Christine Pinero: It can be hard to recognize it at first until you’ve hit that sort of emergency mode where things don’t feel the same, you’re not operating the same and just always overwhelmed.
Ali Browne: Hi! I’m Ali Browne, the feature editor for RubicOnline, and today, I’ll be talking to upper school Spanish teacher Christine Pinero and juniors Freya Brokken and Simon Assefa about burnout.
Browne: To start us out… what is burnout? While commonly associated with day-to-day stress and anxiety about academics, work, and other hobbies, burnout is more serious than people tend to treat it and is even recognized by the World Health Organization as a real condition. According to the Association for Psychological Science, burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors are uneven with rewards, recognition, relaxation and self-care. The brains of people who are chronically burnt-out show similar damage as people who have experienced trauma and prolonged periods of burnout reduces the connectivity between different parts of the brain which can impact your energy, creativity, problem-solving skills, memory, and ability to maintain positive mood balance. To put all of that into simpler terms, when you’re burnt out, you may have difficulty meeting the demands of your day-to-day life, with even simple things like completing homework, cleaning your room or even getting through a sports practice. Keeping that background information in mind, now it’s time to hear from members of the SPA community on their own experiences with burnout.
Browne: First of all, what are your names and pronouns?
Pinero: Christine Pinero, Señora Pinero. I teach Spanish. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Simon Assefa: My name is Simon Assefa, I’m a junior and my pronouns are he/him.
Freya Brokken: I’m Freya Brokken, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m a junior.
Browne: When was the last time you experienced burnout, and what do you think the root of that issue was?
Pinero: Last year because I taught from home the whole year. I think probably toward the end of last year I started to feel a little burnt out from that experience. In the beginning, it felt new, and it was a challenge to learn how to teach online, we all felt like we were kind of in the same situation and dealing with the same “monster” if you will. As time kept wearing or passing, for me in particular, I think having to teach from home due to some circumstances you know with kids in the house that were also learning from home, a husband at home and then also seeing not the end of a situation and knowing when we would go back to “normal.” It started to get long to sit in a basement teaching and not certain if I was reaching my students in the same way that I would normally like to, and I didn’t have the same relationships that I wanted [with them]. Teaching through a screen just certainly felt really distanced.
Assefa: I would say it was closed around Spring Break. Definitely would say burnout for me comes out with procrastination. I just tend to not do the things I would have to really do because it’s just stressful or a lot of work, so I would usually like play games, go outside, and hang out with friends. Then, at the same time, it’s kind of just a hindrance because I know the whole time that I’m doing it that I have to go home and probably do the work. I know procrastination is probably not the best thing to do, it’s definitely a way to deal with it for me. But it does all end up piling on top of each other.
Brokken: I would say that the last time I experienced burnout was around or before Spring Break. I think that the fact that we had a solid three months without any breaks really contributed to my burnout since I just had so much [to do]. It wasn’t piling on in the way that I had late assignments however, it was piling on in the way that it was just continuous, nonstop work, which got to be a little excessive for me.
Browne: How do you know when you’re experiencing burnout? Who notices it first: you or those around you?
Pinero: Just I felt fatigued and tired and didn’t really kind of want to initiate as much as I had in the past with everybody around me. I think I just also you know pulled away a little bit more from close friendships and wasn’t in contact as much with people and seeking that sort of social interaction that normally I do. So I think I just drew inward a little bit more than what is normal for me. With teaching last year, it really eclipsed everything else as I really just spend my entire day and night on that, and so I didn’t have energy for anything else, so it did take my husband to sort of say like “Hey you’ve gotta come out of that basement, and it’s time to like find some balance here.”
Assefa: I notice it but like I don’t really change it’s kinda more I just like to stop doing things I think I need to do and not like responsibilities I’ve given to other people. But, for me, it’s just kinda, looking at what I have to do and realizing like “oh I’m gonna have to miss out on going to this or doing this because I have to make sure I get this turned in” or do my other work. So it’s just making sure I know myself first. For me, basketball became more of a chore near the end of the season because I was assuming more of a leadership role and I kinda had to do a lot of things for the team that, and “I really like doing this, and I really want to do it” but at the same time, it was just like “I don’t really have time for this”. Then it was like “oh my god I forgot to do this” and then I’m like “oh but now I have to go to practice instead, and I’m gonna have a bunch of things to do for other people.” It just kind of takes away from things you like to do, and it’s also vice versa because when I’m playing basketball or when I’m playing soccer, those responsibilities that I have in there kind of burn me out with other subjects in school. It’s just like “dang I just got back home from a practice at like 10 o’clock, I don’t want to go to school” or “I’m too tired to do the homework I have to do but I know I have to do it.” It’s a repeating cycle because if you don’t get the homework done that night, you had to do it tomorrow night, even if you have basketball or a sport or something.
Brokken: To me, I am physically and mentally exhausted specifically at this point in my life from school and that is like reflected in like how I do my homework and when I do my homework, everything like that. I know that I am experiencing burnout when I am tired at school, when I’m tired when I get home, and like when I get home and I need to take a break or a nap, and if I do that it causes me to start my homework very late at night, for example, 8/9 o’clock because I feel physically unable to do it before then and then that leads me to stay up until midnight, 1 am. But everything takes longer at night, which is great and so then I get like five hours of sleep, which then continues the cycle of burnout and is not helpful.
Browne: How do you notice burnout in your students?
Pinero: You need to know the personality of each student, so for one person burnout looks probably different than for another person so sometimes if there is a student who typically is fairly engaged in discussion and enters the classroom usually pretty energized, if there’s a change in that demeanor then you start to wonder what’s going on. Where, for another student, it might look different in the way that they express burnout. It depends on how close of a relationship you have with each student. With some, it’s a lot more noticeable, and others might tend to manifest that in a different way, or it isn’t as outwardly obvious. It can show up sometimes in their writing, or sometimes if we’re just listening in the hall.
Browne: What are some strategies you use to cope with burnout? How do they help?
Pinero: I think coming back to creating space for the things that one enjoys so like we certainly decided after this last year that there is a time when it is definitely just like family time and no more work so that was helpful to create the space where I just have to put things down and let it maybe not be “perfect.” But coming back to the things we enjoy and making sure that I get outside into nature enough, and we make sure that we walk. Little simple things that are built into the day like walking to work and walking home matter and without my phone. I’ve been much more conscious of ensuring that I do not have my phone on me at all times so that I’m not checking constantly for important work emails or anything else, so that’s been important to avoid feeling dominated by or burnt out by work.
Assefa: Kind of right now what I’m doing is meeting with teachers and that’s really helpful to try and see if you can, not even get an extension [on work], but just further understand the material that you’re having problems with or just again like I said, procrastination just not doing that at all is really not helpful, but that’s a good way for me to get over it and not think about it. Definitely asking a friend and asking them to help you out does take a lot of weight off your shoulders.
Brokken: During the weekends, I really try to take complete breaks from homework where I don’t think about homework or school, period, to give myself a full reset because I think that even if you’re slightly doing homework throughout the weekend, that like will continue to like stress me out because it’s like always on my mind, so if I get that done before the weekend, I kind of have a nice relaxing weekend reset.
Browne: Why do you think it’s important for people to take burnout seriously and not dismiss their own experiences?
Pinero: I mean, burnout is really serious. I think about like how we read about teacher burnout, and we read about how pressure and stress are affecting young people today, and it can affect how you perform in your day-to-day tasks, it will determine for some whether or not they continue in a job or in a certain school setting. I think we can make big decisions sometimes because we are so burnt out, we just feel like there is no other escape other than escapism. It’s important that we are aware that it’s really okay to take a step back. It is okay sometimes to not be perfect. It is okay to sometimes say no to things and to not fill and overfill our days with activities because it is so easy to not allow ourselves the time to just sit back and enjoy something.
Assefa: I’d definitely say that this is high school, and it matters a lot, it sort of depends on whether you go to college or not lowkey, so I feel like you have to make sure you are doing your work, doing it properly and having the time to do it and resources you need and to go and ask people when you need help is very important. When treating it like it’s all fine, [you’ll] slowly see your grades tank and your social life tank and that’s awful because one stupid semester of just like trying to cope with it and not do any proactive steps or trying to help yourself would be a huge hindrance. It’s gonna be awful [to do that]. Not taking it seriously or not taking the time that you need to focus on yourself would just end up ruining a lot of your high school experience.
Brokken: If you don’t take burnout seriously it will continue, and you will get more and more burnt out and that can affect your physical and mental health. For me, I get less sleep and then that continues and that’s not good for me or anyone.
Browne: Hopefully after hearing these experiences, we all have suggestions and lessons to take away with us, so we can take care of ourselves and end the school year on a high note in a few weeks. Once again, this was Ali Browne from RubicOnline speaking with upper school Spanish teacher Christine Pinero, juniors Simon Assefa and Freya Brokken. Thank you.