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The 12 Stages of Burnout, Applied to Students

Written by: Tanya Singh

Date: February 2021

Before the COVID-19 pandemic even started, the topic of burnout was being discussed interest amongst the mental health community, as more awareness for it started going to workers internationally. Defined by the World Health Organization as an “occupational phenomenon”, burnout is not classified as a medical condition, but rather a “syndrome conceptualized from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Burnout can be identified by a number of factors and is classified into 12 stages, but the phenomenon has been widely defined as a syndrome in the occupational context, when in fact the current onset of the pandemic has been making the phenomenon of burnout more widely recognized and experienced by people in a different setting, education.

Burnout is the phenomenon of when you have so much chronic stress that is mismanaged correctly, which leads to the feeling of exhaustion or energy depletion, mental distance or cynicism towards work, and reduced professional efficacy. While this is widely identified as being connected to occupational settings, burnout can apply in different aspects, but highly present in educational settings. Even before the pandemic, students are likely to agree with the symptoms of burnout, having experienced it themselves but possibly not having the words for it. Healthline provides 5 signs of burnout, as well as 12 stages of the phenomenon. We will be looking at these signs and stages, and seeing how they may be applicable to how students are feeling during this unprecedented time.

According to Healthline, there are 5 signs of burnout, a list of symptoms that you can use to identify whether or not you are experiencing the syndrome. The symptoms are exhaustion, isolation, escaping through fantasies, irritability, and frequent illness. When experiencing burnout, people feel more exhausted or too physically depleted to do work. They may start to isolate themselves due to being overwhelmed by the many demands put upon them, something that is happening ever more during the pandemic. People experiencing burnout might also find themselves escaping the demands of their lives by fantasizing about vacations, or simply situations that are not their current and overwhelming lives. They may also start becoming more irritable towards people around them, and the onset of burnout and stress can lead to a weakened immune system, which makes you more susceptible to common illnesses, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

According to Healthline, the 12 stages of burnout are excessive drive or ambition, pushing yourself to work harder, neglecting personal care or needs, displacement of conflict, no time for nonwork-related needs, denial, withdrawal, behavioral changes, depersonalization, inner emptiness, depression, mental or physical exhaustion or collapse. While you may not experience every single stage, you could still be going through burnout. For instance, students at the beginning of the semester might feel ready to tackle all their classes. However, once school begins, they start pushing themselves harder as the workload gets tougher and naturally may start neglecting personal needs as they delve deeper into work. This will then cause them to start losing time for nonwork-related needs, which can lead to a number of behavior changes and frustrations. This concerning thing about burnout is that it is a chain of reactions that can very easily occur. We as a society should be placing more attention upon this and recognizing that it is not solely an occupational occurrence and is actually very prominent amongst children in education.