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Seven Ways to Avoid Burnout
By Dr. Sandra Smith, LCSW
College of Health, Human Services and Science
We’ve known for decades that workers can fall victim to burnout. The major features of burnout are exhaustion from work duties, cynicism or detachment toward work and a sense of personal inefficacy or incompetence in one’s role.
Now, psychologists are beginning to learn that students, as well, may be susceptible to burnout. This danger is especially real for working adults who also are pursuing a degree by taking online courses. When you experience burnout on the job or in school, your performance suffers, you don’t enjoy the process as much and you may feel a general loss of satisfaction.
Here are seven, proven tips to avoid burnout—both as a worker and as a student:
1. Slow down. While it may seem counter-intuitive, experts suggest that when you feel like you don’t have enough time, that is exactly when to stop and reevaluate. Dr. Anne Fabiny believes we need to slow down, do one thing at a time, focus on that thing and then move to the next.
She reminds us that when you divide your attention and try to do too much at once, you lose accuracy and efficiency. On the other hand, if you focus on only the task in front of you and completing it to the best of your ability, you not only will do a better job, but will enjoy it more.
2. Plan your time. Create a schedule in which you allot time for each task you need to accomplish. If you work, then blocking out work time and time for sleep come first. Then, add the things that are important, but not urgent. Finally, fill in the remainder of your time with the less important and less urgent items. This concept often is called “Big Rocks.”
3. Get enough sleep. One of the most vital things you can do when under stress is to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been found to be at the root of many disorders when a person is living a normally busy life. For anyone with too much to do, making sleep a priority is a must. With adequate sleep, you are more efficient, have improved judgment and think more clearly.
4. Find a confidante. Often when you are stressed or under a lot of pressure, it helps to have someone to talk to who understands what you are going through and can validate your experience. Find a coworker, classmate or alumnus who understands you; you might even share pointers with one another. It’s a good way to release stress. If no one is available when you need to talk, write it down to get it out.
5. Feed your brain. Many students take shortcuts to save time. It’s easier to eat drive-through than to prepare food at home. But if your brain is foggy from a lack of essential nutrients in your food, are you really saving time? Instead, seek foods dense in nutrients. Foods that are nutrient-dense have fewer chemicals with minimal processing and lots of components your brain and body need to function.
Eat a variety of healthy foods containing all the macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. One of the best ways to get a variety of nutrients is to include different colors of fruits and vegetables and to vary them from meal to meal.
6. Take a break and relax. Taking time to relax, meditate or do a fun activity with family is an important key to surviving stress at work and school. And you need more than just a few minutes each day. Plan ahead and put it in your schedule to chill out at least once a week.
When you are feeling stressed and you only have a moment, take a few slow, deep breaths. Visualize something particularly happy in your life. This way, you’ll take the edge off, if only for a few moments, and be able to function until you reach a more relaxed state.
7. Move it! Do some kind of formal exercise or simply get up and walk around the parking lot or up and down the stairs. These few minutes of regular, physical movement also help the mind and body handle overload. When studying, be sure to take small, frequent breaks, standing up, walking around and stretching. Every movement counts!
If you feel burned out just reading this list, then choose one thing and work on that. When you feel comfortable with that step, take on the next thing. Build one good habit at a time in order to prevent burnout and reach your goals.
Dr. Sandra Smith, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and educator in the College of Health, Human Services and Science at Ashford University.