How feeling burnt out was invented in the Victorian era

By Daniel Bates

Stress was just as commonplace in the Victorian era. Photo / Getty Images
Stress was just as commonplace in the Victorian era. Photo / Getty Images

Burnout might seem to be a modern condition - the result of our ever more hectic lives.

But a new book suggests such stress was just as commonplace in the Victorian era, only then under the guise of neurasthenia.

The nervous condition - a feature in 19th century literature - was seen as a failure to cope with the pace of industrialised life.

David Schuster, a professor of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, says the symptoms of burnout and neurasthenia are very similar.

In both cases, patients experience depression, lack of ambition, insomnia and headaches.

Another term for the condition was Americanitis because it was recognised in the US at a time when the country was rapidly developing and employees were working longer hours than ever.

"The decades after the Civil War were a time of rapid change," said Professor Schuster, whose book is titled Neurasthenic Nation.

"Cities were industrialising and growing, the railroad was expanding, the invention of the telephone was around the corner, the stock ticker was about to go live.

"Americans, it seemed, were doing more than ever before, and were growing concerned about the impact of life in the fast lane on their health."

Male sufferers were sent to the countryside to exercise until they rediscovered their "vigour".

Women were given six to eight weeks of bed rest. They were spoonfed milk and soup and not even allowed to read.

The condition declined in terms of diagnosis in the 1920s.

- Daily Mail

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