With better access to productivity tools than ever before came an increased pressure to work harder, longer, and beyond traditional work hours.
The digital age has given us a lot of freedom in how we go to work or attend school. Technology brought with it remote work, improved efficiency and productivity comparable to advancements made in the industrial revolution. With better access to productivity tools than ever before, though, came an increased pressure to work harder, longer, and beyond traditional work hours.
Studies have shown that cases of burnout and worker fatigue have consistently been on the rise over the last several years. Pressure to meet increasing expectations in both school and the workplace forces students and workers to push beyond their mental and physical boundaries, resulting in increased stress and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety—also known as burnout.
Burnout, online fatigue and student fatigue all refer to a similar phenomenon that occurs when a person is overworked or is unable to separate themselves from their work or school. The symptoms of burnout come from constantly feeling stressed or swamped by work, personal or school responsibilities, and can leave a person feeling increased anxiety, depression and tiredness.
In extreme cases, burnout can escalate into chronic mental illness and eventually reach a crisis stage if a person is unable to alleviate some of the stress they are feeling or recognize when to get help. Studies show that suicide rates in the United States, for example, are up 30% since 1999—making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Other data suggests that an increase in cases of burnout, particularly in the medical field, is contributing to this rise in suicide rates in the United States.
It can be easy to overlook the early signs of burnout as stress, especially in school environments which can often become high stress toward the end of the semester. Early symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, a loss of enthusiasm for work or school, an increase in anxiety, sleep problems, irritability, mood swings and the inability to set boundaries. If a student feels that their school responsibilities are overtaking every other aspect of their lives, they may feel a sense of having lost their boundaries.
Later symptoms of burnout or fatigue include increased anxiety, sleep problems, depression, chronic symptoms related to the early stages of burnout, sickness, cynicism, increased mistakes at work or school and even thoughts of hopelessness or suicide. It’s imperative to catch the symptoms of burnout before getting to this staege, but getting help or encouraging someone to get help if they’ve already reached this point is paramount as well.
It’s important to educate students and employees on the signs and symptoms of burnout or online fatigue to be able to prevent it. Encourage students and employees to establish healthy boundaries with their work and education, and to take time for themselves to care for their bodies and minds. On campus, educators and institutions can do their part to minimize the risks of student burnout by promoting healthy work and study habits, as well as embracing a culture of understanding and empathy if a student isn’t able to meet expectations.
Approaching discussions of student burnout and fatigue proactively can help students recognize the symptoms in themselves and their peers, and encourage them to get help before they experience chronic symptoms. In the COVID age, online classes can make awareness more difficult. Take necessary precautions to make sure that students are educated on the symptoms of burnout, whether they’re attending classes on campus or in person. Below are some other tips on how to prevent burnout on campus:
Whether on campus or off, students need to be made aware of the threat of burnout amid their busy schedules. Encourage professors to take the time to express to students that they can be a source of empathy if a student is experiencing symptoms of burnout, and provide educators with a list of mental health resources to pass along to their students in case of an emergency.
Educators often get to know students more intimately than other faculty on campus. Encouraging them to take a proactive approach to raising awareness on burnout and work fatigue can help diminish extreme cases of burnout among your student body. No grade or assignment is worth destroying your mental health. Educators should have empathy for students even while maintaining expectations.
Stick to a Schedule
It’s easy for students to want to spend the entire night studying before a full day of class the next day, but encouraging these habits are what can lead to burnout either in school or at work after graduation. Encourage students to take their studies seriously without promoting unhealthy work/life balances and habits.
Teach students the importance of creating a schedule that makes time for personal care and relationships and encourage them to stick to it. This will not only decrease symptoms of burnout on campus, but help them after graduation to create healthy boundaries in the workplace.
Prioritize Physical Health
Physical health has a massive impact on mental health. Studies show that yoga can help diminish the symptoms of anxiety, while other physical activity is known to improve overall mental health and mood when done on a regular basis. Promote physical health on campus, from encouraging students to take advantage of an on-campus gym to offering healthy food options in campus dining halls and student centers.
It can be easy to let your physical health go downhill when working on a busy school and work schedule. Encourage students to take their physical health as seriously as they do their studies or work and emphasize the importance of learning to take time for yourself.
Fully Log Off
Finishing work or school for the day is increasingly challenging with productivity apps and email access that is tied to our phones. Encourage students to create healthy boundaries by being strict about either not checking their email or productivity apps outside of the time they set aside from work or school.
On campus, encourage students to take time away from screens to unwind and recharge their minds. Teach them that it’s ok to set boundaries such as keeping their work or school emails off of their phones or logging off from homework at a set time each night. Students will bring these habits and philosophies into their careers after graduation, helping to foster healthy relationships with their jobs.
While it’s ultimately up to each student on an individual level to care for their minds and bodies, fostering a positive school environment can encourage students to be proactive about their health rather than succumb to the pressures of overworking. On campus, schools and educators can encourage students to form healthy habits early on in their lives so that they can avoid forming unhealthy work habits in the future. Schools are there to educate, and part of that education should include mental and physical health.