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Burnout: Spot the Signs & Put Out the Fire!

At the end of every day, the first thing most of us think about is our productivity. “Did I get enough done?” Can be a pretty healthy thing to consider. That is, until it becomes the only way we judge ourselves and our sense of self-worth…

For a lot of us, it’s like our responsibilities, whether they be school or work, NEVER truly end – the line is blurred between time off and time on the clock. ⏰ Our modern world’s whirlwind of tasks, assignments, deadlines and endless meetings, fueled by technology, can easily start to take over our lives and feel like an all-consuming beast. 👹 And so, more and more students and professionals are finding themselves burnt out.

Beyond the normal wear and tear of everyday stress, burnout is a deep, chronic state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, often leaving people feeling disengaged, unfulfilled and underperforming. 😢 It’s something that can affect ANY of us, so let’s dive a bit deeper into what burnout looks like, what causes it and what we can do about it!! 🌈

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a whole different level of exhaustion. We're not talking about your average, "I need a vacation," type of tiredness (although you better believe you’ll need one if you’re burnt out!). And it’s a bit heavier than simply feeling overworked or stressed from time-to-time. It’s a clinically recognised condition with 3 major symptoms:

1. Emotional Exhaustion 😶: This is when we feel like we’re running on empty, drained and exhausted, and can't seem to refill our emotional 'gas tank'. Like you just can’t dealllll with one more thing!

2. Depersonalization/Cynicism 😡: This is when we find ourselves feeling more negative, cynical, or detached towards our work, studies or colleagues.

3. Personal Ineffectiveness 😓: This is when we start to feel less productive at work or in our studies, like we’re not achieving what we want to, or that what we’re doing isn’t meaningful.

Spotting Burnout: Know the Signs 🧐

It's important to recognize burnout so you can help yourself and others! Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Performing less effectively at work or in our studies
  • Feeling negative or cynical about our job or coursework
  • Avoiding work, classes, or colleagues
  • Feeling hopeless, detached, or disillusioned
  • Getting frustrated at every little thing your classmates or coworkers do or say

What Causes Burnout? Lighting the Fire 😳🔥

A few different things can lead to burnout. They're like little sparks that can start a bigger flame if we're not careful!

Increased Workload 📚: When we’re constantly under intense pressure with many tasks, it can make us feel overwhelmed and lead to burnout.

Values Mismatch 😮: When we don't align with the values of our workplace or educational institution, it can cause a deep frustration and contribute to burnout.

Sense of Unfairness ⚖️: Feeling that we’re treated unfairly at work (e.g. not getting paid or praised enough) or school (e.g. not getting the grades we deserve) can build resentment and dissatisfaction, adding fuel to burnout.

Rewards Shift 💸: When we’re motivated more by external rewards (like money or grades) instead of internal ones (like the joy of doing something well), burnout can creep in more easily.

Questions to Ask Yourself 💁‍♀️

  • Are you really, really exhausted? Not physically, but emotionally? To the point where even taking the weekend off doesn’t do much to restore your wellbeing? To the point where you feel like any little thing could set you off emotionally
  • Are you experiencing changes in how you feel about the people you work or study with? Like you have a short fuse for pretty much everything that’s said to you or asked of you?
  • Do you feel like you’ve lost meaning in your work or studies? Like you don’t get any sense of satisfaction or happiness from what you’re doing? Even in areas that used to do so? 
  • Do you feel like something about your work or studies has changed, and you can no longer do a good job with it? Whether it’s that things feel unfair or your responsibilities are too much

If you’ve answered yes to one or a few of these questions, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to mitigate these feelings before they turn into full on burnout, if they haven’t already! So, I hear you ask…

How Can We Prevent Burnout? 👌

There are two parts to preventing burnout: one is personal, the other is organisational.

On the organisational front, industries and schools need to address systemic issues and take a proactive stance on burnout. 💪 This includes making changes to workload management, correcting any misalignments between individual and corporate or academic values, and reassessing the rewards being offered. The goal is to create an environment where students and employees feel valued, motivated, and less prone to exhaustion. 🙌

On the flip side, the personal aspect is just as, if not more important, for keeping burnout away. While it's important to advocate for structural changes where we can at work or school, the real game-changer lies in prioritising ourselves BEFORE our workload. I’m not just talking about the basics like cultivating social connections or taking time for leisure but also re-evaluating our relationship with work.

More often than not, we offer the best of ourselves to our jobs and education, putting the remnants of our time and energy into everything else, like family or hobbies. 💔 This disproportionate investment can heighten the risk of burnout as we tie our identities too closely with our professional roles or grade point average. When our sense of self relies heavily on our work, any slight mismatch or setback can feel personal.

The solution? We can’t make our entire wellbeing dependent on work: it’s just ONE part of us. We need to take real breaks from our work or studies, and disconnect entirely whenever we can. 🙌 During this off time, we can prioritise the other parts of ourselves. Nurture our relationships outside of work, indulge in our hobbies, and take care of our health. Diversify our life's portfolio by investing time and energy in non-work activities (yes, that’s finance bro lingo 😘)! By investing in and developing an identity that’s not solely tied to our job or grades, we create a buffer against the impacts of burnout. Essentially, the key to preventing burnout is not only in transforming our workplaces but also in reshaping our personal relationship with work.

It's about finding that balance where work is a part of our life, not our whole life! 💗

A Little Reminder: You're Not Alone 🥰

If you're going through burnout, remember that you're not alone! Reach out to friends, family or professionals for support. It's okay to ask for help, and it's SUPER important to prioritize your wellbeing. You're doing an amazing job just reading this article, and remember - it's perfectly fine to take a break when you need one. Keep shining, you beautiful star! 🌟

Post by
Delaney Zaleski