Imagine this: you are scrolling through your phone when suddenly, the battery dies. Unfortunately, you knowingly ignored the warnings that it was running low and, now, you are stuck without a phone.

Now, instead of your phone battery dying, imagine it is your psychological battery. In other words, your ability to manage stressful situations. A low psychological battery reduces our ability to navigate stress, work, and school, and can increase our risk for anxiety and depression. This decline in our wellbeing has the potential to become unmanageable, which can lead to burnout.

What is burnout and how can we deal with it? Learn how to equip yourself with the tools you need to battle burnout.

Matchsticks on pink surface with one burnt, visually representing burnout
A visual representation of burnout using matchsticks by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, mental, and psychological exhaustion often brought on by intense stress. It is a heterogeneous syndrome, which means it can arise from any number of triggers. For example, symptoms include increased fatigue or tiredness, lack of interest in occupational activities, and heightened sadness or irritability. Risk factors of burnout typically stem from occupational expectations or pressures, which can include difficult decisions and an overwhelming workload. However, it can also stem from a lack of control, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, or work-life imbalance. This psychological state can negatively influence mental health, by increasing the risk for depression and anxiety as well as physical health conditions, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. In general, burnout has the potential to severely interfere with daily functioning.

It was originally defined in 1974 for healthcare workers and the usage continues today as the healthcare industry continues to navigate intense and emergent situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, about 50% of healthcare professionals are predicted to have suffered from burnout with the majority of cases assumed to be unreported.

In addition to its presence in healthcare settings, burnout can present in academic contexts, such as undergraduate and graduate education. It can manifest in various ways in an academic setting, including lack of motivation or enthusiasm toward school, a decline in academic performance, increased fatigue, and missed classes or events. High rates of burnout among students are not surprising, given the high rates of anxiety and depression.

Although students are at a high risk for burnout, there are skills we can learn as preventative measures. Practicing strategies for prevention is just like keeping a phone charger in your backpack and we can unpack the tools we need to deal with a low battery. By utilizing prevention strategies, we can approach burnout in a similar way:

  • Take a break. Though much easier said than done, taking a few moments away from stressful circumstances can help us approach academic responsibilities with a clearer mind.
  • Participate in rewarding and relaxing activities. Making time for enjoyable and relaxing activities, such as reading, yoga or meditation, allows us to bring a positive mindset into other areas of our lives.
  • Seek support. Building relationships is an important part of our wellbeing. Support can include friends, significant others, family members, mentors, and/or therapists. Surround yourself with people that will encourage a positive and judgment-free environment.
  • Exercise. Physical activity is good for our health, helps us deal with stress, and provides a few moments away from mentally stimulating assignments.
  • Get some sleep. Quality sleep gives our bodies and brains the rest they need to continue functioning properly.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness incorporates the practice of becoming fully aware of the present moment. It also teaches how to be less reactive or overwhelmed in the face of stress.

The first step to preventing burnout is being able to recognize it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a battery percentage notification like our phones do, but we can take a moment to recognize how our psychological wellbeing is affecting our daily tasks. In addition, we can utilize the tips above before reaching the point of mental exhaustion. Just like our phone batteries, we should exercise the same urgency to charge our psychological batteries and learn to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to prevent and overcome burnout.


Peer Editors: Kim Taylor and Frankie Marchan

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