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Having spent over 25 years in the engineering field, I know first-hand the demands placed on STEM workers’ time and attention. We’re constantly expected to perform at peak levels, learn new techniques and coding languages, and stay on top of emerging scientific developments – all while meeting our deadlines and staying connected with our colleagues. It’s a tall order! And if you’re raising children or serving as the main caregiver for elders in your home, the task is even more daunting. But we can’t burn the candle at both ends for long without expecting to pay the price.
Signs of burnout look a little different in STEM fields. To help you recognize the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of burnout, we’ll go over a handful of key symptoms and what they look like in STEM.
Becoming cynical or hypercritical at work.
Most people pursue careers in the STEM field because they’re passionate about what they do. While everyone has ebbs and flows in their level of enthusiasm about their jobs, if you’ve noticed consistently feeling estranged and disillusioned about your work, your organization’s mission, or your role in the greater scope of your industry, that’s a red flag.
Lack of internal motivation.
Most STEM fields are fast-paced and demanding. Assignments and situations can change in the blink of an eye. When you’re feeling engaged and energized, this is exciting and lets you feel connected to your work. If you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning and have trouble starting or finishing tasks, especially ones you used to look forward to, I have bad news for you – you’re veering into burnout territory.
Using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better during or after work.
Everyone relies on short-term coping mechanisms like treats or a nice cocktail to unwind every once in a while. But if you often find yourself leaving your computer to raid the break room or avoid work, that’s a sign you’re not fully engaged.
Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, digestive problems, or other physical complaints with no identifiable cause.
Prolonged stress takes a toll on our bodies. If you’re noticing feeling exhausted or uncomfortable without any major lifestyle factors changing, that can be a sign your body’s telling you to step away from the laboratory or your computer for a little while.
Feeling alienated from your colleagues and team.
If you work in a close-knit startup and are suddenly having trouble bonding with or relating to your coworkers, that’s a sign you’re disengaging from your work life and retreating into yourself.
STEM is full of high performers who take their jobs seriously. Whether we’re talking about coding, engineering, or lab sciences, most STEM professionals pursue their careers because of the meaning behind their work. If you suddenly find yourself lagging behind in a job that once gave you joy, that’s something to take seriously.
Burnout happens to the best of us. The important thing is to listen to your body and mind when they’re trying to tell you to slow down. It may feel like you do not have time to take care of yourself but it is worthwhile to prioritize your health & well-being.