The many expectations of a researcher put them on full-time work even before they graduate. There are many roles that come into play with a research degree, including being in the classroom as an instructor, mentoring students, actively participating in their institution’s faculty expectations, and continuing their own continuing education, research, and journal publications.
So many important jobs require diligent time management skills and adding a personal life into the mix adds a whole different level of juggling of roles. The first thing to slide for many people is their home life. Work is considered the required part of life, so individual interests, family, and friends get put on the back burner. This, coupled with the high level of stress of the workload, sets individuals on the fast track for research burnout. Before your career and your home life become victims of this serious condition, watch for signs that might warn you of this potential trajectory.
Statistics on Research and Burnout
Burnout can happen in any career when you’re under high pressure or you find yourself repeating the same tasks over and over. In academics, though, this problem seems to be more prevalent. Burnout is a long-term state of ongoing stress that manifests itself as physical and mental symptoms, including physical and emotional fatigue, jaded cynicism, and self-criticism.
Research has shown that those in the academic landscape are most likely to admit to high stress levels and working under major pressure. Statistics show that over 70% of higher education faculty and staff report that their stress levels are high or very high.
These high rates prove that burnout doesn’t make you weak and there’s not something ‘wrong with you.’ But they also show that if your career is in the academic field, you should always be alert to signs of burnout so you can nip them in the bud early.
Signs of Research Burnout
Working too hard is unhealthy for everyone, no matter what career they are in. A balanced personal/work life ratio makes for improved results on the job and at home. If you’re wondering whether your emotions and fatigue may be part of burnout or just a little extra stress, watch for these signs that are letting you know you need a change and some help:
● You have chronic stress in at least one place in your life. Sometimes, we deal with a stress that we can’t do anything about, such as a physical condition we or a loved one deals with daily. Adding a high stress job like research on top of an already chronic part of life may seem like ‘just another thing’ but your body and mind are dealing with it, even if you don’t realize the stressload is wearing you out.
● You want to be perfect. If mistakes bother you, even little ones, your career in academia is going to be fraught with struggles. No one is perfect, but scholars often have the perception that they live under a microscope and aren’t allowed to make mistakes. Going with the flow and accepting that you’ll mess up occasionally, then learning from those errors, will help you keep your job and your sanity.
● Time management isn’t helping your workload. Even those who have impeccable time management strategies and can keep everything scheduled smoothly still only have 24 hours in the day. If your workload is too much and you’re constantly adding more after you just finished crossing things off your list, it’s eventually going to overwhelm you.
● You’re always tired. Sometimes fatigue manifests physically and sometimes it might feel like you’re wide awake but your mind is in a fog and you can’t concentrate. If this happens more than occasionally, pay attention to the signal that something is overloading your body.
● You don’t take a break. Even when you’re ‘off duty,’ your mind is still thinking about yoru work. You can’t or don’t relax. Everyone needs time to decompress. Rushing around increases our stress and anxiety.
These are all common signs that you’re on your way to burnout. Don’t ignore them. Instead, take proactive steps to avoid your career being affected by the path you’re on.
Tips to Avoid Being a Victim of This Problem
Everyone in the academic field understands the pressure you’re under. You won’t appear weak or ineffective if you step up to get help. In fact, the strongest people know when to ask for help. If burnout looks like it’s in your possible future, use these tips to prevent it:
● Turn to your support system, whether it’s family or faculty. With more than 70% of researchers reporting high stress, there are support units in place if you look for them. Chances are, you have peers who have been in your shoes and can give you advice or listen to you vent. They may also be able to step in and relieve a little of your pressure until you are able to take it back over.
● Focus on your health. Do what you need to do to get more, high-quality rest and eat healthy. Force yourself to exercise instead of pushing it to the back burner in order to get more work done. When you are taking care of your body and your mind, you will find that you can actually work better when you work less.
● Enjoy your life more. Take a break if you need to. Turn your phone off, get away for a little while, and experience the fun life offers. When you return to work, you’ll be rested and ready to engage again.
● Get professional help. Counseling is beneficial for many people if you are willing to open yourself up to a therapist and be honest.
Remember, asking for help requires strength. But if you’re on the burnout path, you’re eventually going to need help anyway. Be proactive and seek it out while you’re in control of the outcome.