As adult learners, you have some unique challenges compared to children and teenagers going to school. These usually include things like family needs, working outside of the classroom, transportation, paying bills, and health issues. We see these played out regularly in and around the classroom in the form of burnout.
Burnout is best defined as “a state of extreme physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It is characterized by a decrease in motivation and performance.” (Psychology dictionary). In the workplace, it can be spotted by employees no longer being very productive, taking more sick days and being cranky, irritable, angry, frustrated, or easily brought to tears. We think of burnout for adults in the workplace, but the same thing can happen in school with an overload of general life things (bills, kids, spouse, house, family, friends) on top of school (homework, social politics, peer pressure, etc.) But you cannot simply quit having a family and while you could quit your education, that could easily represent the loss of a goal or a dream, particularly if you were going to school in order to further your career or start a new career. Instead of just quitting, what sorts of tools can you use to combat and even prevent burnout in the classroom?
The Importance of Self-Care
Self-care has become something of a buzzword in the last few years, but it’s an important concept to use when fighting off feeling overwhelmed and burned out. While prioritizing your kids and your partner is important, you also have to make yourself important too: put your air mask on before putting masks on other people, in other words. Self care can look like a variety of things, but for many adult learners, it means figuring out the following:
• What are your goals? Why are you in this program and what do you hope to get out of it?
• What safety net can you put in place for when things go wrong? What does your support system look like?
• What steps are you going to take if something falls through the cracks like homework?
• What can you do that you enjoy regularly to help you decompress?
Other common tools include physical activity, a nutritious diet, and getting plenty of sleep, but we all know that those things are often the first to go when it comes to juggling a busy life! Doing something as simple as going for a quick walk while on break from your instructional time, eating one healthy thing, or going to bed a bit early can all help.
Talking it Out
None of the instructors here at CVTC are mindreaders (we sometimes wish we were. Not often, but sometimes). This means that if students don’t tell us what’s going on, we may not necessarily know and that means you may be missing chances to reduce burnout simply by not asking for help. Asking for help is one of the best ways to deal with and reduce burnout and you have a number of people who can be in your court:
• Form a study group with peers in the classroom so that the work can be divided up and you can help each other learn the material easier
• Talk to other students who may have already taken that class and see if they have any tips for you
• Talk to your instructor about what’s going on and see if the schedule can be loosened up or your workload lessened
• Talk to a counsellor or a therapist if you find that the burnout is persisting even when doing things to try to combat it.
• Talk to trusted friends or family about how you are feeling and get advice on what could be done about it
Although it may be difficult to talk about how you are feeling and why you feel that way, it’s important to do it. Letting burnout simply simmer in your system will allow it to feed on itself, creating still more burnout and getting increasingly harder to dig yourself out of. It does get easier to do over time, but you have to get started on it first.
Although there has been some pushback against accepting every and all obligation that comes our way, there is still an underlying feeling that if you aren’t constantly busy and doing things, that you will be judged by others, miss opportunities, and not get to where you want to go. Certainly saying ‘no’ to everything is not ideal and there are some things you can’t say no to (Try refusing to do your homework and see how far you get!) But there are some things you probably can say no to which will make your life easier when you do. These can include things like social gatherings that you don’t particularly want to go to, taking on more household chores, working more hours that cut into your study, sleep, or recreation time with little benefit, or taking on new tasks that you have to learn.
People may not be happy with you when you start protecting your time and refusing to do things that have directly to do with your studies and family needs, but it will save your sanity in the long run. And anyone who truly cares about you and your goals shouldn’t get too annoyed with you anyway.
It’s important to reward yourself regularly for the work that you do, without going overboard. Experts also say that it’s not a reward to simply loaf and eat food and watch TV; good ways to keep your brain challenged and feeling rewarded is to do things that are both fun and slightly challenging. This could mean reading a new book, exercising, playing a game, or something else that is fun for you while still keeping your brain engaged. It can also build up motivation by letting you succeed at something that is fun and slightly challenging.
Burnout is very real, and it’s even considered something that can be diagnosed medically. It can cause problems with sleep, eating, headaches, increased chances of illness and other issues. While burnout may be seen by some as simply proof that you’re working hard, it’s not something that should be ignored and it’s not something that you should have to live with. If you find yourself feeling burned out in classes, it’s important to talk to others, take some self-care, and learn to say no to things that won’t support what you’re trying to achieve.
Take care of yourself!