My recent experience with being burned out and how you can recognise and prevent it.
With the new semester underway, having just finished the exam period, it can all feel very overwhelming. I know I have felt like I didn’t get some needed time off. Just like you, I went from the lectures of last semester to doing my coursework over the Christmas period with deadlines scattered across January with the finale coming in the form of a brand-new semester. Plus, along the way we had all the COVID regulation changes which is enough to put anyone’s head in spin without the help of exams.
A few weeks ago I sat down after my final submission to do a bit of casual pleasure (not study) reading but couldn’t help but think that I should actually be doing some reading in preparation for my new modules. I felt guilty for taking the time to relax, for doing a bit of self-care. Now if anyone knows me at all, my head easily goes into a spiral of overthinking, anxiety, stress, which all in all leads to a really bad mental state. I started being unable to sleep at night. I would hear my flatmate get up at 6:00am and realise that I should probably get some sleep, only to wake up a couple of hours later. I then wouldn’t want to be with my friends, but would force myself to hang out, and then would be irritated by the simplest of things. Then, when the relief came in the form of my bed and the extreme tiredness took over, the whole thing would start all over again and before I knew it, I heard my flatmate getting up again for work. With every passing hour in the night the negatives thoughts would just keep coming, gradually getting worse. This is what happened every day for me. What I didn’t realise was that these were all signs of a burnout.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. I’m sure most of us know what this is like. Burnouts can look like little to no motivation, insomnia, amplified anxiety, exhaustion and feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Of course, these signs can change for everyone, but it is always useful to be able to recognise the signs, not only in yourself, but in your friends too. This is a very difficult time for everyone anyway and the rate of depression cases in UK adults has increased from 9.7% pre-pandemic to 19.2% as of June 2020. So, it is more important than ever to check in on your friends and family. Even if there is not much you can do, just letting them know that you are there for them and that they can lean on you sometimes is all they need.
As students, I often feel that we are under pressure from a multitude of things, so preventing burnouts is a skill we need to harness which will be a saviour in our futures. I know when I worked in London that I regularly overworked, I would be the first one in the office and one of the last to leave, because I wanted to prove myself to my employers. However, looking back now, all I was actually doing was destroying myself both physically and mentally. I wasn’t taking the time my body and mind needed to rest and recuperate. Society has glamourised over-working and now is the time for us to stop and reject that idea. Several of my friends have said that because they are working from home they have noticed that their workday never actually ends anymore, and they are noticing the detriments of that. Self-care is so important to each and every one of us and it is not limited to just the body but also to the mind and soul. We each have a spark within in us, a dream, a goal we want to achieve and if we chase the oxygen to feed our inner flames to much we will end up suffocating and burning out.
There are, however, some simple ways to prevent a burn out.
Take breaks during the day
This one is so easy and so obvious that often we just brush it to the side and don’t appreciate how it benefits us in the long run. Plus, if you set specific times for you will work that can help also. This forces me to close the books, shut down my web browsers, and spend the evenings chilling doing whatever I feel I need that evening. A bit of pampering? A movie night? A game tournament with my flat? Who knows where the night will take me?
Turn your phone to silent when you are working
I, for one, can easily distract myself from working by answering a text so before I sit down to start my day of focussed and effective studying I let my friends know that I won’t be answering texts during the day while I’m working. This has actually proved so effective that they have started doing the same thing. So simply, set boundaries
Make plans that you are excited about
I know during lockdown that this one can be really difficult (thankfully now it is easing) but if you look forward to something then you will experience pleasure when you carry out those plans which release feel good hormones which improve your overall mental wellbeing. If you live in halls, I suggest making weekly plans with your flat. Another way to prevent a burnout is to socialise with your friends more (which is obviously difficult at the moment). Try to arrange a weekly zoom call, or get them involved in a Kahoot! Quiz. I know I am lucky enough to have my closest friends living with me, however, this does come with its downside. I realised I was socialising with them so much that I was burning out, but I didn’t want to stop hanging out with them in case they felt that I was pulling away and just didn’t want to be with them anymore. This is not the case! This goes back to setting boundaries. They will understand if you say that you just need a couple of days to yourself just to re-centre and refocus.
The new semester is here and with it comes new stresses. Don’t let them overwhelm you. Lean on your friends if you need to use like how you would want them to lean on you if they needed to. Check in on them. We all need to be checking ourselves at the moment. We cannot lose sight of who we truly are, and we cannot dim our light that makes us special. Remember that you are of no help to anyone if you don’t help yourself. There is no point in lighting the fire if you just leave it to slowly burn itself out.