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Student burnout rising

by Archives March 17, 2004

Her perfectionism and addiction to work took their toll during her second year of university. She was in Honours English, taking five classes, freelancing, had her social life and church and Concordia Christian Fellowship commitments and was the interim features editor at The Concordian.

She also had problems respecting her own limits and wasn’t exercising or eating properly. She wasn’t sleeping. Her family and friends were worried.

Student burnout is on the rise. Two in ten Canadian students will experience a burnout during their tenure at university according to a 2002 Canada Health survey that suggests students are feeling pressured to perform at work, at school and socially.

It could be you. It was definitely me.

Knowing change was in order, I stepped down from my editorial position. Being a Christian inspired me to pray to God for strength to establish a balanced lifestyle. I began exercising at least once a week at Concordia’s Victoria Gym, eating healthier and trying to get more sleep and make more time for fun.

Focusing on classes and articles, I reread Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s Boundaries, I practised setting boundaries and received support by taking the Boundaries course.

Jennifer Cole, a staff worker with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, has facilitated the Boundaries course about seven times in the past four years or so. Lasting eight weeks, it is based on Cloud and Townsend’s book, and consists of a video series, followed by group discussion among six to ten people.

According to the American Christian Clinical Psychologists, Boundaries define what one is or not, and gives one freedom to be responsible for oneself and to others, as well as realizing one’s limits. Two factors preventing the fostering of healthy boundaries is guilt from others or oneself and/or not knowing one’s limitations. Another can be not having grown up with appropriate boundary reinforcement in one’s home. These are a few reasons why people sometimes say yes when they really mean no, believes Cole.

“People with poor boundaries often think they are at the centre of the universe, that they wield a great deal of power over, i.e. people, places and things. And they feel powerless in areas that they have great power over…themselves and the way they choose to respond to people and things.”

Health Services

Health educator Owen Moran says that about 30 per cent of them come to Concordia’s Health Services for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. While burnout is not a huge problem at Concordia, it is increasingly becoming one. A person’s situation, not gender, is what, he says, makes someone more vulnerable to burnout.

“Burnouts are the result of being overwhelmed and exhausted, usually because of excessive demands, some…that could be linked to gender. For instance, society expects men to have a good job and provide for the family, which could create some demands for men,” he says. “Also, traditionally women have been the caregivers and now they are working more to contribute to the family income, which both increase the demands placed on women.”

According to a Health Services pamphlet, stress “is the body’s physical response to a perceived demand or threat.” Its two main components are the mental one of perception and the physical one of the body’s response. The two types of stress are eustress and distress. While the former helps a person perform at a higher level and achieve his or her goals, the overwhelming nature of the latter hinders performance and overall well-being.

“Learn to identify stress and know when it is overwhelming,” says Moran. “Learn to identify the signs of burnout some of which are irritability, withdrawal, fatigue, insomnia, apathy, appetite changes, increased substance use and feelings of guilt. Seek help if you can’t deal with it by yourself.”

Concordia’s Counseling and Development offers help through counseling and workshops on time management and stress management. The latter alters one’s perception and managing of one’s physical stress response. This can help one prevent suicide and avoid diseases and conditions such as gastro-intestinal problems, diabetes, insomnia, heart disease, respiratory problems and cancer among others.

In addition, the Student Success Centre is a place to talk with upper-year students.

“The benefit of having student support is because they’re going through the academic grind as well. They also have exams and papers piling up,” points out Irene Petsoulis, a student success counselor at Counseling and Development.

Talking to someone is important, says Petsoulis, as is reducing isolation, sleeping properly, exercising, having a balance in one’s life and acquiring stress-dealing strategies such as yoga or meditation.

Finding balance

Tai Chi is what helped Craig Cormack. “I was attracted to the movements. I also had a duodenal ulcer because I was a nervous guy. I had heard Tai Chi was a great stress reliever, so I decided to give it a try and it worked. The Tai Chi helped lower the stress and my ulcer disappeared,” he says.

Cormack, a Tai Chi teacher since 1995 under the wing of Sifu (Master) Irving Leong of the Seven Stars Tai Chi Club, has been running the Rising Tao since 1997. He often has students coming in order to sleep better and have clearer minds with less stress.

“Tai Chi forces you to focus on the movement [and] works to quiet the mind because it is necessary in order to perform the movement. Also, a great deal of repetition is needed in order to memorize the choreography. Tai Chi works with the breath to help oxygenize the body and regularize blood pressure. It works to massage the internal organs and helps one reenergize. For those who are nervous, they feel calmer and can think clearer.”

He adds, “Tai Chi helps to balance both sides of the brain and therefore your coordination on both sides of the body improves along with your balance. It is a low impact balance exercise and is also a martial art. The slow movements can be used, when sped up, in application of self-defense.”

The holistic approach

Acupuncturist Sean M. Laflamme recommends a holistic approach.

“Acupuncture is a holistic practice, which means that all parts of the body are seen as being interdependent. A practitioner considers all aspects of the patient’s life; physical and mental states or environment,” Laflamme says.

The main focus of acupuncture is to help the body manage itself better to prevent imbalance by assisting in the reestablishment of basic functions such as sleep and digestion. Maintaining health, he says, enhances one’s ability to resist and cope better.

Acupuncture consists of inserting thin needles into precise points on the body to improve one’s overall state of health. These points are stimulated in a painless manner having been chosen depending on the imbalances to be treated.

“The effect is most apparent on systems like the nervous system through which we influence the flow of energy. The principle goal of acupuncture is to ensure equilibrium among the different systems of the human body,” he says. “We do so by increasing circulation to the systems that are weakened, and reducing the flow to the systems that are overly excited.”

Burnout can be avoided, he believes, by leading a healthy lifestyle.

Failure to do so contributed to his post-university burnout and took him nearly a year to recover from. He had been managing his stress poorly, and his determination to finish and graduate with Honours came at a high price. Acupuncture enabled him to bounce back.

Holistic practitioner Stephane Benssoussan says while his student clientele at Psy-Sante Clinic often waits until the last minute, people are open to the holistic approach.

“Our society being disconnected, to self, to people, to God, seeks a new way of connecting to something that makes them feel united,” he says.

Benssoussan does so by using his ten years experience based on psycho-spiritual therapy, which incorporates body-centered imagery, applied kinesiology, meditation, holographic re-patterning, sound therapy, wholesome nutrition and aromatherapy and flower remedies.

Although stress-relief methods have different philosophies, they share a common goal.

“We must slow down and recharge in order to survive in this society, says Cormack.

“You need to create a sane inner lifestyle in which you nurture yourself; it is this or pay the consequences with burnout.”


Concordia’s Health Services can be reached at 848-2424, ext. 3565 or 2155 Guy St., Room ER-407 (SGW) and 848-2424, ext. 3575 or Room AD-103-10 (LOY).

Counseling and Development is located in Room H-440 (SGW) and can be reached at 2424, ext. 3545. Its Loyola location is Room AD-103 and the extension is 3555.

The next Boundaries course will be from March 11 to April 22 on Thursdays 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The cost is $30 plus $22 for the Boundaries book. If you are interested, call 485-8540.

Rising Tao can be called at 369-7860. You can also visit www.risingtao.ca

Acupuncture Sean Laflamme can be reached at 952-0465, info@slaflamme.com or by consulting www.slaflamme.com

The Psy-Sante Clinic can be contacted at 947-5254, or visit www.psysante.com.

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