How to Deal With Burnout

Asking EPSP:  How do you prevent, or minimize the effects of, burnout? What steps do you take to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

Edited byKate Potter Leary (@astoldbywater) and Claire Masteller (@ccmasteller)

Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out.

Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.

Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it…

Our jobs as academics are busy.  We juggle a lot of different responsibilities at work and at home, and sometimes, it all becomes too much.  At the same time, prevalent in academic culture is the idea that we should be working all the time.  That pressure, paired with the mounting responsibilities as you advance in both your career and your personal life is a recipe for burning out.

So what do we mean by burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional or physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress.  As the stress continues, you can lose interest and motivation to complete tasks. Burnout can reduce productivity, sap your energy, induce anxiety and frustration, and even have physical symptoms, including tension and fatigue,  These effects can leave us feeling powerless, making it hard to complete even the simplest tasks.

So how can we prevent these feelings of burnout and balance our work life with the rest of our life in an effective and healthy way?

  1. Identify the signs of burnout for you
    The best way to combat burnout is to first recognize when you have it. Burnout can look at feel different for everyone, so self-reflection is important to identify when you’re experiencing burnout.
  2. Prioritize recovery and set limits for yourself
    Be realistic about what you can accomplish and where you’re out mentally and emotionally.
    Allison M Pfeiffer - Regular reminder to self: if this career demands so much that my marriage or health or friendships are in jeopardy, I don't want to be here. Clair Masteller - Know your limits! I am "awful" at this, which I learned the hard way after I started postdoc.
  3. Self-reflection and changing your mindset
    Burnout can be a vicious cycle. The more burned out you are, the less productive you are during your work hours.  The less you get done, the more pressure you put on yourself to spend even more time at work, feeding the burnout you’re already experiencing.
    Dr. Adam R. Mangel - the first step is realizing that this isn't going to be a smooth curve you will get buried at times, but the most important thing to do is to tackle things one at a time. The second most important thing is to enjoy the victories and treat yourself because these will be fleeting. Lix Hajek - If something's frustrating, stressful, or overwhelming, reminding myself how i'm learning/growing from it or how it's helping build something in line with my goals/values helps me feel better. If I'm doing things that don't lead to growth or goals, time to reevaluate.
  4. Normalize a more forgiving (and realistic!) academic culture
    This one’s a doozy, and a community effort.  
    The role of social media here is huge.  Sharing your experiences and the realities of an academic career can be helpful to others and combat the “you must be working all the time” mentality.  At the same time, it helps to commiserate with others that in the same place. Trust me, almost everyone hits a burnout point at some time in their careers – it’s inevitable.
    Claire Masteller - I started my postdoc 3 weeks after defending, moved to a new country, returned to the US for AGU a month later, prepped & interviewed for a TT job that jan/feb., Negotiated that march, EGU in April & then immediatley went to the field, basically nonstop, high stress.

Some strategies to combat burnout

The EPSP twitter community graciously shared some strategies for combating burnout but this is not an exhaustive list! These are just some ideas, if you have other strategies that work, you do you. And of course feel free to @ us on twitter with your burnout combatting strategies!

    Tweet Thread
  • Laughter
    Tweet Thread
  • Scheduling time away from your job
    Tweet Thread
  • Take care of yourself while at work
    Tweet Thread

Always remember…

You are not alone in this. We all suffer from burnout at one point or another. If you are struggling, take the time to treat yourself and recover. Need some extra love? Tweet at us (@AGU_EPSP) and we’ll give you some virtual twitter hugs!

This blog post was borne out of AGU EPSP’s new #WisdomWednesday initiative on Twitter. See the full tweet thread here and look out for future #WisdomWednesday posts!