Have you ever felt burnt out? Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t go on doing what you’re doing? Have you ever felt like you hit a wall in your work or education, and that there must be something wrong with you?
Welcome to burnout, the feeling we get when we’ve reached our physical, mental, and/or emotional limits in our occupational work or schoolwork. As you might have gathered from the name of this less-than-glamorous state of being, burnout refers to the flame of a candle or a match reaching its end, extinguishing due to the sheer fact there isn’t anything left to burn. Burnout is primarily caused by stress in the spaces where you carry the most responsibilities, where everything becomes too overbearing to handle the way you might have been able to when you first started your new job or started taking classes. If you start to detach from your work, or feel like you can just never do well enough
Psychology Today describes the main signs of burnout in three major areas. The first area is physical and emotional exhaustion, which has symptoms including chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, and other physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, and gastrointestinal pain. The second area is cynicism and detachment, with symptoms such as loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, and detachment. The final area, ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment, with signifiers including feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, and poor performance.
If you’re experiencing burnout at work, that can look like showing up late more and more often, falling asleep at work, getting angrier with coworkers or clients/customers more frequently and more intensely, feeling anxious about upcoming deadlines when you don’t typically have anxiety, turning work in late, calling out sick more and more, struggling to complete tasks you’ve previously mastered, so on and so forth.
Students can experience burnout as well: forgetting about exams, sleeping instead of studying or completing assignments, constantly asking for assignment extensions, disliking classes you used to be excited to attend, not eating enough or drinking enough water, slipping grades, etc. There are plenty of other spaces where we can experience burnout as well, including with our hobbies or pastimes when they start creating more and more work or requiring more and more effort, or in political/activist spaces when the stresses of political turmoil and the need to fight bear down on you and make you question your very position in those spaces or actions.
More Radical Reads: Surviving Is Enough: 8 Reminders To Not Be So Hard On Ourselves
Burnout can take such an extreme toll on our lives, especially when it leads to the worst-case scenario of being reprimanded, fired, or kicked out of school. The very thought of this worst-case scenario makes what you’re experiencing feel even scarier, which feeds further into your burnout, making the worst-case scenario even more likely, and so on, in a terrible cycle.
Sometimes, the worst part of burnout isn’t the fact that you’re feeling ill or underperforming, it’s the anxiety that comes from the question, “when will I pull myself out of this?” That anxiety just perpetuates the burnout until it becomes detrimental to our livelihood and overall mental health.
One of the least talked about effects of burnout has much to do with that anxiety. When we feel burnt out we often place the blame on ourselves. We beat ourselves up over the feeling that we could have done something to prevent the burnout from happening in the first place. We feel helpless in finding a way to reignite that flame we once had in our work or education, the flame we had when on our first day in the new office, the flame we had when we found a class that covers the exact subject you’ve always wanted to learn about, the flame we had when we were getting promoted or getting A’s or finishing assignments on time.
We blame ourselves for the burnout we experience because that’s often the easiest target. “If only I had taken on less work.” “If only I had chosen a different major.” “If only I had an easier time getting out of bed in the morning.” “If only I was better at this subject.” “If only I could just give myself a mental boost and get back to the way I felt before.”
If you have ever said anything like the above, I want you to read this closely: you are not to blame for burning out at work or at school. Burnout is not something you can simply control. There is no quick fix or cure for burnout, and it shouldn’t be your responsibility alone to find a way to get out of that terrible feeling.
Burnout is much more common than any of us think. People experience burnout in many different ways, as I mentioned earlier, and people handle burnout in even more ways. People you might think are performing at their best could be dealing with some severe health issues because of their own experiences with work-related or school-related stress that they are forcing themselves to work through. If you are feeling over-encumbered in your work or school space, you are more than likely not the only one, and there’s a good reason for that.
Although it doesn’t always seem this way, burnout is often an organizational or institutional problem. The decisions that happen at the operational, managerial, funding, or other over-arching organizational levels of our workplace or school directly affect the way we experience the stresses of our responsibilities. The “higher-ups” often organize our workload without consideration of our limits, especially when there are pressures to ensure a high yield of good performance in your tasks. Organizations and institutions have to learn to take the responsibility for the burnout of the people who are directly affected by the (often poor) decisions they make.
While your overbearing stresses and burnout might be institutional, there could still be actions you can take that will help get out of that rut. Being honest with yourself about your workload, taking time off or finding ways to remove yourself from your stressful spaces with your health in mind, talking directly with coworkers, supervisors, or professors about your struggles, or finding useful stress reduction tactics like meditation or listening to music can all help in your efforts to fight the heavy effects of burnout.
Sometimes, in extremely toxic environments, other options such as finding a new job or transferring schools or considering other more drastic routes can be necessary for you to find your balance again.
The most important thing is to remind yourself that you can’t keep beating yourself up over feeling burnt out. We all go through extremely stressful or debilitating times, and we don’t need those times worse by blaming ourselves for something we don’t really have control over. You will be able to find your groove again, feel passionate again, to blossom again, and reignite that flame again if you understand how important it is to not pin your burnout on yourself.
Some other useful resources on burnout:
-Our friends at Everyday Feminism have some amazing resources on preventing and handling burnout.
–Psychology Today has written articles that cover the signs and effects of burnout.
–The Icarus Project offers a workshop centered around burnout, especially organizational burnout.
[Featured Image: Person sitting indoors against a wall, they are holding a red poster on a frowning face. Pexels.com]