People can often be caught off-guard by life after graduation. Many experience feelings of anxiety and fear related to financial worries, while others feel obliged to impress family with a flashy job title. Graduates entering the world of work can find themselves trying too hard to impress – and are putting their health at risk in the process
New graduates are often vulnerable to ‘burnout’, a phrase first coined by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s to describe the consequences of severe stress in caring professions. Today, research shows that 51% of UK workers experience burnout – and it can apply to any number of scenarios and professions.
According to psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Paula Coles, burnout still lacks an official diagnosis. But it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by the people who are affected.
“It can lead to potential detachment, cynicism, anhedonia [the inability to enjoy things you would usually enjoy], feelings of ineffectiveness, and lack of accomplishment,” says Paula.
The condition is further complicated because it exists on a sliding scale, with symptoms that can overlap with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Perhaps BuzzFeed News reporter Anne Helen Petersen put it best in her article ‘How millennials became the burnout generation’. She wrote: “Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalised the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalised that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it.”
Burnout is different from normal stress
Stress is fine in small doses. In fact, your body is designed to physically respond to stress as a much-needed defence mechanism. Once the stressful situation has passed, you should return to normal relatively quickly, but if you’re subjected to constant stressors, then you could end up with burnout.
Some of the most common symptoms are anxiety, anger, tearfulness, irritability, and forgetfulness. You are likely to feel drained, and your sleep patterns will be affected, which can lead to an unhealthy reliance on caffeine and/or alcohol. You may also notice physical changes, such as fluctuations in weight, poor skin, constant fatigue, and increased illness in general. If you’re worried about heading towards a case of burnout, there are a few ways that you can minimise the risk.
1. Manage your expectations
It’s your first foray into the world of work, so you’re probably feeling excited, driven, and ambitious. These are powerful emotions, but try not to set a time limit on finding your perfect role or try to climb up the ladder too quickly. The good news is that in 2016, 87.3% of graduates were employed, so don’t feel disheartened if it takes a while to get a job. Remember, patience is a virtue.
2. Don’t be a hero
Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean that you need to know every aspect of your industry. This will come with time, and your employers will expect you to ask questions. Don’t let pride get in the way of requesting extra training, clarification, or regular performance reviews. It’s better to be eager to learn than exhaust yourself constantly trying to be the best.
3. Fight off imposter syndrome
This can make you think that you’re unworthy of your job title, and that you’re at risk of being fired. Be aware of that inner voice, and be ready to argue back with a list of reasons why you deserve to be in your position. Create a folder on your desktop filled with evidence to prove that you are amazing. This could be a breakdown of your grades, a photograph of you at your graduation ceremony, a copy of your dissertation, or a record of all the positive feedback from your boss. Confirming that you’re good enough will help silence that internal voice that can push you to your limits unnecessarily.
4. Stop trying to please everyone
Easier said than done, right? If you’re focusing on everyone else, then your own happiness automatically drops to the bottom of the pile. This is a sure-fire way to send yourself on a one-way train to burnout town. Accept that you can’t have a perfect career, show-stopping home, award-winning garden, Hollywood romance, and two perfectly shaped eyebrows. It’s OK to spend your weekend at home watching movies instead of cleaning the skirting boards, or fitting in that extra yoga class. There will be plenty of time to take on the world, but for now, try to cut yourself some slack.