It is not uncommon for students to begin to feel exhausted, depleted, alienated, and on the brink of failure. But at what point does seemingly everyday stress turn into burnout? Unfortunately, in spite of the prevalence of burnout in people of all ages and professions, experts struggle to diagnose it. There are, however, certain symptoms to look out for if you feel like you might be burning out.
Most people would agree that the college years are a stressful time. There is an immense pressure to succeed academically and socially, to get good results in exams, and all the while maintain a vibrant social life, a healthy lifestyle, and even a part-time job. The “Trinity experience” emphasises getting involved with as many societies, sports clubs, and extra-curricular activities as possible. Juggling the various responsibilities of college life can become an overwhelming experience for many students, particularly as one progresses into the senior years of their degree and the workload intensifies. But at what point does seemingly everyday stress turn into burnout?
“It can often feel as though there are not enough hours in the day to fit in study, socialising, exercise, eating, sleep, and the excessive commitments of everyday life.”
It might be helpful to first qualify what is meant by the term “burning out”. Dr David Ballard of the American Psychological Association describes burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance”. There are certain symptoms to look out for if you feel like you might be burning out. These include feeling mentally and physically exhausted, being especially susceptible to sickness, decreased productivity, loss of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and procrastination.
It is true that burnout is often most associated with people considered to be high achievers, who may pressure themselves into success; yet it is also important to keep in mind that there are different types of burnout. For example, in an article for inc.com, human behaviour professor, Melody Wilding, identified three different types of burnout: overload burnout, neglect burnout, and under-challenge burnout. Overload burnout is that experienced by the overachiever type of personality. Neglect burnout arises out of feelings of helplessness and failure which leads to disengagement and pessimism, while under-challenge burnout comes from a place of boredom, disinterest, and disillusionment.
With the symptoms of burnout being linked to depression and anxiety by experts, it is vital that we not only learn to recognise the signs of burnout in ourselves and others, but also that students are aware of the ways in which to combat and prevent burnout.
One way of doing this is to schedule in self-care as part of your schedule. This is particularly helpful for anyone suffering overload burnout, but is a useful trick for anyone feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with college stress. It can often feel as though there are not enough hours in the day to fit in study, socialising, exercise, eating, sleep, and the excessive commitments of everyday life. A way to make sure you are taking the time to look after yourself and your own mental health is to start making a weekly schedule, if you don’t already use one, and to block off time each week in advance.
“Victims of burnout will often crash and be forced to take a day off, leading to them feeling even more overwhelmed.”
The tripartite method is a tried and tested way of scheduling in everything that needs to be done. It involves splitting your day into three blocks of morning, afternoon, and night. That way, if you find that you’re feeling exhausted and burnt out, it is much simpler to block off the morning, for example, to spend time doing things which help you to relax, and then there are still two more blocks left in the day during which you can get your work done. Victims of burnout will often crash and be forced to take a day off, leading to them feeling even more overwhelmed. By planning out this time off in advance, you’ll feel more in control of both your life and workload.
The transition from school to college can be an overwhelming experience in itself which encompasses many changes, particularly for those who move out of home in order to go to university. The responsibilities of adult life take up a great deal of time and energy before any college work has even begun. Many students confess to dropping their hobbies due to time constraints and exhaustion. Lectures, assignments, as well as a new and exciting social sphere take precedence over the things we do for mere enjoyment. It may be helpful to have a think about what you used to do in your free time when you used to have more of it. Whether it be reading, exercising, seeing old friends, or even just binge-watching Netflix, it’s important to stay connected with your interests. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that if you’re feeling mentally fatigued, a few hours spent away from technology has been proven to help alleviate cognitive problems. If you’re struggling to concentrate, it may be worth stepping away from your phone and computer for a bit, too.
“Everyone has their limits and comparing your own productivity to anyone else’s will achieve nothing except pointless stress.”
Aesop’s Fable of the tortoise versus the hare taught us that slow and steady wins the race. As adults, it is still as important to keep in mind the manner in which you approach your workload. Be realistic with how much can be achieved in the time you have, as overloading yourself is not only unsustainable, but it will also lead to feelings of failure in not having completed your tasks for the day or week. Go easy on yourself and be reasonable. Everyone has their limits and comparing your own productivity to anyone else’s will achieve nothing except pointless stress. Everyone works and learns in different ways. With Reading Week already looming in the not-so-far-off distance, keep in mind that while the week will provide a great opportunity to get caught up or to get ahead on reading and assignments, it is also strategically placed at the half point of the semester in order to give students a chance to catch their breath and take some much-needed time out from college.
If after a few weeks of trying to alleviate your stress you still feel at risk of burnout, talk to a medical professional to make sure your burnout is not a symptom of a larger problem. At the end of the day, these are just a few suggested ways of coping with burnout. Overall, it’s important to stay organised and to take time to look after yourself and to do the things you enjoy doing. Getting your degree is important and it may be challenging, but your mental health must always come first.