Dragging yourself to work, having trouble being productive and finding it hard to concentrate on a task may be a sign that burnout is taking over your job. And if you’re physically or emotionally exhausted, your students’ quality of education may decline while at the same time, professors can’t be the most resourceful mentors when dealing with work-related stress—and stress can lead to a professor dreading, rather than embracing work.
The World Health Organization has recently recognized work-related burnout as a major part of chronic stress—and recent surveys also show that burnout in academia is common. According to our 2018 Professor Pulse Survey, 65 percent of professors feel overworked while 78 percent believe they are underpaid. Furthermore, research by the American Psychological Association demonstrates how stress can take over in academia: 70 percent of higher education faculty say they have either high or very high stress levels and over 25 percent of faculty claim to regularly experience burnout.
Academics are twice as likely to experience mental health issues than the average population, which means prioritizing personal well-being is key to avoid stress and burnout. Here are some tips on how you can realign your life to avoid feeling suffocated by work.
1. Life is an important part of work-life balance
Ensure you give yourself enough space away from your work: Research shows how more time with family and focusing on leisure activities lead to reduced burnout. As former First Lady Michelle Obama believes, “If we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to-do’ list.” It’s necessary then to adopt a stricter work-life balance which will boost your mental and emotional state.
2. Ensure you are well-rested
Per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about one in five adults fail to get enough sleep. Professors can get so caught up with grading, teaching and researching that sleep is put on the back burner until a satisfactory amount of work is complete. Sleep deprivation may lead to higher anxiety, poor decision-making, lack of energy and lack of concentration. Getting enough sleep can help you stay motivated, alert and engaged, making it easier for you to teach.
3. Learn to step back
Although it may look great on a CV to have multiple committees and activities listed, it’s healthy to say no every now and then. You might engage in plenty of activities that aren’t part of your job requirements, such as helping a co-worker with problems they encounter: in fact, the literature shows that extra-role behaviors are frequently taken on by instructors, which in turn contributes to increased workplace stress.
Try not to over-commit yourself. If you sense that your plate is starting to overflow, eliminate tasks from your day that aren’t necessary or place them at the bottom of your to-do list. Focus on what truly needs your attention in a given moment. It might be exciting to start a new project but ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” before you add another item to your agenda.
4. Treat peers as equals
Approximately 70 percent of American professors are non tenure-track—a population which is more prone to experiencing burnout at work due to job insecurity, lower pay and feeling as if they have a lower status than their tenured colleagues. A 2016 study by Iowa State professor Lisa Larson shows how even simple things, such as help from a department chair or any form of recognition at work, can lead to increased well-being among faculty. These sorts of gestures help non tenure-track professors feel as if they fit in at work and boost their self-esteem. If you recognize your peers’ work and achievements, you’ll feel better too.
Although work may seem neverending, you and your mental health should come first. With enough sleep, fewer tasks and more focus on family and community, you can stave off stress and burnout.
Get some practical tips from experts on how to achieve harmony in your professional career in our free e-book, Work-Life Balance: A Handbook for Professors.
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