Burnout is a word that we have been hearing a lot lately, but what does it really mean? Burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion” caused by consistent or repeated periods of stress that can seem never-ending. Stress, if experienced in the short term, can actually have positive effects - for example, it can be a source of motivation. However, when stress persists and comes along with feelings of emptiness, restlessness, and hopelessness, it may be an indication of burnout.
Take me for example. I recently went through a tiring period of burnout. Nothing seemed to be working out for me and new problems kept appearing on top of existing ones. I didn’t have enough support and couldn’t catch enough breaks to rest up. As a result, all my energy - mental and physical - had been completely drained. Cynicism, depression, and lethargy are characteristics of burnout, and I could relate. Other physical symptoms include headaches, fatigue, heartburn, and gastrointestinal disturbances. Feeling uncertain about the future, not feeling in control, and having to complete tasks that conflict with one’s concept of self are other factors that can contribute to burnout.
How to Counter Burnout
A great way to counter burnout is to rediscover a sense of meaningfulness within your actions. How will the things that you are doing now help you reach your goals? Finding the meaning in the hurdles in our way, and focusing on our end goals, can help to counter the negative aspects of burnout. Knowing when to walk away from stressful situations is important, but try to avoid giving up right away. Instead, try to make the situation fit your ideals and work for you. For example, you can try restructuring your schedules, revisualizing your current goals – not changing your goals, but figuring out how they fit within the context of your current situation -, and finding alternative pathways that will lead you to your goals. Drawing clear boundaries and enforcing them can help you overcome burnout.
It is commonly assumed that burnout is caused by academic or work stress. However, deadlines, assignments, and pending projects are not the only potential causes of burnout. Burnout can be sparked through any of the various aspects of your life, including your student life, work-life, social life, family life, and more. For example, experiencing the endless concern and exhaustion of having to serve as a caregiver for someone, feeling overwhelmed by social demands, and thinking that you are failing at fulfilling your responsibilities can also cause burnout. All experiences of burnout, no matter the cause, are significant and real.