As we enter early November, stress levels can be higher for a number of reasons. Students have already been weathering a difficult fall semester with hybrid classes, physical distancing, and increasing demands. Add to that a polarizing national election, added lockdowns around the world to prevent COVID-19 spread, and winter is right around the corner. With all of these moving and unpredictable issues, burnout for members of our community is a real possibility that has the potential of impacting our goals. The first step in preventing and managing burnout is knowing how it presents itself in order to figure out how to respond.
The term burnout was introduced more than 40 years ago by Herbert Freudenberger, who described it as a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. People experiencing burnout often develop a pessimistic outlook and have feelings of hopelessness. Early intervention is very helpful in preventing stress levels from escalating to burnout, so knowing the signs is critical. More importantly, anyone reaching the point of burnout can be helped.
There are a number of common symptoms of burnout, including exhaustion, isolation, and irritability. Burnout also happens in stages beginning with strong motivation toward a task, similar to the start of a new project. This strong motivation can lead someone to neglect personal needs in pursuit of a goal. As stressors begin to stack up, people may isolate themselves, behavior may change, and other mental health signs can present themselves.
Self-care plays a significant role in preventing and managing burnout. Even with a busy schedule, we all should prioritize getting adequate exercise, eating a balanced diet, and prioritizing getting adequate sleep. When all else fails, it’s critical to ask for help. Otherwise, we could see a progression to heightened anxiety, depression, and a reduced ability to function.
If you know of someone showing signs of burnout, here is how you can help:
- Give them the opportunity to talk about what is causing their stress;
- Validate their feelings and concerns;
- Offer different forms of help, especially if it seems that they have a mounting to-do list and you can lighten the load;
- Remind them of the importance of taking care of one’s self while noting that self-care puts them in the best position to manage work, school, and other responsibilities.
Hopefully the emerging stressors that lead to burnout are temporary. We need to focus on the things we can control, look out for one another, and take note of the signs of burnout that can present in ourselves and others.