As we head into another stressful year at college, I feel like it's important to talk about burnout. What is it? How do I recover from it? How can I prevent burnout in the future?
Well, to start, Google defines burnout as "physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress." However, in my opinion, burnout can be mental, emotional, physical, or a combination of the three. It's possible to feel completely motivated and excited about everything you're doing, while still feeling physically defeated and ill. It's also possible to feel in the prime of your physical health, yet mentally exhausted. It's also possible to feel any mixture of emotions, or even be emotionless.
Some people experience burnout with a decrease in emotions, such as feeling detached, overall blah, not caring about your your current situation, etc. However, some people experience an increase in emotion, such as feeling depressed, resentful, angry, unappreciated, etc. Either way, burnout usually only leads to overall negativity and exhaustion. It reduces productivity, leaves you feeling a lack of energy, and getting out of bed everyday starts to feel harder and harder.
Now that you know how burnout feels, let's talk about common responses to burnout that aren't the healthiest solutions.
1. Accepting the misery
By continuing to accept the misery and not changing anything, you are leaving yourself susceptible to a more severe burnout. You will continue to keep trekking in a terrible state of mind and it can ruin your health, both mentally and physically. You may end up with high blood pressure, chest pains, blurry vision, migraines, insomnia, chronic colds/flus, loss of sex drive and so many other physical symptoms. You can also end up with anxiety, depression, self-esteem damage and other detrimental mental side effects.
2. Turning to drugs/alcohol
Some people turn to drugs, alcohol or both when faced with burnout. They believe that they need to relax, and they take it to the extreme. Some people will take a bottle to the face and wake up in the exact state of mind as they were before they started drinking; unfortunately, sometimes these people can also end up in a worse state. Some people can end up more stressed because they took a night off and now feel behind schedule even more so. Others can physically feel worse than ever before. I'm not just talking a hangover, which admittedly suck; alcohol and drugs can weaken your immune system just long enough for you to catch a cold/flu, and that's just the beginning of the never-ending cycle of snot.
3. Dropping everything
Quitting everything you do just isn't a good solution. Grades are at least kind of important, jobs pay your bills and relationships are good to have overall. Dropping everything you do suddenly is not only bad for you in life, but emotionally. Cutting yourself off from friends and hobbies can make you more depressed than before. You need balance, and dropping every stressor in your life doesn't help solve the problem.
4. Giving into your negative emotions
Although you may be upset or angry, you can't give into these emotions fully. Of course, it's okay to cry or scream a little bit every once in a while. However, lashing out at the people around you or self-harming isn't the way to handle burning out. You can end up in a worse place than before.
Now, that we've addressed some negative responses, let's touch on some healthy ways to recover from burnout when you're already there.
1. Try to follow a schedule
Now, this doesn't mean go crazy planning your every move; however, you should be getting between 6-9 hours of sleep each night (around the same time), eating healthy meals and snacks around the same time every day, and balancing your time a little better.
2. Balance play vs. work
Admittedly, this can be pretty hard. Some people are hard workers that just go, go, go. And some people procrastinate like there's no tomorrow. However, finding a balance between work and play is important. Overworking yourself can cause you to just continue burning out. Be wary though, too much relaxation can get you into some trouble too.
3. Take some time solely for you
Every day you should have at least an hour of time solely for yourself. Whether you like to read, watch your favorite shows, just lay around, garden etc., you need to set aside some time that you can unwind. You're face-to-face with a big burnout and neglecting your mental status can just worsen things. Remember to eat healthy, exercise a bit, engage in activities you enjoy, maintain your hygiene and focus on yourself for a little bit to help reverse the effects of burnout.
I don't care if you're a little old woman, a buff man, a child, whatever you are: You can meditate. You don't need necessarily channel your inner monk for this. It's as simple as closing your eyes for a few minutes and focusing on your breathing. If you choose to explore your inner soul, feel free to, but just know that meditation is literally for everyone.
PS. I highly recommend the book "10% Happier" by Dan Harris. A couple of my favorite lines in the book, just to give you some mild introspection to the novel, are "the voice in my head was kind of an asshole," "the pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness" and "When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present."
5. Consider reducing your workload
Whether this be at work, school, or in life in general, consider reducing what you spread yourself too thin for. If you find that a certain activity you are participating in doesn't make you as happy as it used to, don't feel bad giving it up. If you feel overwhelmed at work because you offered to pick up three new contracts, have a conversation with your boss. Telling your boss that you are beginning to feel the effects of burnout is a conversation that can help you and the company in the long run. If you burnout completely, you won't be able to help the company at all, so your boss will likely understand that it's better to help you now before you get to that point.
6. Talk to someone
As scary as this seems, it can really help. If I reflect back on my sophomore year in college, talking to someone about my anxiety and stress was the only way that I made it through the year. I had just crossed into my fraternity, I became an RA and was in the process of applying to be an SRA, was on the tennis team, was applying to scholarships, etc etc. Essentially, I was drowning. A simple 89 on a test made me cry one day, and I am not talking just my normal perfectionism. I literally broke down that day. And that was the day I realized that I was burning out...and fast. I asked my line sister, and best friend, to start going to an anxiety and stress management support group on campus. She said yes and we went. Honestly, it was life changing.
I'm not being cliche here. I actually walked away from that first group session feeling better because I could actually open up and talk to people that understood me. I continued going until finals week, and I can honestly say that Mary Wake at the counseling center helped to change my life. I learned techniques to help me out of burnout, ways to ground myself in anxiety attacks, how to accept that I won't always be perfect at everything and more. Enough about me, though I hope you understand what my point it.
Talk to someone if you need to. It does not make you weak, fragile or weird. It helps more than I can explain to you.
So, you got through your burnout? That was a close call, but we made it. Now, how to prevent a future burnout?
1. Time management
2. Say "No" sometimes
3. Exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, take your vitamins/medicines
4. Be mindful and radiate positive vibes
6. Open up to yourself and others
7. Be honest with yourself and those around you
8. Practice self-love
9. Set boundaries
10. Allow yourself to have time to yourself
11. Express your creativity
12. Take a break from technology every once in a while
And if all else fails, please reach out to someone. Your health is not worth the stresses you are facing. You are the only you there is and the world needs you.
Just remember, stress is inevitable but burnout is preventable!