The pain points for higher ed professionals are numerous. When there are never enough hours in the day and limited resources to tackle endless to-do lists, there's bound to be burnout amongst faculty and staff.
Students are also facing numerous hardships. They're worried about finding careers upon graduation, juggling school with their personal lives, and wondering if a college education is worth the financial and emotional toll.
While it's impossible to prevent or eliminate burnout completely, higher ed professionals can keep their perspective on the positive impact they have on students' lives.
Mongoose invited Slade Thackeray, the Founder of SPARROW Counseling Center and a former instructor and academic advisor at Oregon State University, to talk about burnout for students and higher ed professionals at For Your Institution Live, a higher ed virtual event series by Mongoose.
Enjoy this synopsis of our conversation with Slade and watch the full episode with the recording below.
The new normal
Socio-economic conditions and a global pandemic have not helped with mental health matters and how society views them. Everyone is wondering when there will be a return to "normal." Slade feels that "normal" does not exist anymore and that this might be an opportunity more than a problem.
"In the last two and a half years, we're really talking about trauma. There's a lot we can do to soften the blow—people in higher ed care. Burnout is going to happen because we care. If normal does not exist anymore, then what do we want it to look like? That opens a doorway to what is next. Were we functional before COVID? We have an opportunity to switch things up. Normal' is created when we stopped growing."
There is a significant correlation between anxiety and results. Managing a demanding workload without many positive outcomes is psychologically damaging. Slade says that it's important to take stock of your small victories. And while there isn't time in anyone's schedule for self-care, you can find ways to make it a priority to be mindful.
"At the end of the day, there's no space to muster the energy for self-care. It's important to create gentle, hard stops during the day. It might seem cheesy, but there's literature on the power of affirmations. Surround yourself with positive things. What would happen if, every day, you went for a walk at 10:30?"
"Slow down and ask yourself, what you will do next? Break up your day in a series of wins. If you're having a bad day, ask yourself, how do you want the rest of your day to go? What do you want that to look like? Give yourself the opportunity to have a win."
Managing stressful conversations
As college staff members juggle a myriad of tasks and countless roadblocks, they can struggle with maintaining a productive and authentic dialogue with students and parents who are also struggling. It's stressful to talk with someone who is stressed. Slade says that empathy and compassion can help. Acknowledging that you understand what someone is going through can help break down communication barriers.
"This is Humanity 101, saying 'I see you.' You don't have to share your story, saying, 'I feel you, and I'm here to help,' is powerful. Slow down and take 30 seconds to acknowledge your burnout, then you say that phrase to the other person, 'I see you.'. We're not here to offer a fix-all. Most of the time, individuals will come to that place they need to be. And I'm going to be there to help you, but first, you have to acknowledge that their stress is there."
Utilizing the power of hope
Slade believes that hope is powerful and that transferring hope can benefit faculty/staff members and students. It is essential to have a positive perspective to share before telling your students, their families, or your staff to use hope.
"The brain has everything inside of it. Asking questions can challenge you to consider where your hope is. What is your fire? Where is your center? When the chips are down, what is your intent with work? Some might go to work to pay bills. If you don't have those basic needs met, it doesn't matter. But, can you go a little bit further and ask what your intent is with work? Be ready to work differently and shift you're thinking. Because, if you're not going to do anything with it, it doesn't mean anything."
Breaking the Stigma
Recognizing when students need help and reaching out to them is excellent, but what about students who aren't raising their hands? That doesn't mean they might not want to help, and they might not realize it themselves. Slade says getting curious and understanding how stigma is represented on your campus can help get to the root of the problem.
"If you're like, how do I break down stigma as an individual, in my own role--because you can. It's hard, because you might feel like you're fighting against the obstacles of your system. But, how does that then branch out to other pieces and other people? That's when I would say, 'let's get curious together and first, let's ask ourselves what stigma is and what it is not on campus, and then what are all the pieces that makeup stigma and what are we going to do with that?'
There are no quick-fix solutions to burnout
If burnout could be solved with a simple blog post, we would have titled this eliminating burnout, not managing it. The truth is that managing burnout is an ongoing process. We hope that our conversation with Slade gives you a new perspective and positive affirmations.
If you feel burnout, reflecting on what motivates you and why you started can reignite your fire and highlight different ways of thinking. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Here at Mongoose, we see you.
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