January 25, 2021 5 min read

When stress comes crashing down, it’s hard to ignore the physical and mental exhaustion it brings. In some cases, the term burnout seems more than appropriate; it’s all encompassing. There are various degrees of burnout syndrome and it all depends on the circumstances. Academic burnout, job burnout, the list goes on. It’s safe to say that admitting to feeling burnt out is no longer considered abnormal nor the taboo topic it once was. High profile professionals now fess up to it and that exposure has opened a dialogue. Let’s chat about the how’s and why’s of burnout in a workplace or school setting and how the conversation is shifting for the better.

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Is ‘Burnout’ trademarked?

Do you ever use a word and then wonder how you know it? It’s the same thing with burnout. You may have heard it in passing or you may have experienced it firsthand. Is it the chicken or the egg first? This is exactly what happened to Herbert Freudenberger, who is “widely considered as the founding-father of the concept.” The term was originally thrown around by Herbert and colleagues back in the 1970’s and before he knew it, he was writing about the condition and all it entailed.

Female student studying.

From there, it took on a life of its own as other experts took a crack at trying to understand it fully. The Merriam-Webster  burnout definition is described as the “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Many speculate on whether burnout is an actual medical condition as evidenced in 2019 when the WHO (World Health Organization) called it an “occupational phenomenon” and not a “classified medical condition.” That blurry foundation does not take away from the gravity of the condition. Bottom line: feeling burnout is no longer being taken lightly.

Common Signs of Burnout

Like any other condition, there are signs to watch for that spell burnout with a capital ‘B’. Knowing these signs is like dressing for the weather; your future self will thank you for being prepared for that unexpected rain drizzle.

Here are a few common signs of burnout:

  • Exhaustion: feeling tired all the time, physically or mentally, is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right. Listen closely and truthfully.
  • Disassociation: not feeling connected to your work and losing interest is also a sure sign of burnout. Your work may suffer and not be up to par. This detachment can also trickle into other parts of your life leading to further isolation.
  • Frustration: Experiencing a heightened state takes its toll over time and frustration is bound to happen. If it’s a constant mood, it could be another symptom of burnout.

Recognizing the signs that your fire is burning low will make you aware that you’re on the burnout path. With so many working or learning remotely, the boundaries of work and relaxation are easy to cross. Just because you can easily clock in those extra hours, doesn’t mean you should. Think bigger picture. Put yourself first because no one else will.

Upping the Burnout Dialogue

On one hand, it’s discouraging to know that cases of burnout are increasing. A recent YPulse State of Mind report “found 87% [of young people] have felt burnt out, while 62% have felt more burn out during COVID.” This alarming increase demonstrates not only the effects of the pandemic, but also the seriousness of this condition. Yet, what once was swept under the rug, is now being exposed by young people talking openly about this through social media. It’s a rally cry that is being heard across generations and cohorts “specifically LGBTQ2S people, Millennials and Gen Z’s”as reported by the latest Harvard Business Review.

The big question then becomes how are post secondary institutions responding? With the shift to virtual learning, additional online resources and seminars have become available designed to ease transitions and manage

Two students studying outside together.

stress. Take for example Mohawk’s College “Future Ready Kit” which covers everything from orientation to virtual learning tips. These dedicated channels are a click away and provide information ranging from how to setup a learning space at home to updates about the Spring term. Take the time to peruse your own post secondary’s site for something similar!

It doesn’t stop there. A heightened level of discussion is creating waves of action as organizations answer the call. For example, “[the] CAMH has undertaken the world’s largest research study to identify the most effective workplace mental health solutions.” Their research has shown that “30% of disability claims in Canada are due to mental illness.”With that data in their pocket, they are leading the charge through their Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders. By informing the top of the funnel, they hope to see change flow throughout the workplace for the better treatment of all.

All of these steps forward are encouraging even if there is still a lot of work to be done. We can see a framework taking shape that will soon yield a sturdy foundation of support.

Finding the Right Burnout Treatment for You

In the meantime, what is the best treatment for burnout? One thing is for sure: there’s no one size fit all. Just like the varying conditions that lead up to it, treatment plans flex and change. The good news is there are options to try out and see what works best for you. With mental well-being at center stage, the drive to identify innovative solutions has definitely escalated.

Remember to try these one at a time. You don’t need an added layer of burnout. 

  • Find Time to Recharge: we know you want to do it all but making pockets of time for yourself will go a long way. Read that book, meditate in the morning or rewatch your favourite movie. Carving out that time for things you enjoy will relieve some stress. 
  • Exercise Is the Name of the Game: a brisk walk or a full on sweat session is a guaranteed mood booster.
  • Get Organized: sometimes just mapping things out will have a calming effect. Make sure to include those times for you too. That way you have something to look forward to.
  • Rest Your Eyes: not getting enough sleep effects even the most productive people. Set a time to go to bed or get that power nap in. Being better rested, means being clearer headed.
  • Get Help: if there’s no improvement, then it’s time to seek out professional advice. Take time to look into services available through your school, your work, your healthcare practitioner or one of the many mental health organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Keep Moving Forward

Experiencing burnout might feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Like anything else, all it takes is one step forward to start creating momentum. With more research being pooled together from all angles, there’s hope that tomorrow’s burnout will look a lot different.

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