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Break Out of the Burnout

The world has shifted to everything and anything digital during this pandemic. In the Philippines, online and modular learning are still being implemented. Learning while staying at home is the new normal. Although this method seemingly offers more flexibility, students nevertheless experience exhaustion and stress from the number of tasks to cross out in their to-do lists.

It is not just students who experience this kind of fatigue – anyone could, even teachers, parents, and professionals in different fields. They all go through the same kind of weariness and pressure at some point in their lives. The long hours of attending meetings, beating deadlines and finishing chores could all take a toll on anyone’s health and well-being. But what exactly is this condition and how do we avoid it?

Defining burnout

The term “burnout” is credited to the psychologist Herbert Freudenberger back in 1975, defining it as the “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” It is also characterized by three dimensions namely, exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. An extreme and extended feeling of stress and tension may lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion which leaves us drained and eventually, unmotivated to continue with the tasks at hand. This negative attitude does not only stay within ourselves. It is carried over to every aspect of our lives, which includes work, home, and even our social life. 

According to Professor Patricia Mariz Valencia, a lecturer at City College of Calamba and a Public Affairs Specialist at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, burnout is characterized by cynicism, depression, and lethargy brought about when a person does not feel in control of how a task should be done or carried out, or when there is a conflict with their sense of self.  “[This is the] overwhelming feeling of not attaining anything – of not ticking any tasks from our planner… It could actually lead to burnout if it happens repeatedly.” 

Photo from Parentology

What ignites the fire

Burnout is commonly experienced in the workplace where individuals may experience high stress levels resulting from a heavy workload or a poor working environment. But it is not just simply a product of these two factors. There is also the thought of doing a task that does not align with one’s own goal. We may experience burnout when the task does not resonate with us or if we keep pushing ourselves to the limit.

Here are some other causes of burnout:

  • Lack of social support. One common coping mechanism is having a support system that provides care and assistance in times of need and, this includes family, friends, or colleagues – including higher-ups such as teachers and managers. However, if we feel isolated and left out, the stress builds up with no one alleviating it.
  • Fairness. Equitable treatment is something expected in the workplace. But with the dysfunctional workplace dynamics that may exist, we may feel that others get acknowledged while we remain unnoticed. A 2018 report on employee burnout shows that employees who feel a lack of fairness at work are more likely to experience burnout.
  • Lack of control. Our ability to make decisions is what makes the autonomy of an individual. When we feel that this power is not in our hands or we don’t have a say in the decisions that affect our lives, it may cause a negative impact on our welfare.
  • Imbalanced lifestyle. An effective balanced lifestyle is when we can keep up with all aspects of our lives – relationships, work, and health, without sacrificing personal time for ourselves. An imbalance with these aspects may cause burnout. For example, having no energy to spend time with family because of the time and effort poured into work.

Letting yourself shine

Though experiencing burnout may affect our lives in a not-so-positive way, there are still ways that we can do to manage stress and burnout. Valencia lists the following:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Practice visualization. (Here, visualization or guided imagery is described as a method to imagine oneself in a specific scenario.)
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take calming breaths.
  • Practice PMR. (Progressive Muscle Relaxation involves tensing and relaxing the muscles in the body until one reaches a state of relaxation.)
  • Listen to music.
  • Get organized – declutter, get rid of distractions.
  • Practice affirmation.
  • Try meditation.

Valencia also recommends the method of Appreciative Inquiry. This approach comprises asking questions that seek to improve the positive capabilities of an individual through focusing on their core strengths. She adds, “Optimists actually experience better circumstances, in part, because their way of thinking helps to create better circumstances in their lives… There is no harm in trying to be positive.”

Photo from Beauty for the Seoul

Putting out the smoke

While burnout may be an aftereffect of the piled-up sense of exhaustion, pessimism, and uselessness, it is not a bad thing to take a step back every once in a while and ask ourselves how we are feeling. Valencia states that we only need to filter out those that overwhelm us. “Do not repel the negative things that are happening to you – and your stressors, do not repel them. You don’t have to battle them out, you just manage them,” said Valencia. “Small progress is progress. No matter how small you think that is, it’s still progress. It means you are moving on; it means that you are able to do something, and that feeling alone will help you keep yourself motivated.”

It is not off-limits to lessen our workload or to ask for help. Self-care strategies may help in reducing the high levels of burnout. These include setting aside time for relaxing activities or for friends and family, acknowledging our limitations, and saying no.

Magsimula ka. Basta magsimula ka.” (Just start. Just start at something.) This is the final gem of thought that Valencia shared. With the many tasks that each of us may have right now on our planners or to-do lists, managing our lives and workload for the better all begins with taking one step. At some point in our lives, we may experience burnout. But to manage it, we have to find that sense of purpose. At the same time, accepting what we can or cannot do while taking it one step at a time.