Emotional Burnout in ELT: Is that a Real Thing?

Generally I am very passionate about my job. When I think about thousands of other jobs that exist in the world, I can't think of any that would be more suitable for me and I could do better than teaching. Becoming a teacher was a conscious decision, inspired by some great examples of my teachers at school and university.

Yet, there are times when I genuinely question my choice. This is usually accompanied by lack of enthusiasm, self-doubts, desire to stay at home rather than go to work.
When I tried talking to my colleagues about those feelings it seemed like I was the only one having them. My colleagues just ran away from those conversations. So I started digging a bit deeper just to diagnose myself with emotional burnout.

Emotional burnout - what an odd phrase! And why would it happen to me? Having analyzed my professional roles, I have understood that I have too many of them. This conclusion was supported by conversations with my students, colleagues and family members. There are just too many roles I have to perform on a daily basis. Some of them include:

  • a teacher (obviously) 
  • a trainer
  • a coach
  • a psychologist
  • administrative staff
  • an artist
  • an entertainer
Perhaps this image can summarize some of my roles (or at least what people think I do). 

Image result for a teacher how people see me

According to Psychology Today burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to: 
-physical and emotional exhaustion
-cynicism and detachment
- feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

The good news (if you can say that) is that burnout doesn't happen over night and our mind and body usually send us signals or warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognize them before it's too late.

Again, Psychology Today lists a whole list of signs that are typical for physical and emotional burnout. Some of them are: chronic fatigue and insomnia, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, anger.

While it is more or less clear with the symptoms, it's not so clear with the treatment. The net offers a variety of tips and suggestions on how to fight emotional burnout. This topic is occasionally discussed at conferences and professional gatherings. Yet, in my case I had to find something that worked for me in my circumstances and adhered to my style of life.

So here are my tips. Perhaps you can find some of them useful too.

1. Stop being a perfectionist.
Not every piece of writing needs to be graded - and that's where I discovered all the benefits of peer correction. Not every activity you design needs to be innovative and over the top. Textbooks can come in handy too. Not every question needs immediate answer and not every request needs to be addressed immediately.

which takes us to the next tip

2.  Know your limits and be prepared to say 'No'. A few years ago I was the first one to volunteer in my department and the last person to leave the office. Since then I have been tracking my working hours and setting myself a strict limit. A couple of years ago I used to carry a huge bag full of books and handouts and I took my work home. These days I still have a big bag but it's mostly empty and I don't take any work home.

3. My Friday afternoon is busy with writing a to-do list. It's Friday afternoon because not much work gets done then and I have plenty of time to think and carefully plan the next week. My list has three sections - work, relationship, self. And I make sure that each section is filled with at least three points. That way I make sure that I balance my work and personal life.

4. Keep busy with family and/or friends. That's the relationship section on my to-do list. Whatever the circumstances are I always plan some activities with my family and friends. And it has to be quality not quantity time.

5. Find a buddy or buddies. I am not talking about best friends here. I mean other teachers who are on the same page with you. Your friends and family (unless they are also teachers) will never understand your problems or concerns. You need to have people in the same boat with you. These might be your immediate colleagues or people you meet and conferences and workshops or even someone living across the globe from you. As long as it is someone you can trust and talk to about your work and what worries you, career wise.

6. Exercise, meditate, read, watch movies, knit, walk with your dog - do things that genuinely make you relaxed and happy. This last tip will vary depending on your likes and dislikes. I read and cook. And sometimes clean to shift from mental activity to physical one.

Finally, I have seen the following statement somewhere and I can't agree more: "Make yourself as important as your students". A healthy happy teacher is an asset and needs to be handled with caution. 





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