My EDUC 1301 students and I were discussing various aspects of the teaching profession earlier this week, and one student shared a conversation she had with the teacher she was observing. The teacher was described as early to mid-30s and had been teaching eight or nine years. My student was appalled that this teacher said, “I’m burnt out.” She wondered how this teacher came to be so burnt out and negative so early in her career.
Unfortunately, it’s a very common occurrence in both public and post-secondary education. Educators often focus so much of their energies on their students that they often sacrifice their own personal lives and self-care routines. In addition, we are frequently asked to do more and more – to take on more duties , serve on more committees, etc. – when we already feel overworked and over-committed.
Earlier this month, Jonathan Malesic wrote “The 40-Year-Old Burnout” which was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education and appeared repeatedly in my Twitter feed as various academics re-Tweeted and re-posted it with versions of their own experiences. I was taken aback by the three main components of burn out; I expected exhaustion, depression, apathy, and physical manifestations of those symptoms. The components are actually 1) exhaustion, 2) cynicism, and 3) a sense of professional ineffectiveness.
Malesic also mentioned taking the Maslach Burnout Inventory. I immediately clicked on the link to take the inventory partly because I was curious as to how I would score and partly because I have a compulsion to complete online inventories. However, I discovered that the assessment is not free, and I wasn’t curious enough to pay for it.
Regardless, from the conversations this topic spawned on social media, burnout is scary and real. It has also created a self-care revival of sorts. I’ve tried practicing self-care this semester in an effort to relax more and avoid burnout to little or no avail. I’ve tried not working on weekends only to feel twice as stressed on Monday with everything that must be done that I should have completed over the weekend. The relaxation I felt by stepping away from work disappeared and the stress returned twofold upon waking up on Monday morning. Grace Cale explains why this happened in her post “An Important Caveat about Self-Care for Academics.”
I would like to leave you with a great solution, but I don’t have any easy answers. However, I do urge all of you to look out for yourselves and to practice self-care in whichever form works for you. You can’t take care of all of our students if you aren’t here or no longer care about your job due to burnout. This is especially important as we wind down the semester and the holiday craziness approaches. Before you start to feel like Chris Farley in this clip from Black Sheep, find a self-care routine that works for you. In the end, when we look back at our long and hopefully happy life in academia (and personally as well), we want to look back with no Regrets.
I’m interested in hearing about your favorite stress management and self-care rituals. What works for you to keep burn out at bay?