Picking The Panther’s Brain | How to beat burnout

Picking The Panther’s Brain is a biweekly psychology blog by Dalia Maeroff.

By Dalia Maeroff, Contributing Editor

Right about now in the semester, we’re all feeling it creeping up. If you’re like me, it hit about two weeks after school started. And once it hits, getting things done feels just about impossible. That “it” probably popped right into your head, and you probably complain about it to all your friends in the middle of a study session — burnout.

Some symptoms of burnout include feeling out of control, exhaustion, loss of interest and productivity, high stress levels and behavioral changes.

Don’t fear, though — you can combat your burnout. There is still some hope to feel more in control and make your life more balanced. The key is knowing what burnout is, what causes it and how to combat it. 

Exhaustion marks the state of emotional and physical burnout. Significant, repeated stress related to work, school, relationships and more cause burnout. But an overload of work isn’t the only cause of burnout. A lack of control over the work results in cognitive dissonance — a conflict with personal values and sense of self — which can also cause burnout. A lack of support as well as participating in work that one isn’t truly passionate about can also cause burnout. 

Burnout is different than normal stress. Time separates normal stress and burnout. Normal stress is temporary, and is usually associated with one specific event — maybe an exam or a project that you need to finish. But burnout is a whole different monster and feels like neverending stress that’s impossible to escape from. The issue with burnout is, unlike normal stress — which can sometimes be good — it can cause harm to both your mental and physical health. 

But enough about what burnout is and how it’s caused — how do we get rid of it, and how do we prevent it in the first place? The most important aspect of solving and preventing burnout is a solid, healthy work-life balance. This can look like a lot of different things — unplugging on the weekend, setting a time of day to completely be done with work, or talking to your boss or professor to create a plan for work that will work better for you. 

Self-care is also essential to solving and preventing burnout. However, there are several different kinds of self-care that need to be taken into account. The first is social self-care. Socializing can greatly decrease the amount of stress for many, whether it’s going out with friends for a night or staying in and talking to a loved one. The amount of socializing necessary for everyone is different, but spending time with other people is still an important factor to reducing stress. 

The other aspect of self-care is just the opposite — taking time to yourself to rest and relax. For me, that means watching cooking shows and painting my nails. For you, it might look different. Do what makes you feel calm, and what allows you to switch your brain off for a bit. A lot of pressure is on students, I feel, to use their self-care time to do something enriching, such as reading or going to a museum. Both of which are okay, and if they work for you, then do it. I love doing both of those things, but sometimes my mental battery is simply not charged enough to read a good book or a stroll around a museum.

Another way to frame dealing with burnout is with an alliterative strategy called the “Three R” approach. The first step is to recognize the symptoms of burnout, then reverse the damage by asking for help and support and managing your stress. Finally, build resilience to stress by participating in self-care. 

If you feel that your burnout may be something more and you are seeking extra support, there are some excellent resources available at the University, such as the University Counseling Center, to help!