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“We are human beings, not human doings”

“We are human beings, not human doings”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Let’s talk about stress and burnout

“You are your own boss, you have the power to do what you want. It sounds simple, and it is simple,” says Jasmijn George, a consciousness coach who helps people discover what they really want. She is one of the panel members for Let’s Talk about stress and burnout, the opening event of the Well-being Week, in the SNS Community Room on Monday evening.

The audience looks slightly doubtful. At the beginning of the evening, discussion leader Rob van Duijn, head of Studium Generale who organised the event together with nine FHML honours students, asked who had the feeling that work or study and private life were not balanced. Practically everybody did. In answer to the question who suffers from a lot of stress from time to time, all hands are raised too. “Symptoms to such an extent that you thought: if this continues I will suffer a burnout?” One third of the audience keeps their fingers in the air.

And now George is claiming that it is all very simple. She explains her statement later that evening. “It is all about discovering what you want. If you aspire to that instead of doing what you think you should be doing, you will experience much less stress.” It is important that people regularly listen to themselves. “Which emotions have you experienced in the last twelve hours? How does your body feel? How stressed are you? How happy are you with yourself?”

Another point is self-sabotage. George: “Why do you watch Netflix when you know you should really be studying for an exam? Do you take a break - which is fine - or do you listen to that inner voice that tells you that you won't pass anyway, so why would you do your best?” She calls this voice ‘Bert’, after the grumpy half of the Sesame Street duo Bert and Ernie. “Everyone has an inner Bert, become aware of yours.”

Then you can exercise control over it and that is very important, said Fred Zijlstra, professor of Work and Organisation Psychology, earlier in the evening. “Things go wrong when we can't deal with our stress, when we feel that we are losing control.” Stress in itself, says Angelique de Rijk, professor of Work and Health, is not a bad thing. “We are human, and humans feel stress. But we often forget to take the time to rest and recover.”

Zijlstra understands that, a lot is asked of modern students. “They have to always work efficiently, because the study can only last four years. There is a tremendous amount of possibilities to choose from, so social life is always hectic too.” Filippo Om, student at University College Venlo and yoga instructor, recognises that. “I even see it in my younger brothers and sisters, who have just started secondary school. We are not taught to deal with that kind of thing. We need to realise that we are human beings, not human doings. Sometimes you just have to be.” De Rijk nods. “The challenge is to plan this. Develop healthy habits. Go to bed on time, say ‘no’ on occasion to a social activity if it is not going to relax you.”

De Rijk asks the audience what the university can do to make students more resilient, to enable them to recover more easily from a stressful period. “Give us more empathic supervisors,” someone says. Another student criticises exams with multiple-choice questions. “It determines exactly what you have to learn, there is no room for autonomy.” Zijlstra agrees with the students, but doesn't see change happening soon. “In the end, it's all about money. Twenty years ago, the lecturer-student ratio was 1 to 5, today it is 1 to 10.”

So, can anything be done about it? Or are we doomed to live in a stressed society? Om is positive. “I think that if we collectively want change, we will see change.” He closes the evening with a breathing exercise, which is his start with change. The fact that most cannot concentrate on their breathing is not a problem. “That is the very moment you are training, by bringing your attention back. When you are at the gym, you don't move your arms up and down unless you are holding onto a weight.”

Well-being week 2019

This is the third time that Well-being Week (from 4-7 November) is being organised by Maastricht University. What started off as a small project at UCM and the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, has by now grown into an event with forty activities and almost 1,100 participants. From mindfulness workshops to lectures about the stress that comes from comparing yourself with others.

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