Food for Thought – Social Justice Crusaders: How not to Burnout?

By Pushpa Iyer

Given our global context, campus climate, job uncertainty, instances of bullying on our campus, and growing reports of mental health concerns in the classroom, I feel compelled to say something to our community on how to avoid burnout. If burnout were on a spectrum, I dare say that many of us on our campus will find ourselves on it; I know I do, especially since I started working on racial justice and equity issues.

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout (in your job) “is a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” They further acknowledge that work alone may not be the reason for burnout. That said, it is well recognized by many that we, social justice (or some variation of it) advocates, are especially susceptible. Therefore, even if we do not experience symptoms of burnout now, we will at some point in our career and so, it seems like a good idea to be prepared.

Some of the most common signs of burnout are: feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, feeling helpless and hopeless, irritable, angry, disillusioned, anxious, exhausted, cynical, and isolated. As I said earlier, it is a spectrum, and we might experience some or more of these symptoms but with different intensity.

What can we do to avoid burnout? I must point out there that although stress and burnout are entirely different, a lot of suggestions here might apply to both cases. The ideas listed below are gathered from many sources (and personal thoughts):

  • Reach out to others. Share with those you are close to and trust your fears and concerns. In reaching out, take the time to enjoy your friends, colleagues, and family.
  • Seek professional help if you see the need for it and if it is something that personally helps you.
  • Even if you cannot share what you are going through with everyone, do communicate with others any accommodations you need. Lack of communication is often the reason why burnout symptoms aggravate as others do not know and may continue putting pressure on you.
  • Find your work-life balance. What this looks like might be different from one individual to another so respect and protect your method of finding that balance and do not feel compelled to follow the latest fad.
  • Have a routine and structure your time. You need to go through all the motions of work life to make sure you do not let negativity take you to a dark place.
  • Take a break from your routine and do something completely different. However, if this means you can not fulfill some responsibility you agreed to, then inform people before taking the break.
  • Come out of your isolation and force yourself to meet with others.
  • Try to care about someone else instead of yourself. This is means try and help someone else, do something good for others.
  • Be kind to yourself. Do not beat yourself up for what you are not capable of doing at the moment.
  • Take rest and catch up on sleep. Sometimes the lack of sleep can bring you down in many ways.
  • Exercise. Engage in any physical activity that works best for you, even for a few minutes each day.

Burnout is not a medical condition, but it has severe consequences for your health, your life, and the life of everyone around you. Be aware of the symptoms you carry and immediately start dealing with it before it takes a life of its own. Avoid burnout.