For me, spring means I can resume many of the activities I had to stop over the cold winter months. I cannot wait for that first warm day when I can head out into the woods with my dog for a long hike. But spring can also be a bittersweet time. While the end of the academic year is in sight, I, like you, still have weeks of academic pressures ahead.
The intense pressures all graduate students face at this time of year can lead to a significant problem: burnout.
Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, and negative attitudes and feelings toward one's co-workers and job role. Burnout is associated with job dissatisfaction, low commitment to the job and absenteeism. It can lead to a number of physical health concerns, including headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, muscle tension, hypertension, more susceptibility to colds and the flu, and sleep disturbances. In fact, burnout has been characterized as a diagnosable mental health disorder by the World Health Organization. Psychologists have identified a number of workplace factors that can lead to burnout, including:
Workload People need an opportunity to rest, recover and restore the balance to their work lives. If they do not have that rest, their risk for burnout increases. This restoration period also allows for the development of new skills and the refinement of existing skills.
Control People who feel that they have freedom to determine what they do and when they do it are less likely to experience burnout. Additionally, the chances of burnout increase if you feel that you can't express yourself on the job, or if you are taking on multiple roles that conflict with one another.
Reward Lack of meaningful rewards is also an important risk factor for burnout. Because financial rewards are often hard to come by in graduate school, recognition from your supervisors, school, family and friends is all the more important.
Community Burnout is less likely to occur within a positive and supportive working environment. Social support from supervisors, co-workers and family members all contribute to this positive atmosphere.
Fairness People who perceive their supervisors and mentors as fair and equitable are less susceptible to burnout.
Values Incongruence between your own and your workplaces' values is a very important contributor to burnout. For example, being a gay individual at a school that is not gay-friendly can be very taxing. In contrast, a value match is associated with greater personal efficacy.
Do these risk factors for burnout sound familiar? If so, you may want to:
Evaluate your habits. Are you a procrastinator or someone who takes too many things on at once? Are there things you can do that can decrease your workload exhaustion and give you time to rest? Look at your "to do" list and see if you can make it more realistic.
Make a plan. Take out your calendar, make a plan and stick to it. That, of course, is easier said than done. For help making positive and long-lasting behavioral changes, check out these two articles in APA's Help Center: "Making Your New Year's Resolution Stick" and "Making Lifestyle Changes that Last".
Find social support. Call an old friend or your parents and ask them to listen or just hang out for a while.
Evaluate your environment. If your adviser expects the impossible or there's a clear mismatch between your school's values and your own, it may be time to gather transfer applications. Admitting this may be hard, but honestly evaluating your fit with your program is worth it if it means finding a better place for you.
So, as you dust off your grill this spring, take some time to evaluate what you are feeling, your own habits and ways to make positive changes in your life.