After constantly hearing coworkers say "how do you deal with burnout?" left and right I started to wonder about it myself. I had always had this feeling of burnout which increased when I started working after the pandemic (we are still not out of the woods with covid-19 yet) but was never sure how to put it into words.
Evidently I've come to understand that burnout is not something we can simply avoid by closing our eyes and pretending it doesn't exist. Rather than trying to avoid this state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged stressors we should face burnout head on.
These stressors can look different for everyone but commonly they are caused by but not limited to work, school, home, and social stressors.
As a member of Gen Z, I am aware of the stress we face as students struggling with mental health challenges. Oftentimes we are pressured to obtain high status achievements and when we fall short of that line we diminish our self-worth and doubt comes into play.
As a women of color I also recognize the lack of representation and ability to develop a strong sense of self and belonging on and off campus.
People of color, women, LGBTQ+ students and parents are all known to struggle with mental health challenges, including not feeling a sense of belonging and struggling to develop strong social connections when they are in a minority group on campus.
These challenges can be amplified by burnout, which we often dismiss or shrug off by saying "I'm just fatigued" as we sip our third cup of coffee that week.
But what if we set aside time to talk about burnout and fatigue to showcase how it doesn't have to control our lives and make us miserable all the time?
I am challenging all of you who read this including myself to fight burnout through education with the facts!
What is Burnout?
American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term "burnout" in the 1970s. He focused his research on understanding and developing treatment options for stress, chronic fatigue and substance abuse.
According to a 2015 research study on "Burnout and Engagement as Mediators in the Relationship between Work Characteristics and Turnover Intentions across Two Ibero-American Nations" burnout is defined as a "response to ongoing stress or psychological strain that involves feelings of emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive
If you've experienced feelings of being "trapped" or "stuck" in a situation with no way out or no control/power over the situation you may be emotionally exhausted.
Chronic stress can be demanding on the body and lead to poor sleep, lack of energy and decreased motivation overtime.
Cognitive weariness or fatigue is known as a decrease in cognitive resources developing over time on sustained cognitive demands, independently of sleepiness. This means that it does not simply go away with sleep, although rest is helpful.
Burnout is not an uncommon experience especially for those in helping professions such as clinical mental health counselors, psychologist, nurses, law enforcement officers, and case workers.
In the field of nonprofit where I work, we often care more for the needs of others which can cause us to neglect ourselves. But this method does more harm than good.
Symptoms of Burnout?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are three main areas of symptoms that are linked to signs of burnout:
Exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and don't have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and gastrointestinal (stomach or bowel) problems.
Alienation from (work-related) activities: People who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.
If you experience head pains, changes in appetite, sleep problems, including disrupted sleep or fatigue, or find it hard to concentrate you may be facing burnout. It is important to speak with a licensed medical professional for further assistance.
Why Should I Care About Burnout?
Those who care for others more than they take time to care for themselves are more susceptible to experience burnout.
The report indicates higher levels of burnout correlating to reduced patient safety and poor health among nurses in the medical field. High turnover rates in this profession have been linked to increased levels of burnout as well.
But burnout is not exclusive only to healthcare providers.
According to CNBC roughly "62% of working women in the U.S. and Canada reported daily feelings of stress compared with 52% of men" suggesting there is a long systematic impact of gendered expectations for caregiving in the household, challenges to close the gender wage gap and provide ongoing child-care which is made more challenging by the pandemic.
The Hechinger Report found evidence at Ohio State, that indicated that the number of students reporting "feelings of burnout leapt 31 percentage points during the last academic year — from 40 percent of students in August 2020 to 71 percent in April, according to a university study."
The data also showed that Hispanic students were experiencing the highest levels of anxiety and depression. In comparison Black students reported the second highest levels, slightly higher than their white counterparts.
Minorities experiencing burnout are more likely to quit their job, drop out of school, and report substance abuse problems.
How To Cope?
Personally, I find the best ways to cope with burnout is to start by acknowledging that it is happening then listening to your body and evaluate your options.
Give yourself grace and give your issues to God. PRAY OVER IT!
If you have a stomach ache or hunger pain, do not ignore it by continuing to work instead nourish your body with healthy food and rest.
If you feel your eyelids getting heavy, try taking a 15 minute break to meditate and focus on your breathe. I practice meditation on a daily basis and feel significantly more drained when I don't do it.
Have you ever said to yourself, I wish I had more time to paint, or play music or go to the beach like I used to while at work or doing an assignment? If so, dig into that feeling and carve out time to make those moments of joy a priority.
Take a day off of work, or set that project aside I promise it will still be there when you get back. Taking a break does not make you a quitter, it makes you a winner!
Make it a habit to practice self-care, which can be as simple as going for a ten minute walk or laying barefoot in the grass in your backyard. Don't take these moments for granted.
Designate a specific time in week for yourself to do stress-relieving activities or do nothing at all except chill out however that may look for you. Recently, I've made it a habit to only do work in the office or at my desk for a set period of time and when I get home I only focus on my grad school work.
Learn more about the different hormones that make an impact on your body and make a plan for intervention and get the support you need.
Talk to a mental health professional in your area or reach out to your insurance provider to see what options may be available to you. If you are a student, research the counseling and psychological services provided by your university.
If you can not afford insurance look for a Federally Qualified Health Center (aka, community-based healthcare centers that are government funded).
You can also reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). Which has a helpline that offers free help 24/7. All you need to do is text NAMI to 741741.
Ultimately, knowing the facts about burnout and what they bigger underlying issue that is causing it will save you a tremendous amount of time and energy. So don't wait until burnout consumes you, tackle it today.