What should educators keep in mind when responding to widespread burnout

What sensible steps can we take for ourselves to respond to burnout?
Dr Danielle Einstein
Sep 1, 2020
Reach out
Avoid burnout with a small gesture

Burnout shares features with depression. Signs of burnout are feeling cut off from co-workers, students and others, emotional exhaustion, and obtaining less of a sense of accomplishment than you’ve previously experienced with work. During both burnout and depression we focus on downhearted information. Some researchers argue that burnout is actually “depressive symptoms” that manifest “in work life”.

In 1967, researchers established that a lack of control can lead to a sense of helplessness. Right now, stress imposed by lockdown, ongoing personal economic uncertainty, and the spread of the virus weigh heavily across society.

What sensible steps can we take for ourselves to respond to burnout?

  • Catch the expectations that you feel others have of you. Decipher which are imagined and which are real. Initiate conversations with your supervisor and consider your values as you decide which expectations to prioritise.
  • Every single day, schedule a pleasant activity. This may be small (such as a bath, a walk, or a bike ride), or may require some advanced planning (organising a call with a group of friends, surfing, setting up internet karaoke, commencing a craft project). Central to this is recognising that your happiness muscles will shrivel without a daily workout. You may need to recall activities that you enjoyed previously. When you try these out, rate your mood after each activity and keep this record for a few days. Compare it to your mood with existing activities.
  • Resist the temptation to lean on social media or emails when you have dedicated time to self care or pleasant activities. Both will stir up your mind. One of the best methods to detach is to put your phone or computer in another room. This will stem the impulse to reach for it mindlessly.
  • Managers should keep in mind that both burnout and depression are linked to adverse, low control workplace conditions. Providing staff with a sense of autonomy is important. When decisions are made to lighten the load, allowing staff to select where it can be lightened will help. Because we become cynical towards others when burnt out, we need to look out for a sense of pessimism and hopelessness in the workplace. Be aware that perceptions of “unfairness” will feed cynicism and envy. Envy is related to depressed mood. At work, this may take the shape of believing someone in an equivalent position has a better role or more support. Mitigate envy by checking in and encouraging conversations around new priorities.
  • Don’t dismiss the power of the text message to elicit support from a caring friend. If they are available and you can have a ‘live’ conversation. This will allow you to spell out what has happened and recognise your feelings. Incidents trigger emotion. Just writing them down and reflecting on what has happened in a supportive environment can be an enormous benefit. If you try this strategy, look out for a friend who you find listens well, doesn’t feel the need to jump in with urgent advice and is available (at the time that you are texting). Use direct messaging rather than group messaging wherever possible. Phonecalls provide a different form of support as there is a greater need to reciprocate, tone of voice to decipher and interruptions from the listener. With close friends or family, we often have less of an opportunity to reflect and process with a phonecall. We may then find it harder to move ourselves forward after the conversation. Compare both strategies for yourself and see which allows you to move forward more freely afterwards.
  • Connection is fundamental, so maintain contact with a range of people whose company you enjoy. Balance your need for support with ways that you can connect with others and listen to their issues. If you are feeling pessimistic, try not to do this too much with others who are similarly in a low or negative mood as you may simply feed each other’s pessimism and “What if” thinking. We need to take a firm stance to turn ourselves away from unhelpful triggers.
  • If you haven’t yet, take some time to learn about self compassion and release yourself from everyday expectations when it is all too much, Be kind to yourself.

The Chilled and Considerate team is providing tools for burnout within a 15 minute course which teaches self-compassion for readers. We are also offering a course to help tackle “What if” thinking. Educators receive PL verification. For further information www.covid19chilledandconsiderate.com/

Image by Andrea Piacquadio from pexels