Tips on Preventing Postgraduate Burnout

Next week, I will be running a workshop to give tips on preventing postgraduate burnout, for students at the University of Bath, on behalf of Bath Mind. Here are some of the tips I sourced on understanding, preventing and breaking the cycle of burnout – they are applicable to postgraduates, undergraduates, employees, business owners, managers… and anyone for whom a passion can tempt us to give too much without replenishing our batteries.

You’re welcome to download a copy of my handout of tips on preventing postgraduate burnout for your personal use, here: Bath Mind_ Tips on Postgraduate Burnout 18jul18 ATresilian

What Is Burnout?

(Ref: Mindtools)

●      “A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” – Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson

●      “A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” – Herbert J. Freudenberger

‘Anyone can become exhausted. What is so poignant about burnout is that it mainly strikes people who are highly committed to their work: you can only “burn out” if you have been “alight” in the first place.’


Symptoms of burnout may include:

●      Having a negative and critical attitude to your studies.

●      Dreading approaching or getting going with your work.

●      Having low energy, and little interest in your studies.

●      Having trouble sleeping.

●      Being absent from lectures or social activities a lot.

●      Having feelings of emptiness.

●      Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches, illness, or backache.

●      Being irritated easily by others.

●      Having thoughts that your work doesn’t have meaning or make a difference.

●      Pulling away emotionally from your colleagues or loved ones.

●      Feeling that your work and contribution goes unrecognized.

●      Blaming others for your mistakes.

●      Thinking of quitting your studies.

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

(ref: Dawkins Brown, 2015)

· It is characterized by over engagement
· The person’s emotions are over reactive
· It gives one a feeling of urgency and hyperactivity
· It leads to loss of energy
· It can lead to anxiety disorders
· Its primary damage is physical

· It is characterized by disengagement
· The person’s emotions are blunted
· It gives one a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness
· It makes one lose motivation, ideals & hope
· It can lead to detachment and depression
· Its primary damage is emotional

5 Myths That Lead to Postgraduate Burnout Cycle

(ref: Dora Farkis PhD, 2017)

Myth 1: More Hours at Work Leads to More Progress

Myth 2: My work needs to be perfect

Myth 3: I am great at multitasking

Myth 4: I need to abuse my body to get work done

Myth 5: My thesis has to be groundbreaking

5 Tips to Prevent a Postgraduate Burnout Cycle

(ref: Dora Farkis PhD, 2017)

Tip 1:  Structure your day so that it includes frequent breaks away from your work

Tip 2: Give yourself permission to make mistakes

Tip 3 Set up your daily structure so that you minimize the necessity to multitask

Tip 4: Nurture your mind and body unconditionally

Tip 5: Reach out for support to help you keep your thesis on track

Questions to Guard Against Future Burnout

(ref: Erin Rider, 2017)

●     How do I know when I am burned out?/ What are the effects of burnout on me?

●     What are some boundaries that would help me to not become burned out?

●     How do I balance personal, family, calling, occupational and other responsibilities?

●     Can I differentiate between ‘Good, Better, Best’ priorities?

●     How do I take care of myself?

●     What do I do for enjoyment?

●     How have I dealt with stress or burnout in the past?

●     What could I do to cope better in the future?


The Five Ways to Mental Wellbeing

(Ref: New Economics Foundation, 2008)