You’re sitting at your desk, shoulders hunched, neck aching. The sound of an Outlook notification hitting your phone or laptop can be enough to send a shudder down your spine. It is for me. You crave sleep, which shouldn’t even feel like a luxury, but has become the most sought-after activity.
We’re experiencing the telltale signs of burnout with nowhere to go.
No spring break. With finals looming just weeks away, many students are in a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the body and mind, and on-the-job performance, so what can we do?
American Psychological Association’s head of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program David Ballard, PsyD, detailed ways in which we can be proactive in noticing the signs of burnout in his ‘Speaking of Psychology’ podcast and counteracting them.
Chronic stress is the result of, “demands being placed on you that exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors,” Ballard said.
Signs of chronic stress can include being thoroughly exhausted mentally and emotionally: You’re just tired all the time; Feeling constantly frustrated or cynical about your work, or generally more negative than what is typical for you; A lack of motivation for what you love to do; You’re having more conflicts with others; You’re engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms; You feel dissatisfied; You’re preoccupied with your work when you’re not supposed to be.
One harrowing aspect of burnout, one which I experience frequently mid-semester, are cognitive problems.
“Our bodies and brains are designed to handle this [stress] in short bursts and then return to normal functioning,” Ballard explained. “When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues for a long time and we have difficulty paying attention to other things.”
Our body tells us when situations are not normal, but we have become so used to ignoring cues. This prolonged response to stress messes with our ability to solve problems, make decisions or remember key information. You may feel flighty, or disillusioned, with a poor ability to concentrate on even simple tasks. Take the cues.
So, you’re inundated with work and stress and are not afforded the resources of time to balance our workload. Fortunately, there are ways to mediate the effects:
- You have to designate time to relax. That may mean hammocking, reading, listening to music, etc. whatever it takes to get you to stop thinking about your to-do list and start being.
- Sleep is non-negotiable. If you have to choose between sleep or a movie, unplug and get some shut eye. The National Sleep Foundation says, “sleeping less than six hours each night is one of the best predictors of on-the-job burnout.”
- Think about your motivations. This one is the most difficult. Burnout usually stems from external factors like schoolwork expectations and productivity demands. However, we are guilty of placing too much value on what we turnout. Take stock of the extra stress you may be giving yourself and just let it go.
Sometimes it feels impossible to escape, especially when you are quite literally advised to stay on-campus. But it is imperative to your mental and physical health to take control of how you approach work so it doesn’t take control of you.