Have you ever felt exhausted from work on a regular basis? Does it take a serious pep talk with yourself to get out of bed to continue with the commitments in your life? If so, you may very well be burning out.
Burnout is a term used to describe someone that is feeling tired and mentally exhausted brought about by a buildup of stress. This can come from several different commitments, such as school, work, and parenting. Although the specific reasons for burning out may differ from person to person, there is a simple pattern we can identify to help us better manage it.
Here’s my story:
When I first started teaching, I was so excited to be a positive influence in every single one of my students’ lives. I created great lesson plans, executed them well in class, tutored, held parent meetings, graded papers in a timely manner, and I coached sports.
It was great seeing my students succeed with everything I was a part of. All of these commitments, however, began to take its toll on me. I would come home late after work and coaching, and I would still have to grade papers. I would’ve graded papers during the day, but I left all of my available time open for my students just in case they needed help with something we covered in class.
During the weeks where we have assessments, my students would take advantage of my open hours to meet with me for tutoring. So, I had to put off grading papers until I had other time available, which happened to be either late at night or on the weekends.
At this point, I would spend the week teaching, coaching, and attending meetings, and on the weekends, I would grade papers and plan lessons.
I didn’t really have time for much else after I added in errands that had to get completed over the weekend. A couple weeks of this schedule, and I was exhausted!
I would arrive at school tired, and my energy level teaching wouldn’t be in a place for my students to get excited about the material. If I couldn’t sell what we were learning about as being exciting and interesting, my students would have a hard time getting excited about it.
Once school was over for the day, I would still have my coaching commitments in the evenings. After that, I would be so tired that I would only want to go to bed. The next day I would have to do it all over again until the weekend came along, where I would spend the greater part of both days grading papers and planning lessons.
The stress got so bad for me that I would have to take personal days off work just so I wouldn’t fall too far behind grading papers. Eventually, I lost the motivation to do my best work, and instead opted for ways that I could just get the work done.
From a psychology standpoint, there are 12 accepted steps that lead to burnout. However, within my experience teaching and many others who have experienced feeling burned out, there is a simpler pattern we can identify that makes it easier to remember.
- New task
- Stress buildup
- Continual stress
- New Task
When you’re presented with a new task, such as a new job, project, or promotion, the prospects are exciting. You want to do your best, so you take on the challenges associated with the task headfirst and put all of your hard work and effort into it. This is an exciting time. You really want to show that you can do well.
2. Stress buildup
Over time, the stress from that task can build up. This can result from your need to work harder in the task as your responsibilities increase. It can also come from neglecting your own needs in the process.
As an example, if you’re in the middle of a semester and all your professors have exams happening on the same week, this would be an event that builds stress for you.
You have to figure out how you’re going to do well in all your classes that week, so you decide to dedicate your free time to studying leading up to the exam week. And that’s all you do. You don’t dedicate any time for yourself or doing anything you enjoy, which can build up your stress levels.
So, at this point, stress will show itself here and there in different forms, but it’s manageable. You may also neglect some things that give you a sense of recharging. An example of something that I find recharging is spending time outside on a nice day. This is an important thing to do if you’re looking for a way to manage stress.
3. Continual stress
Continual stress happens when you find yourself stuck in your task. It may not feel like there’s anything wrong with how you’re feeling because it’s all part of your task. You may feel that if you continue to work hard, maybe there will be light at the end of the tunnel, and the stress will die down.
Even with all these feelings, the one constant is the stress that continues to grow from your task. At this point it may feel like you’re carrying the stress around with you even after you leave your task for the day.
You may also withdraw yourself from other commitments, like spending time with friends and family, so that you can dedicate more time to tackling your task, or the continual stress from your task makes it to where you’re unable to enjoy some of the things you used to do. From your withdrawal, you may start to feel depressed about where you are with your task.
If we equate the stress buildup to blowing air in a balloon, the burnout stage is where the balloon pops.
This is where you feel exhausted and mentally drained constantly. You question yourself often on whether you should have taken on the task, and you really have to build yourself up to continue doing it. You may even dread having to go back to your task to continue with it.
Burnout can affect your performance in the task, and it can leave you feeling unsatisfied with where you are in life as well as feeling empty inside. It can be a difficult feeling to overcome, especially if you’re committed to the task that caused it.
I loved teaching. It was a rewarding career, but I didn’t manage my commitments or take care of myself well enough to prevent feeling burned out. And once I hit that stage, it took a serious action plan to build myself back up again.
Whether it’s school, work, or parenting, you’ll want to do what it takes to avoid burning out for your social, physical, and emotional well-being, not just for you, but for your friends and family around you as well.
Through this article, my hope is that you have a better understanding of burnout and how to identify the progression to burnout before it’s too late. If you see anyone else going down this path, it would be important to provide support for them as they may not realize it. Because once you’re feeling burned out, it can be difficult to pull yourself out of it.
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