Student and teacher burnout: How to overcome it during difficult times

The coronavirus pandemic along with the new restrictions and policies has taken a toll on everyone, especially students and teachers around the world. Schools were challenged to rethink the traditional concept of what it means to “go to school,” teachers had to learn new ways of teaching through online classrooms, and students had to learn how to navigate the process of virtual learning. Along with the changes in education, the annual dances, sports games, and extracurricular activities have been either canceled or completely different than years before. Many of the fun aspects of school have been put on hold in order to keep the community of McNick safe from the virus. All of these changes, new policies, and restrictions have the ability to cause many damaging effects on the community of McNicholas. One of these effects includes burnout.

The World Health Organization, states, “Burnout is characterized as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has gone unmanaged.” These categories can include many different dimensions, but the majority deals with feeling energy depletion or exhaustion. These signs of burnout can also include the feeling of uselessness, depression, dissatisfaction, irritation, lack of sleep, headaches, stomach pains, and many more. Burnout has both mental and physical effects on the body which is why people must acknowledge this problem when they first see signs of burnout in themselves.

McNicholas Counselor Erica Stablum said, “I would describe burnout as feeling overwhelmed, lack of motivation, exhaustion. This year has been more challenging with keeping track of my students since I have in person learners, permanent online learners and then students who are at school some days, but online other days. The second semester has also been difficult because of the lack of consistency with our schedule due to the boiler breaking, school delays and [the] move to online learning because of the weather.”

Stablum also stated, “I see many of the permanent learners having difficulty with keeping up with assignments and maintaining their usual grades. I’ve also noticed that the changes to our day to day life that we’ve been experiencing over the past year has had some negative effects on some students’ mental health.”

Spanish teacher Tracy Canisalez said, “There are good days and bad days. I always try to stay positive, but too much negativity can bring anyone down. So sometimes you have to turn off the bad news and distance yourself from negative influences in your life.”

“The most common thing that I experience when I am feeling burnt out is sadness and no motivation. I try to fix those feelings by making it a priority to do things that make me happy and bring me joy,” junior Skylar Kutcher said.

The signs of burnout in our society are evident in a recent survey from the Pew Research Center. It states, “42% of adults under the age of 50 said it has been somewhat or very difficult to feel motivated since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Respondents aged 50 and older said the same just 20% of the time.” The pandemic has significantly impacted many adults in our society which may include the teachers at McNicholas. This study also stated, “53% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 complained of a lack of motivation.”

“My burnout was caused by a number of things involving school. Online school has been a very challenging dynamic to manage and the added stress of work and other issues led to my stress,” freshman Langley Esterle stated.

English teacher Laura Rupp stated, “I know that students are struggling with motivation right now and that we are all tired of things we can’t do, like going to games, having dances, etc. But it is also the middle of winter, and it is 2nd semester senior year for most of my students. Those are a whole lot of things that could be causing a decrease in motivation!” 

Sophomore Harlan Mulvey said her feelings of burnout this past can be attributed to feeling “overwhelmed with the pandemic and the amount of work I have to do.”

Senior Madison Isaacs said, “Over the past year, I have experienced extreme burnout. I have never in my life experienced this, so it was extremely hard to manage at first. Overall, it has slowed down my work and I noticed that I do not enjoy certain activities anymore.”

Burnout is a very serious and detrimental syndrome that can lead to many negative outcomes if it is not acknowledged or handled properly. There are many things people can do in order to overcome burnout.

What can the McNicholas community do to help overcome their burnout?

  • The first step to overcoming burnout is to acknowledge it.
  • Reset your priorities. Decide what matters first above all else.
  • Take a break. This could include going for a walk or run. Whatever you need to do to step away from your work in order to regain your mental energy. 
  •  Put away social media.
  • Take time each morning to be grateful. Whether it be through a gratitude journal or showing love to family and friends; take time to realize the good things in our lives that we often take for granted.  
  • Get plenty of sleep. According to National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults need around 7-9 hours of sleep every night in order to power your mind and restore your body.
  • Focus your time on your evenings and weekends for relaxation and enjoyable activities.
  • Surround yourself with an outlet of close friends and family who give you an outlet to discuss your problems.
  • Exercise and eat healthy.
  • Take things one day at a time.
  • Take time out of your day to meditate
  • Change of scenery. From doing your school work in a different place or going to a quiet library to spend time on homework; there are many ways you can change up your working location in order to boost your mood and well-being.

Theology Teacher John Norman also created his own list for ways we can overcome burnout. Norman stated, “Be faithful to your routines. Two of my daily routines are morning prayer time and daily exercise. If possible spend some time outside, which could be walking, running, cycling, etc. Connect with friends and family. Eat healthy. When faced with work (homework) develop a schedule so that the work is completed. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Reach out to someone in need, whether they be a friend, a sibling, family or the POWS. Try to give yourself some slack and ‘smell the roses’ or ‘eat an ice cream cone.’  Know that you will make it as you are stronger than you have yet realized.”  

Rupp discussed her thoughts on overcoming burnout and gaining motivation for the remainder of the school year. “Make real connections with people even if it has to be remotely. Share a meal, some laughs, etc. That is why I will put up with anything as long as we can stay learning face to face. I crave that connection with my students and my peers. Try not to procrastinate which just adds to the stress. Try to participate even if you are learning remotely…turn on your camera, answer a question, ask a question…feel part of the experience,” Rupp said.

“I try and stop for a minute and realize that it’s not as big of a deal as I am making it. Taking time for oneself is what I do every time to calm down and staying off of apps like Instagram and Snapchat,” Isaacs said.

“In order to defeat burnout, I think it’s important to allow yourself some time to do things you enjoy. Whether it’s watching a movie, listening to music, connecting with friends etc.  I think it’s also helpful to keep active – play a sport, go for a walk etc. And we also need to understand that some days may be more challenging than others, things don’t need to be perfect, and we just need to try our best,” Stablum stated.

 “If I feel down, I usually try to watch funny videos. If I can’t do that, I often resort to music that gets me to a better state of mind,” junior Nigel Beeker said.   

Senior Kristen Van Huss stated, “I usually try to take a break if I can, going to another room or to another place is often helpful too, because it gets my mind off of whatever is stressing me out, so that it’s easier when I come back to it. Sometimes you just need a new perspective. It might feel like you aren’t being productive by taking a break, but you can’t get anything done if you burn yourself out completely, so I find that taking some ‘me time’ is better in the long run.”

Canisalez also shared her own ways of alleviating stress in her life, “I talk to my family, especially my husband, my mom or my best friends. They are always there willing to lend some advice. Playing games with my son helps me to get my mind off my troubles. He’s always happy and smiling and when you’re with him, you can’t help but smile too.  If there’s sunshine, I try to go outside and enjoy it. [I] turn on some happy music. Or I just relax, read a good book, or watch a movie and cuddle with my dogs. I pray the ‘Nada Te Turbe’ prayer from St. Teresa of Avila which helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. This prayer helps me to deal with my anxieties and worries. It puts everything in perspective just to know that “this too shall pass” and God is always there with us seeing us through it all,” Canisalez stated.

Burnout can cause many physical and mental symptoms that affect day to day life. These signs are important to acknowledge in order to take care of yourself and your mental health.

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