International Men’s Day: Burnout in Cambridge and in the Polar Regions

19 November, 2022

International Men’s Day is an annual celebration taking place on Saturday 19 November around some of the issues that specifically impact men and boys. The themes of the day centre around conversations on the wellbeing and lives of boys and men, positive discussions of manhood and masculinity and raising awareness of organisations that support men and boys’ wellbeing.

Oliver Darke, Director of Operations discusses his top tips to manage burnout in the polar community for International Men’s Day.

Burnout is real. And it’s something to be taken seriously by us all.

Firstly, yes, it’s an official ‘thing’, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently added ‘burnout’ to its International classification of diseases, recognising the syndrome as the result of ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’.

However, burnout is not new, perhaps better defined, but not new and it’s on the rise globally. With that said, I thought it would be useful for me to share how I personally manage burnout symptoms and where to find the tools that BAS have available for you.

What is burnout?

The three dimensions that characterise burnout to look out for within yourself include:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

What to do if you suspect burnout?

Some areas of focus that have helped me both working in Cambridge and South: ​​​​​​​

1.Give yourself a break: Make time for yourself. Try something new, force the off switch

If you’re South, why not talk to our chefs and help out in the kitchen? Perhaps learn a new instrument and form a band? Whatever it is, sometimes you just need to force that time to focus on something new.  I tried Spanish and Yoga a few seasons ago, safe to say I was useless (!) but it certainly helped rest my mind.

2. Set boundaries for work: Prioritise what you can do and try not to accept too many commitments

Limit your access to work-related emails: Whether you’re on station, the RRS Sir David Attenborough or in Cambridge, we have 24/7 access to our emails (and don’t get me started on push notifications/smart watches!). People at BAS work flexibly and across multiple time zones, your inbox won’t stop at 5pm. Protect your focus time and limit your exposure to work emails after hours.

3. Eat a healthy diet

A good diet can boost your mood and energy levels; aim to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and reduce processed foods. Easier said than done in a deployed setting, push yourself to make the best of your options.

A pan of food on a table.
Home-cooked meals are served three times a day on BAS stations and ship

4. Exercise regularly

Exercise will boost your physical and mental health and help you to switch-off from work-related stress.

KEP Half Marathon Finish Line, Credit: Paul Taylor
Runners complete the King Edward Point Half Marathon on South Georgia. Credit: Paul Taylor

5. Reduce alcohol and coffee

Stimulants like alcohol and coffee can increase feelings of stress and anxiety.

6. Practice good sleep habits: Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

If you’re room/tent sharing, communicate with your room mates and work together to create good sleeping conditions for all. If you’re working shifts (or suffering with a snoring bunk mate!) talk to station management. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is considered torture; the team will be more than happy to help.

A bedroom with a bed in a room
Science cabin on the RRS Sir David Attenborough

​​​​​​Remember, we’re all individuals, our experiences with burnout will differ from person to person. If you’re noticing symptoms of burnout, do talk to your line manager.