Burnout, Buns Out

During the summer, when you scroll through any social media platform, you'll see cheeky pictures with the cheeky caption "suns out, buns out." But summer's over, unfortunately, and now it seems like the trend is "burnout, buns out." For most college students, there's an insurmountable feeling of stress and anxiety throughout their semesters. Whether those feelings are from classes, work, internships, clubs, or just life in general, the effect is the same: college students push themselves harder and harder and eventually some feel like they're burning out before they can even live their life.

How many times have you wanted to stop and just cry or scream about how stressed you are, about the amount of assignments you have, about how stressful work is, or about your fear that maybe your life isn't going to work out the way you want and that all the hard work you're putting in won't lead to where you wanted to go? How many times have you dragged yourself to class even though you feel like you could be doing something more productive? How many times have you felt that you're trying your hardest in one class and you still aren't getting the grade you need? How many of you think that you need a certain grade and if you don't get that certain grade you berate yourself over and over again? How many of you have just sat down on your bed or on your couch or on the floor and just think about giving up on school and work and anything else you're involved in? You feel like the sound of quitting is calling your name and you're suddenly content with just passing by on the bare minimum. Maybe you've even planned out what you'll do if you drop out of college or if you feel like the career you've chosen isn't going to pan out the way you planned. Sometimes your life feels like it's literally going up in flames because of how stressed you are or sometimes it feels like you've reached the end of your stick and you have nothing left to use to keep going.

                                                                                                                          Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What is burnout? According to a paper by A. Weber and A. Jaekel-Reinhard, Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies, burnout is a syndrome that is "characterized by exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced satisfaction in performance." Burnout can occur in both students and employees and is a result of persistent stress that has not been dealt with successfully. From reading this basic description, it's obvious that college students are constantly feeling burnt out; the expectations of students today are set so high we stretch ourselves as thinly as possible to meet those expectations. In result, we stress out about every assignment we don't do as well as we should on, we stress out about not getting the right internship or work experience, we stress out about making mistakes and associating that mistake with failure. In reality, those mistakes aren't failures at all. We compare ourselves to others and when applying to universities, we're constantly looking at what the right GPA is or what the right test score is, what's the lowest score and GPA and do we even have a chance of getting in to our dream school? This carries over to any graduate degree we plan on pursuing and even trying to land the job we want. We live in a state of constant comparison and measurement using the question, "am I enough," to determine how much more we need to do.

According to the article, Student Burnout as a Function of Personality, Social Support, and Workload from the Journal of College Student Development, there are three dimensions of burnout syndrome: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion refers to demands and stressors which can lead to people feeling overwhelmed and unable to give of themselves at a psychological level. Depersonalization occurs when one develops negative and cynical attitudes creating a callous view of others. Reduced sense of personal accomplishment is the tendency to view oneself negatively and to be dissatisfied with accomplishments. Burnout symptoms include: lower motivation and satisfaction with work, social conflicts, lower efficiency, and increased risk of health issues. Burnout is related to personal dysfunctions like physical exhaustion, insomnia, and increased drug and alcohol use.

Sheri R. Jacobs and David Dodd conducted a study in order to analyze college students and their relation to burnout. The study included students in their junior or senior year because these students were fully adapted to the university setting; therefore, they would not be experiencing any overwhelming feelings from their first or second year at a university. There were 83 juniors and 66 seniors, 54% of the sample size were employed, but none of the participants worked full-time. The data from the study was collected during the last four weeks of the fall semester and the first four weeks of the spring semester. According to the results from the study, when emotional exhaustion was used as the dependent variable, higher scores on emotional exhaustion were associated with higher levels of negative temperament, higher subjective workload, and a greater number of work hours. When depersonalization was used as a dependent variable, higher scores were associated with lower levels of social support from friends, higher levels of negative temperament, and higher subjective work-load. Lastly, when personal accomplishment was used as a dependent variable, greater burnout was associated with lower levels of social support from friends, lower levels of positive temperament, higher levels of negative temperament, and fewer hours spent in extracurricular activities.

What does all of that mean?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Based on the results, we can see a few things and as college students, we can use these results to help us prevent burnout or see signs of burnout. Personality can be a predisposition to burnout, especially negative temperament. However, social support, especially from friends, can act as a buffer against burnout. A student's extracurricular activities impact that student's sense of accomplishment; therefore, extracurricular activities can also act as a buffer. These activities also need to be taken with a grain of salt because if the extracurricular activity begins to bring more stress to a student's life, the activity no longer acts as a buffer. Emotional exhaustion and depersonalization normally occur after the subjective feeling of being overworked; therefore, if a student feels overworked they are more likely to experience symptoms of burnout. However, the student's workload, including academically, their employment, and the number of hours worked were not consistently related to burnout. 

There are a few ways to prevent yourself or others from burnout. Since burnout syndrome is a result of stress that is not dealt with properly, find ways to improve your method of dealing with stress. Talk to other people about how they deal with stress or research new methods that you haven't tried yet. Try meditating, reflecting, or just taking at least 5 minutes for yourself every day and do something you like to do. Another way of preventing burnout is learning how to say "no" when people ask you for help or for favors. If you know you can barely handle the amount of work you have, don't take on the responsibility of other people's work as well. In addition, you can reflect on your expectations of yourself and ask if those expectations are what's stressing you out the most. Are the expectations you've set for yourself realistic given the time frame you have and the amount of other work you need to focus on as well? If you're limiting yourself and your time to meet every single one of your potentially unrealistic expectations, then you're stretching yourself too thin and burning yourself out even faster. That's not to say that you have to lower your expectations or standards. But that is just a reminder that you are human and that you can only do so much every day without sacrificing your health or your happiness; those are more important than anything else you might have to do. 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Pixabay