Transform Burnout into Productive Social Work Exam Prep
Transform Burnout into Productive Social Work Exam Prep

Transform Burnout into Productive ASWB Exam Prep

Are you experiencing a lack of interest in your ASWB licensing exam prep? Decreased interest is just one among many signs of burnout.

Burnout is defined by David Ballard, PsyD, of the American Psychological Association, as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”

Burnout can lead to a decline in performance, which can be bad news for your Social Work exam prep. Knowing the warning sins of burnout can help you transform burnout into productivity. Forbes contributor, Lisa M. Gerry, describes 10 signs of burnout, per Dr. Ballard, in her article 10 Signs You’re Burning Out – And What To Do About It.

According to Dr. Ballard, burnout is born under extreme stress when demands exceed resources.

“A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress,” says Dr. Ballard, who is the head of the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.”

Gerry describes the signs of burnout and what to do when you notice those signs. We’ve summarized her points to make them applicable to you and your exam prep.

We cover the first five below, and will follow up with the last five in a separate post.

1. Exhaustion

Perhaps you’re interning on top of studying for the exam. Feeling the need to rest after a long day before you begin exam prep is normal. You might be experiencing burnout, though, when short rests stop working and you feel more exhausted than tired.

A clear sign of burnout is when you feel tired all the time. Exhaustion can be emotional, mental or physical. It’s the sense of not having any energy, of being completely spent.

You might typically be able to take a rest and then find the energy to study. If you constantly cannot find the energy to stick to your study plan, perhaps you’re experiencing burnout.

The solution:


Gerry says to “Take Relaxation Seriously […] truly think about what you’ll do to relax, and designate time for it.”

Don’t wait until your body is begging you for a break. Designate time within your schedule for intentional rest. Maybe it’s restful for you to go for a walk or work on a creative project. Do something that gives your brain a break to allow time for it to store what you’ve learned.

2. Lack of motivation

Is getting out of bed in the morning gradually becoming more difficult? Some days it’s hard to get out of bed because you need more sleep. But when you experience an unwillingness to get out of bed that doesn’t relate to sleepiness, you might be experiencing burnout.

When you don’t feel enthusiastic about anything anymore or you no longer have that internal motivation for your work […] It may be harder to get going in the morning and more difficult to drag yourself into work every day.

The solution:

Get involved in your passion. Do something that has nothing to do with social work that you are passionate about. Maybe you volunteer at the local animal shelter or, like stated above, indulge in a creative project.

Cultivate a Rich Non-Work Life […] Find something outside of work that you are passionate about that’s challenging, engaging and really gets you going.

3. Negative emotions

Frustration and cynicism are common experiences for everyone. When the negative emotions outweigh the positive emotions, you might be experiencing burnout.

[…] While everybody experiences some negative emotions from time to time, it’s important to know when these things are becoming unusual for you.

The solution:

Set boundaries for your frustration. For example, it's easy to waste hours mindlessly scrolling through social media. Instead of letting it control you, use it to your advantage. Set aside certain times of the week to allow social media to benefit you. For example, plan to watch our Coaches' Corner on Facebook on Wednesdays at noon (PT) and discuss exam challenges with your peers on our Social Work Facebook Study Group on Mondays. Unplug at other times.

Unplug […] Set boundaries by turning off cell phones at dinner and delegating certain times to check email.

4. Cognitive problems

Stress helps us deal with an immediate problem by narrowing our attention to the perceived threat. When stress is chronic, narrowed attention lasts for a longer period of time, which leads to a lack of focus.

[…] When we’re stressed, our attention narrows to focus on the negative element that we perceive as a threat. In the short term, this helps us deal with the problem at hand, Dr. Ballard says, ‘but our bodies and brains are designed to handle this in short bursts and then return to normal functioning. When stress becomes chronic, this narrow focus continues for a long time and we have difficulty paying attention to other things.

The solution:

A major stress relief strategy (and all around excellent lifestyle choice!) is to get enough sleep. Resting your brain (and body) will give you the energy to direct your focus on positivity.

Research suggests that having fewer than six hours of sleep per night is a major risk factor for burnout, not least because poor sleep can have negative effects on your job performance and productivity. It can lead to fatigue, decrease your motivation, make you more sensitive to stressful events, impair your mental function, leave you more susceptible to errors and make it harder to juggle competing demands. The reverse is true, too: We’ve seen that sleep can actually improve your memory.

5. Poor job performance

Burnout does not happen overnight. Look at your current test prep performance as well as your performance in school, at work, or at your internship. What kind of worker were you before and how are you doing now? Are you turning things in late when you are typically on time with projects? Or do your projects lack the luster that they once had?

Compare your job performance now to your performance in previous years. Because burnout tends to happen over an extended period of time, taking this long-term view might reveal whether you’re in a temporary slump or experiencing more chronic burnout.

The solution:


Organize your Social Work licensing exam prep materials in your calendar to create time for studying. Include rest in your calendar. This will allow you to focus on one thing at a time and potentially increase your performance.

Get organized, clear your head, put together a to-do list (or an electronic task list) then prioritize. That way, you don’t have to keep thinking about those things because you’ll have systems in place to remind you.

These five indicators and solutions for burnout are just the beginning. Stay tuned for more.

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