Recognizing and dealing with burnout

Photo by: Tim Grouw

Burnout is more common than one might expect, and it often gets dismissed, making it a problem worth addressing.

Whether it’s academic stress, being overworked, or a combination of both, burnout can affect a person emotionally, physically, and mentally. This can have detrimental effects on a person’s well-being as well as job and academic performance.

Burnout was included in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) by the World Health Organization (WHO) back in 2019. While not classified as a medical condition, it is described as an “occupational phenomenon.” The pandemic certainly saw an increase in burnout-related symptoms with the transition of working and studying from home, but even outside of that context, stress is often prevalent throughout our daily lives. It is therefore important to know what makes burnout different.

This time of the year is quite busy for students in particular; getting off midterms, starting final assignments, and preparing for final exams—all of which can be stress-inducing. This can leave one feeling drained and overwhelmed. Identifying the symptoms of burnout can help one overcome it, more specifically, pinpointing the stressors can help one come up with coping strategies that could alleviate the stress.

One of the main symptoms is exhaustion. This can be physically or mentally starting to feel drained and noticing low energy or a decrease in motivation to work. While it can look different for everybody, some other examples to keep in mind include trouble concentrating and irritability. Stepping away and taking breaks is a small intervention for this issue. For more severe cases of burnout a prolonged break may be necessary but taking time out of your day and partaking in activities and hobbies may alleviate and prevent burnout.

It’s worth noting that these symptoms would be a significant change from the usual outlook towards school or employment. For example, another symptom of burnout is that it can also shift one’s perspective in a negative way, creating anhedonia. Another important point here is that it is internal. This means that the environment might not have changed, but it is the person’s perspective that has turned towards the negative. The good news is that this means that burnout can be overcome, the bad news is that it’s not easily done.

However, that’s not always the case. In terms of burnout, it is often the environment changing that leads to a person feeling overworked and stressed out. This can still be overcome but it might not be as easy depending on the reason. For example, if you know specifically what in the work or school environment is causing the additional new stress then a proactive approach of removing the stressor could help the situation.

One would think that in most cases, one just has to push forward and wait until the storm passes; a method of thought employed often by students during exam season. While this is true, it is not always the greatest way to think in order to ease stress, especially if the workload has accumulated too much and it’s not only affecting academic marks but one’s mental health as well. 

If this is the case, then an academic advisor might be able to provide some options on how to better manage symptoms. This can be in the form of seeing the availability of dropping a course and picking up more in the summer for example. This would relieve some of the stress a student could be facing at the moment, and therefore, help with future experiences of burnout as well. 

Another example is communicating with one’s work management to schedule fewer hours at work if possible.

Ultimately, learning and accepting one’s limits is the first step. Setting boundaries for oneself follows thereafter maintaining a realistic outlook is essential to handling burnout. 

Stress will undeniably be part of our daily lives, and being aware of when it crosses a threshold is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Knowing when to step back is a skill learned with time, remember to be compassionate with yourself. 

Anyone experiencing these symptoms is encouraged to seek professional help or visit some resources at Brock such as the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC), here, for help.

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