Are you finding yourself nearing your breaking point? Stop! Stay calm and keep reading for advice to prevent burnout!
The slight headache, the twinge at the side of your head that you experience after hours of clacking away at your unfinished college assignment may be overlooked in the rush and regret of careless or intentional task omission. Or, you have experienced it so many times that it has ceased to phase your relentless acquisition of success. This, however, is a common symptom of a condition called burnout.
Burnout, as many of us students are familiar with, is the state of exhaustion after a period of constant stress.
The culture of working until you collapse has become so unusually necessary in the growth of industry and capitalism that it’s intrinsic in some societies. For instance, in the highly competitive corporate world of modern-day Japan, it’s ordinary and even commended to work many hours overtime, sometimes with no extra pay. The sociomedical term ‘karoshi’, meaning ‘death from overwork’, was invented in the 1970s to describe the increasing mortality rate experienced by unfortunate overworked employees in Japan.
In fact, among many entrepreneurs worldwide, finding an effective solution to cope with burnout is deemed a difficult task.
Causes of burnout may be due to excessive schoolwork, unnecessary expectations placed on students by parents, or personal uncertainty towards future prospects.
Telltale signs of burnout include:
Detachment from work/studies
Feelings of dissatisfaction relating to lack of accomplishment
Demotivation or even resentment towards class and study times
Physical ailments including headaches, stomachaches, back aches, etc
Changes in appetite or sleep cycle
And now, some hopefully helpful tips on how to cope with burnout. These are relatively simple, unspecial puzzle pieces that people experiencing burnout should be fitting into their stress-filled lives.
A common habit among students is staying up late to chat with friends, play video games, or for the normal kids, devote bedtime to studying. On average, college students get approximately 6-7 hours of sleep per night, which is an unhealthy deviation from the recommended 8-9 hours.
Burned-out individuals are more likely to incur sleep deprivation, as they feel like they have no free time throughout the day. During the wee hours of the morning, they feel as if they have the most control over their lives and that they can binge on their favourite series or study in peace. Pulling all nighters reduces concentration and alertness during the day, and can result in mood swings or increased irritability. In the long term, individuals that experience chronic sleep deprivation are more prone to various health issues such as heart diseases, obesity, and reduced immunity.
This paired with overexertion through the day, life becomes a concoction of stress that is most definitely dangerous in the long term. Getting enough sleep can be difficult but simple efforts such as having a hot bath or putting devices away an hour before bedtime will force your body to realise that it’s time for bed. Doing a light workout or going on a run, before showering of course, will tire your body out and reduce any stress that may keep you tossing and turning. Create a simple bedtime schedule that becomes habitual after a while and avoid napping a few hours before that schedule starts. Unfortunately, the ‘grind’ masters on YouTube were right — the day is wasted if you sleep in.
To put it in monkey terms — no sunlight, no bananas. Banana sleeping. So should monkey.
Unless you’re Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, you’re not a robot. No one is immune to fatigue, everyone eventually needs rest after regurgitating out a couple essays.
The sit-and-do-everything-in-one-go method to complete all your studying and school work will guarantee completion, but not necessarily quality. Time management is a key prevention to burnout and ensures that you are able to handle snowballing assignments without becoming disengaged and feeling as if you can’t complete it all. However, immediately creating a huge to-do list is NOT a first step to time management.
A good start would be to discover your breaking point. For example, if Person A can study their hardest subject at full capacity with no breaks in concentration for about an hour before their studying becomes ineffective, then person A would be studying for one hour intervals with half hour breaks in between. Therefore, the shorter you study, the shorter the break you get. I used this primitive method while studying for O-Levels and it worked just fine. However, don’t worry if you feel disillusioned after using it during your free time as a way to be more productive. This method is similar to the Pomodoro Technique developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, which utilises 25-minute time intervals and 5-minute breaks. Customisable pomodoro timers are freely available for download on your mobile phone.
Using a task management application will also come in handy if work starts to pile up. I would recommend using the desktop app Notion, which is free for download on Windows and Mac. It allows you to create your own database of notes, lecture times, journal entries, tasks, grades, books and many more. Check out the Notion website at www.notion.so. This is not an ad.
After some time being sedentary, one should get out of one’s musty chair and open thy curtains. Prolonged sitting causes muscle cramps and strain, as well as reducing the blood supply to the back and neck muscles. Feeling ninety years old at eighteen? Staying in a seated position for too long exerts a great amount of tension on your spine which may lead to purchasing a walking stick in approximately ten year’s time.
In all seriousness, breaks between studying sessions should be utilised to walk around the room a little, or light neck and leg stretches after poring over assignments. Even better, invest in a neck or back rest to prevent bad posture. After concluding study time, do a light workout to rejuvenate the muscles. It doesn’t have to be for twenty minutes — even five minutes is sufficient.
If you find yourself wracking your brain over that particularly challenging question, leave it and engage in a workout or go for a run. Personally, I do this to mull over frustrating Physics questions or coding problem sets, and it works.
And it’s not just working out, pausing what you’re doing to indulge in your hobbies is perfectly fine as well. Even if it seems unproductive.
That is, if you even have one. Just kidding.
Regular contact with other people is vital for human beings as social animals. Human contact is extremely important for mental health and serves as an escape from the stressful things in life. Assuming you chose the right people.
The feeling of isolation caused by a lack of social interaction exacerbates symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Prioritise the time you spend with friends. Such interactions promote oxytocin (bonding and well-being hormone), dopamine, and serotonin (reward and motivation hormones).
There is no way to fully eradicate stress from life, and as I am writing this, I too am hanging by a wisp of a thread attached to my sanity. We may feel as if burnout is normal or even something to be commended, but in reality it’s a detrimental condition that eventually jeopardises performance academically and in everyday activities. Of course, in many situations, a drop of stress can improve cognitive performance. However, an overload of exertion and refusal to take breaks has its consequences.
It’s important to work hard. But not too hard. And perhaps it’s time to do it smartly.
Melina Charu currently pursuing Cambridge A-Levels at Taylor's College, and is also a member of Taylor's Debaters. She is an all-rounded individual whose interests range from coding to track running.
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