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Tips for Dealing with Burnout

At a Humanities Center Colloquium, professors shared their experiences and advice on recovering from scholarly burnout.

Clipart silhouette of woman hunched over a desk and laptop with a low battery symbol in the upper left.
Photo by CIPHR Connect

Have you been feeling a sense of distance or detachment from your work, a sense that you aren’t accomplishing as much as you used to, or a feeling of serious emotional exhaustion? If so, you might be suffering from burnout. At the Humanities Center Colloquium on September 14, 2023, Associate Professor Cecilia Peek (Hellenistic and Roman History, Classical Historiography), Associate Professor Edward Cutler (19th and early-20th-Century American Literature), and Professor Erin Holmes (School of Family Life) shared their experiences and advice on how to avoid and recover from burnout and regain scholarly momentum.

Holmes, director of the School of Family Life, shared relevant research about the neurobiology of emotion and how our bodies process stress. Burnout occurs when we don’t take the time to process our emotions and allow our bodies to release our stress on a regular basis. She explained that removing the stressors may seem like the answer but won’t actually solve the problem unless we also take action to process and release our stress. Holmes gave a list of activities that can help with this, including regular exercise, creative outlets, deep belly laughter, and hugs lasting at least 20 seconds. Holmes also encouraged people to seek help from a mental health professional if these methods are insufficient. The BYU CAPS office offers services to both students and faculty.

Peek shared her own personal experiences of dealing with burnout and explained that reevaluating her mindset and focusing on doing what she loved instead of worrying about others’ perceptions of her helped her overcome burnout. She asked herself, “What would my profession look like if I were being motivated by love, and not by a sense of shame? . . . How would it look if I were committed to doing research that was something that I loved and something that I cared about?”

Cutler also talked about his personal experience with burnout and about how broader cultural attitudes can contribute to the problem. He said, “We do tend to define our careers by what we haven’t done rather than what we have . . . For me, it’s been important to hold on to the successes.” Additionally, Cutler recommended reconnecting and becoming friends with colleagues.

While the demands of work and life may be overwhelming, some simple changes can make all the difference. For example, all three presenters mentioned that adding daily walks to their routine has helped them significantly. They also encouraged colleagues to help each other by celebrating others’ successes, reaching out to someone who might be struggling, and cultivating an environment of acceptance and belonging.

For more information about this semester’s Humanities Center Colloquium series, click here.