Most of us have days when we feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and underappreciated. When the dozen or so balls we keep in the air aren’t manageable. When dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. It’s called burn out. If the “lacklusterness” of school or my day-to-day routine lasts for over a month, I consider myself burnt out. But it helps in knowing that I’m not alone and that it’s not permanent. I’ve even found that it is possible to feel content and stimulated with a full course load! All it requires is a little bit of organization and a whole lot of motivation. Burn out may visit from time-to-time but it definitely doesn’t have to stay!
This school year, I have experienced greater levels of burnout than I normally do. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve entered my senior years of university and have to start making concrete decisions about the rest of my life or if it’s because the stress of the past several years has built to the point of overflowing. In any case, the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that I have felt the first few months of the academic year have rendered my problems insurmountable.
I suppose that the stress of managing 5 courses, 3 on-campus jobs, and a handful of personal and professional relationships was bound to take its toll sooner or later. This past semester, every day was a bad day. The negative effects of my burn out spilled into other aspects of my life. To top it off, I was sick with headaches, stomachaches, toothaches, body aches (you get the picture!) for most of the semester.
Thankfully, after several sessions of personal reflection, I’ve been able to reassess my priorities and regain my footing. When I finally accepted it for what it was, I decided to simplify my daily activities to regain control of them. I started taking regular breaks while studying. I stopped thinking about Tasks 3, 4, or 5 when I wasn’t even done Task 1. I changed what I ate to spice things up. And I wrote. I wrote down my frustrations on a piece of paper and read them out loud. Then I ripped up the piece of paper into as many pieces as I possibly could. I can’t describe how liberating it felt. And over time, the burnout faded away.
Since then, I’ve taken several steps to prevent another burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown:
1) Lately, I’ve been starting every day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed the moment I wake up, I spend at least fifteen minutes every morning meditating, reading, or day dreaming. I’ve realized that stress-free mornings translate into stress-free days.
2) I’ve set boundaries, which has probably been one of the smartest things that I’ve done during my undergrad years. I’ve started to say “no” to requests that demand my time and willpower. Saying “no” to certain requests has allowed me to say “yes” to the tasks I truly want to accomplish.
3) I’ve resolved to take a daily break from technology. Once a day, for at least half an hour (better than nothing!), I completely disconnect – shut off my computer and turn off my phone. Somehow, I find it strangely comforting when I can’t be contacted for short periods of time.
Experiencing burn out, whether or not it’s full-blown, is a risk of being a student (especially at UofT!) Some months look bleaker than others and that’s okay. It’s important to remind ourselves, however, that the best part about burn out is that it’s temporary.