Take good care of yourself
Let’s face it: being a student – while undoubtedly fun – isn’t a picnic. Projects, internships, essays, exams and an Instagrammable social life: it’s a packed schedule full of deadlines and goals to be met. Such constant, excessive stress can lead to mental and psychosomatic illnesses such as burnout. But don’t worry (or do, come to think of it…) – the team of UM psychologists at SSC offers help.
Difficult to diagnose
The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Initially, it referred to the adverse consequences of sustained, severe stress and unrealistic expectations, especially in human service professions. Experts are yet to agree on a clear definition of what burnout really is. Unlike depression, which is a widely accepted and well-studied condition, burnout isn’t strictly speaking a diagnosis. Some still suggest that depression, anxiety disorder or physical illnesses might underlie the symptoms of being “burned out”.
Accordingly, it is important to consider other possible causes together with a doctor rather than have a go at self-diagnosis. There are various self-assessment questionnaires such as the “Maslach Burnout Inventory” (MBI, or in Dutch: UBOS-S.) but without a generally accepted definition of burnout, it is difficult to distinguish it from other illnesses. It is therefore impossible to say how many people exactly are affected but it is an increasingly common reason for taking sick leave.
Beware the beginnings – symptoms and signs
Burnout is associated with a wide range of symptoms, all of which are caused by excessive, permanent occupational or social stress (e.g. caring for a family member).
There are three main areas of symptoms considered signs of burnout:
- exhaustion: feeling drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired, not having enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like muscle pain and stomach or bowel problems.
- alienation: finding your occupation increasingly stressful and frustrating, becoming cynical about circumstances of people, creating emotional distance, feeling numb or indifferent.
- reduced performance: being very negative about tasks, finding it hard to concentrate or suffering memory-loss, being listless and lacking creativity.
Stress is inevitable and by no means pathological – so long as it doesn’t impair your quality of life. Avoiding social contact or no longer enjoying your favourite activities are early warning signs, as are excessive insecurity, anxiety or constant fatigue despite enough rest. “Complaints like these are red flags: take some time to carefully consider how you are and whether you should take action,” explains UM psychologist Liesbeth Mouha.
SSC is there to help
The team of six UM psychologists at the UM Student Services Centre (SSC) offer help, also in the early stages, i.e. as soon as sustained stress affects your daily life in an unhealthy way. “Students shouldn’t hesitate to make an appointment with us. If people are in a bad way, they tend to not ask for help – but the sooner you take action the better – and don’t worry: we’re all really nice people!”
Not knowing what exactly is wrong isn’t a problem. The initial consultation, consisting of an online questionnaire and an individual appointment, allows you to get a better idea of what the problem is and what you can do about it. A single conversation might be enough to get you back on track; it might also take several follow-up sessions, all of which are completely free. Other cases might require a referral to a GP, who can prescribe medication or therapy. Of course, you can always directly contact your GP. Dutch health insurance covers at least the first line of mental health services.
Don’t neglect your needs
Apart from individual conversations, the UM psychologists also offer lectures, workshops or training courses in groups. These include topics like stress management, time management, perfectionism, fear of failure, back on track and so on. “We’re trying to focus more on prevention now – that’s also what the Well-being Movement is about.” Their prevention programme seeks to teach skills that help tackle possible causes such as constant time-pressure and conflict as well as being permanently overworked or under-challenged. “The most common issues are too high standards and always pushing harder.”
- Know your limits – set boundaries
- Get enough sleep and me-time
- Practice self-compassion
- Be mindful of early warning sings
And if you’re having doubts about things heading in the wrong direction, please contact the UM psychologists at the SSC.