Burnout is a term I was never aware of before entering high school and something I never realized I experienced until this year. Burnout, put simply, is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It is something that can be very difficult to recognize, especially by those who display a type-A or perfectionist personality. In today’s society the cyclical harboring of burnout behavior has become normalized and at times, commended. I have discussed this phenomenon in the past; bragging about getting four hours of sleep, becoming proud of not going out in favor of doing work at home, refusing to say no to any task no matter how menial.
In my reflection on personal burnout, it has become increasingly clear to me how burnout can manifest over time and affect a person’s life in both large and small ways. It is not just feeling bored or frustrated with your work, but rather can lead to a sense of depression, cynicism, hopelessness, and overall exhaustion. It may mean feeling like you have nothing left to give or that the diverse range of things that once were important to you become increasingly meaningless.
For some, realizing that burnout has dominated their life is a slow process. At first, excuses may be made: “I’m just grinding really hard”, “this project is especially important”, or “I don’t have time for family/friends/hobbies right now”. But, it is critical to face the fact that this thought process is not healthy. It is thoughts like this that add extra stress and pressure which makes daily life more difficult on a daily basis.
I hate the feeling of being burned out. I can’t sleep. I begin focusing on unhealthy things to gain a sense of control. I find myself asleep in my classes, feeling upset at my lack of productivity. In fact, burnout can even display itself physically with frequent illness, headaches, and muscle pain. I have come to term with the fact that I am burned out. Coming back from Spring Break to school, I truly felt the pressure and swift buildup of stress. Burnout for me does not necessarily come only from school either. It comes from a culmination of school, personal issues, and extra responsibilities which I place on myself. The minute I feel myself burning out, I create a plan for myself to recover to the best of my ability and also to consider why I reached this point.
The best way to deal with burnout… is to avoid it. Once you understand your own personal signs of burnout, it will become easier to prevent it. For the most part, an overabundance of stress is the root cause of burnout. The easiest and most universal way to avoid burning out is to have a clear balance between obligations and enjoyable stress-relieving activities. Overall, taking care of every aspect of your health –mental, physical, and emotional– is the only way to effectively manage stress. The best way to define this is to make a list. When I created my own list, I categorized activities I enjoy to ensure that I am engaging in ones that will give me a holistic approach to health.
Here’s an example of some things on my list:
Mental Health: Journal, Read a self-help book, Listen to a podcast and take a walk, Have a spa night or facial, Take a hot shower and watch a comfort movie.
Physical Health: Prioritize getting 8 hours of sleep, Take a yoga or pilates or yoga class, Cook a delicious and nourishing meal.
Emotional Health: Have a meal with my family, Go out and do something fun with friends, Talk to a professional/trusted friend or family member.
These are just some examples of how I take care of myself, but I encourage you to take into account your own interests and stress-relievers. When these activities are regularly incorporated into your life, keeping that balance between stress and relaxation is facilitated. However, there are times when burnout is unavoidable. With only twenty-four hours in a day, it is truly impossible to respond to your own needs over others’ expectations. In that case, taking a step back and re-setting allows for the reversal of burnout. This means taking physical time off — a mental health day full of rest, relaxation, and reflection — which I personally took this past week. It can also mean removing some of the tasks from your plate. Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I have not published a blog post in two weeks, which I intentionally chose to do to take pressure off myself. And finally, you should be emotionally available by reaching out to those closest to you or even a mental health professional when you need it. Making the time to explore what brought you to a point of burnout can help to reverse it.
Burning out is something that many people experience more often than is acceptable. The normalization of toxic productivity can lead to the formation of anxiety, depression, and other long-lasting impacts. If there is one thing to remember it is that burnout is not normal and holding yourself accountable for avoiding it is just as vital as holding yourself accountable to your other obligations. This week, please take time to relax and take a break for yourself. Spend time with those you love, and most importantly, spend time with yourself — no pressure, no stress, no burnout.
“Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long” -Michael Gungor