Student leaning on his arm staring dejectedly at a laptop screen with a pile of books beside him

How to deal with burnout

September 13, 2022
Author: Natasha Labenek

Tips for managing social, emotional and academic overwhelm

With the fall semester starting up, there will be many opportunities to meet new people, forge academic and social connections, and learn some fascinating things. But, as much as there are many exciting things happening, any novel experience has the potential to create burnout.

Burnout is a state of thinking, feeling and behaving that results from feeling exhausted. This can manifest as feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, general tiredness and absence, to name a few.

Are you finding yourself approaching burnout (or feeling the effects of it)? Here are some tips to help you re-energize.

Practice self-detachment

Occasionally, burnout can be the result of over-identifying with a perceived error and seeing oneself as inadequate. It can be healthy to practice what is called self-forgiveness and self-compassion in this scenario. In a nutshell, we learn to detach from our subjective experience of the event and forgive ourselves for perceived inadequacies, instead of focusing on blaming ourselves and shaming ourselves. We approach our reaction to the event with curiosity, and observe each thought and feeling as it passes through, much like a cloud passes through the sky on a windy day. We take adequate responsibility for our part in the event, and learn from mistakes, but detach from unhelpful things we may say to ourselves, such as insulting ourselves, saying we are no good, or other self-injurious statements.
Another characteristic of self-detachment is recognizing that the human condition involves experiencing difficulty, and that our experience with suffering is a shared experience among humans. This helps us to understand that we are not alone and can help us to detach from identifying too closely with our suffering.  Although it is important to acknowledge our unique experience, it is also beneficial to understand our experience of suffering as a shared experience that others understand and know, too.

Seek helpful support

Studies show that reaching out for support can help buffer against burnout. The quality of the social support is important here, as we want to select a social support group/person that has a reasonable chance of providing a safe space. This can be a friend, family member or therapist who is seen as open, willing and comforting.

When facing burnout, it is best to connect with those who we perceive as helpful. Choosing social supports with this quality ensures that you have a safe space to share what happened and decompress. Sometimes, if the event is particularly stressful, you may want to write what you are going to say ahead of time and what you would like to receive from the interaction. This gives your support person a map to assist you and ensures that you stay on topic (as sometimes processing difficult events can trigger memories of similar events from the past, but may be outside of the scope of support you were seeking or the time allotment you have to talk about it).

Try meditating

Meditation is a great way to set the stage for practicing self-detachment and social support. When we meditate, we become aware of our needs and this can be helpful in our communications with others. Meditation is a self-regulation practice that allows you to get to know yourself, your thoughts, feelings and beliefs, without judgment.

If you would like some help dealing with burnout, you can also choose to connect with one of our counsellors at VIU, who can help you explore your thoughts, feelings and beliefs and help you implement a plan that provides some relief. All the best in your semester!

Natasha Labenek, M.A., R.P., C.C.C., is a Counsellor/Academic Advisor at VIU’s Cowichan campus.


  • Yu‐Wen Ying (2008) The Buffering Effect of Self‐Detachment against Emotional Exhaustion among Social Work Students
  • Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 27:1-2, 127-146, DOI: 10.1080/15426430802114051

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