Burnout is a broad term related to extreme exhaustion or stress, explains Nikki Beatrice, OT, OTD, OTR, manager of Behavioral Health OT & Mental Health Specialists at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Burnout “usually stems from high levels of stress, fear, consistent anxiety,” Dr. Beatrice says, “or it could be from multiple traumas, from not having proper support [systems].” One study even pointed to “emotional contagion”—the idea that if someone in your circle feels burnt out, chances are that you are, too.
Whatever’s run you down, data show that most Americans can relate. According to 2022 research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH), up to 91.4% of people said they felt burnt out.
Many are turning to search engines to investigate whether what they’re feeling aligns with the symptoms of burnout. Dr. Beatrice also points out that there’s a growing awareness around burnout in general. “It’s become one of those ‘token terms’ like the term self-care—this umbrella term that encompasses many different things.” So it’s understandable that more people are looking for answers. “There’s been a lot of discussion around the term burnout since the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says. “People hear or read about it and think: I’m starting to experience some of these things, let me look up what burnout symptoms are.”
A new study analyzed search volume data for phrases, terms, and queries related to burnout over the last year. Based on nationwide search behavior, the states that are home to the most emotionally exhausted residents appear clear.
The biggest symptoms of burnout
Researchers on burnout say people often experience common signs of stress, such as sleep issues, depressed mood, stomach problems, fatigue, and frequent sickness. But search data suggests there’s one major burnout symptom that indicates extreme stress: Depersonalization.
Dr. Beatrice defines depersonalization “as this idea that you are so detached and disconnected, both physically and emotionally,” she says. Depersonalization is “as if you’re almost sitting on the couch watching a TV show or a movie, clicking through the remote—but you’re watching your life, not grounded in it.”
She says people report that depersonalization can feel worse than symptoms of anxiety or depression. “At least you’re often physically feeling symptoms from anxiety and depression, where depersonalization is more of a numbing feeling.”
The states that feel most burnt out
Massachusetts residents are searching for answers about burnout more than any other state, according to the study—and the term “depersonalization” was by far the most searched term.
Dr. Beatrice says she’s not surprised Massachusetts leads the pack. “I know this because I actually experienced it,” she says. “It’s one of the most highly populated areas with hospitals and healthcare workers—and it would make sense that right after the pandemic, people are searching for these terms.” While burnout can affect those working in any industry (or role, such as a parent or caregiver), much of today’s research focuses on the extreme rates of burnout among healthcare workers and teachers.
Oregon, New York, Washington, and California round out the top five burnt-out states—again, with most residents searching for the term depersonalization, followed by the phrases burnout symptoms and stress management.
States that are tired, but coping
According to the study, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi residents still make the top 10 but aren’t searching for burnout clues as much as the previous five. That doesn’t mean people in these states aren’t affected by burnout—residents are just making about half as many searches.
Dr. Beatrice suggests climate and landscape may have something to do with this pattern. A wealth of research shows how spending time in nature can reduce stress and may even help you live longer. “If it’s often cold, snowy, and dreary in certain areas, that will impact our ability to actually connect with nature in this way.”
With some exceptions, the states on the lower half of this burnout search term list are also less populated—and Dr. Beatrice says this can have a psychological impact. With higher populated areas, there’s more of a go-go-go pace, greater sense of competition in the day-to-day, and more ongoing stimulation, she says. “It’s easier to actually feel more lonely and disconnected, even when you’re constantly surrounded by people.”
This can make it more difficult to form a supportive sense of community—a factor known to help us cope with stress. “It would make sense that people living in faster-paced areas with demanding lifestyles—and none of the underlying support between—would experience burnout more than [those living in areas] with a slower-paced living style.”