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Psychology of burnout: your celebrity crush could be a symptom of burnout. Here’s how to tell

Posted by for Mental Health

We might think we recognise the signs of burnout, but did you know your seemingly harmless celebrity crush could be a symptom? 

Admit it: it’s fun to daydream about celebrities every now and then. Personally, I’ve fallen in love with people I’ve never met before at various stages of my life, from Antonio Banderas, Omar Sy and Ewan McGregor (the Moulin Rouge’s Ewan McGregor, I mean), to Henry Golding, Dev Patel, and Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter.

These flames have burned brightly and extinguished quickly, like sparklers on Bonfire Night. Because, as Nancy Mitford puts it in The Pursuit Of Love, while my imaginary romances were “strong and painfully delicious… I think we half realise they will be superseded in time by real people; they are to keep the house warm, so to speak, for its eventual occupant.”

Netflix's Lupin
Daydreaming about Lupin’s Omar Sy is fine… to a point.

Nowadays, I’m very boring and don’t have a single celebrity crush to my name. I am bereft of ‘live in my head rent-free’ moments. And so, when one of my friends began quizzing me about “my big celeb crush of 2021”, I had to think about it really hard for a very long time.

“I guess… nobody right now,” I said eventually, much to her disappointment (she, you see, is currently hankering after American Horror Story’s Evan Peters). “Sorry.”

She sighed. “Oh well. Apparently celebrity crushes are a symptom of burnout, anyway.” 

My mouth, dear reader, immediately dropped open. 

“I think what it is,” she continued, seemingly unfazed by my shocked reaction, “is that you’re retreating from reality into a bit of a fantasy world. But I bet that a psychologist would explain it better than me.”

Utterly intrigued by this idea, I reached out to not just one, but two psychologists to find out more. Here’s what they had to say on the matter.

What’s the difference between a healthy celebrity crush and an unhealthy one?

Grace McMahon, one of Beingwell’s life coaches, explains: “A ‘crush’ is defined as an intense but brief infatuation of someone – and it’s usually unattainable. It’s a way to explore our deepest desires, while still having no real realisation of romantic feelings. It’s especially normal for young people to explore their sexuality with celebrity crushes where we can create perfect scenarios – sort of a daydream through rose-tinted glasses – but it can certainly continue into later years of life.”

Jason Ward, psychotherapist at DBT London, adds: “Healthy celebrity crushes offer a way to test intense sexual attraction, desire, longing and connection without the negative possibility of emotional rejection.”

Zendaya on the red carpet at the 2021 Oscars
Could your daydreams about Zendaya be a symptom of celebrity burnout?

“A healthy crush is one that passes after a short time,” says McMahon. “An unhealthy crush looks a little more like obsession; all-consuming thoughts of the person, desperate longing for them to mystically enter our lives one day, farfetched fantasy scenarios. Unhealthy crushes can cause feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy which can have a huge emotional impact on our wellbeing.”

Is a celebrity crush a symptom of burnout?

“Having a slightly unhealthy crush on someone unattainable is a sign of wanting to escape reality,” continues McMahon. “I mean, any crush with someone unattainable is a sign of wanting to escape, but if it’s an all-consuming crush or one where you feel you’re losing a grip on reality, it might be time to do something about it.

“In fact, a desire to leave reality behind might indicate that you are having a difficult time right now, or even that you are experiencing burnout – feelings of exhaustion, cynicism and a lack of productivity due to an unbalanced effort to reward ratio.

“Your celeb crush probably isn’t a symptom of burnout, but it might suggest that you’re not getting what you truly desire from your reality, which may be a result of burnout.”

However, Ward cautions: “A celebrity crush sets up an idolising relationship that can never be consummated, leading to feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem and even depression.

“The crush also unrealistically expands our expectations and our must-have list becomes distorted and includes all the power, status and wealth associated with fame so that any potential non-celeb partner will be overlooked for the sake of following a dream that can’t be fulfilled.”

What does a celebrity crush say about our psyche?

“Crushing on celebs is very normal,” says McMahon reassuringly. “It’s an innate desire to mate as a human. Because, whether we actually choose to reproduce or decide to date or stay a single pringle or not, the companionship we seek is innate – a biological instinct. And in the age of social media, those celebrities feel a little closer to us because we can feel like we know their lives following their Instagram feeds, and the overexposure they have in the media.”

McMahon adds: “An unhealthy crush says, though, that you might need to get out and create a reality that you enjoy. When we’re longing for things we cannot have we tend to get lost in all the ‘what if’ theories, which means that we feel quite defeated by the lack of manifesting. 

“This could lead to us experiencing burnout – but the unattainable crush probably isn’t the sole reason for this. You might be unsatisfied in a number of areas; work, social life, romantically, spiritually, and have some celebrity crushes that might feel like they help you cope, but it could be that this unattainable longing is only driving the desire to escape further.”

What does an intense celebrity crush say about our own romantic relationship?

Ward warns: “A very intense celebrity crush is often a sign that our romantic relationship may have reached the burnout threshold.

“When we devote time and energy to following, commenting, viewing the object of our celebrity crush we can develop a ‘parasocial relationship’, defined as involving our emotional, cognitive and behavioural responses with a media celebrity as if they were actually a part of our social group.”

Harry Styles on the red carpet at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, in downtown Los Angeles, CA, Sunday, Mar. 14, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Harry Styles lives rent-free in many people’s heads, but are those celebrity crushes healthy or unhealthy?

Ward adds: “If we are not getting our attachment needs met from our partners then the energies of longing, desire and connection will seek out fulfilment.

“Celebrity crushes act as a proxy for our emotional attachment needs.”

What can we do if we’re experiencing an unhealthy celebrity crush?

“Now, we might not be able to make our private island fantasy a reality, but we can make time for more things we enjoy doing in our realities to help us reduce the desire to escape,” says McMahon.

“Perhaps your job has become monotonous and dull and you need a change, or even sprucing the four walls you’ve been looking at far too much this last year is needed. Maybe a year of isolation is pushing you to your limits, and you need to reunite with your people, find more people or even new people to hang out with in actual reality.” 

If you recognise this desire to escape in yourself or have a tendency to verge on the unhealthy side of crushing, here’s what you can do:

Take a break

“This could be a few days out of the office (or in another room), booking a staycation, going out for breakfast or having a day off from house chores,” says McMahon. “Our realities tend to revolve around responsibilities, so if you’re longing to escape, escape and come back feeling rejuvenated.

Get out and about

“With restrictions easing we have more options to get outside and get fresh air but also reunite with people,” she continues. “The fresh air can help us reset while connecting helps us to feel loved by others; maybe that longing for Timothée Chalamet and/or Zendaya was just fuelled by a lack of hugging this last year!”

Do something new

“We can often get bogged down by the day-to-day monotony of life; it’s important but, boy, can it get dull after a while,” concludes McMahon. “Start a new hobby, go try an adrenaline rush activity, go learn a new skill. It’ll help mix things up for you, bringing new things into your reality and harnessing that longing to escape.”

Ward, meanwhile, has the following advice for anyone who wants to detox from their negative celebrity crushes and focus on improving their own IRL relationships:

  1. Don’t judge or criticise your partner with your internal voice
  2. Be a friend to your partner, be kind, attentive and interested
  3. Remember what qualities attached you to them
  4. Make time for chatting and planning social interactions
  5. Make space and time for intimacy, tenderness, and affection
  6. Realise that relationships are never static and that they flow in and out intensity and connection
  7. Ask yourself this; do you really want to be right or happy?

Food for thought, eh? 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters. You can also access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations.

Additionally, you can ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email 

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Images: Getty/BBC/Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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