Yes, burn out is a thing, and there are some things you can do about it.

March 25, 2021

Students (and others on campus, I might add) more frequently comment in the period after spring “break” that they are experiencing burn out. It seems people are feeling more depleted and less energized, and experience the ‘weight’ of their academic (and other) demands more powerfully and persistently. While some of the reasons for this are contextual and not within our control, there are some things we can do to manage burnout and mitigate its impact on us.

“Burn out” is not just an informal colloquial term; it has been studied and its root causes have been clarified. Research (Maslach & Leiter, among others) points to six primary factors that contribute to burn out.

  1. Work Overload: Excessive, unrealistic expectations (from ourselves or others) to do more work than can possibly be done with the available time and resources.
  2. Lack of Control: Lack of sufficient autonomy in executing one’s work, being constrained by unhelpful rigid rules and regulations.
  3. Lack of Reward: Failing to receive sufficient recognition of one’s work (e.g., with money, positive feedback, grades).
  4. Lack of Community: Lacking positive connections to others in your community/environment.
  5. Lack of Fairness: An absence of explicitness of expectations and rules; and/or a belief that preparation is insufficient and rewards are distributed inequitably.
  6. Value Conflict: Requirements and demands clash with personal values/principles.

What’s the Solution?

Adopting a resourceful, adaptive, solution-oriented mindset when faced with these challenges can be difficult when we are experiencing burn out. One (of many) ways to respond with resilience is to actively—and realistically—reframe our challenges in terms of questions we strive to answer. That mere act can help us think more creatively and ignite the process of tackling our challenges more concretely and effectively.

  1. Work Overload: Can I collaborate, use campus (or other) resources, and clarify my high (and low) priorities to manage my workload better?
  2. Lack of Control: Can I re-negotiate with instructors, employers, coaches, or family some of the expectations and constraints I’m working under?
  3. Lack of Reward: How can I feel a greater sense of satisfaction, attainment and recognition for my work, including finding ways to enhance my learning and thus grades?
  4. Lack of Community: How can I be more intentional about connecting with others—academically and socially—and having more meaningful interactions when I do?
  5. Lack of Fairness: If something feels unfair or inequitable in a course, or I don’t have the preparation or resources needed to meet expectations and succeed, how could I address that—and with whom?
  6. Value Conflict: Am I experiencing a conflict between my own values and priorities and what I feel I’m being expected to do that is weighing on me and contributing to tension or anxiety?

These are probably not simple or easy questions to answer, perhaps especially when we are feeling burnt out. But, you don’t have to approach these on your own. Faculty, advisors, your Deans, and others including McGraw tutors and learning consultants can assist you. McGraw learning consultants, in particular, can help you formulate your own questions and begin to strategize solutions, make a plan, and point you to campus resources to tackle the real issue of burn out and its effects.