Addicted to Burning Out

A few weeks into the summer, I woke up feeling exhausted, jittery, and depressed. Confused as to how doing things I enjoyed had caused me to feel so fatigued, I realised that I was experiencing burn out. Having loaded the work on for weeks upon weeks, I had not given my self adequate space or time to focus on the raw elements of being human. Sleep, food, and time to think freely had become rationed out between all the things I had to do on my never-ending list.

I started to think more about how I lived my life on campus. Every day, I had at least two classes, would work out, have two meals with friends, and would fill the rest of the day with meetings for the five to eight extracurricular organisations I was a part of depending on the semester. I had no time to stop, and after a grueling first year, I had gotten used to the go go go nature of life at Harvard.

Nevertheless, the second I got home for break I would be a jittering mess. Unable to process free time, my mind would wander to scary, dark places where I would obsess over the future, given that I had nothing to fill the void at present. Questions of how I was making the most of the moment, and what did I truly want, became overwhelmingly loud in my head, and I ended up spending much of my break in a state of anxious self-loathing, hating that I hadn’t prepared the next few weeks in advance.

The toxicity burn out culture, a cycle in which we are so caught up in work and productivity that the moment we stop we are unsure of what to do, has permeated college campuses across the nation. Feeling that we have to fill every moment with productivity, and being unable to carry out straightforward, simple tasks because we are too exhausted, is an unhealthy way of living as it strips away the joy from simply existing.

Recognising this unhealthy behaviour, and realising that I had to give myself space and time to just breathe and exist, changed my life. Hiking, taking baths, journaling, meditating, cooking a nice meal for myself, and getting a manicure were all ways in which I was able to train my brain into understanding that in order to get my work done, I would have to also take care of myself. There would be no me without these proactive measures. 

Further, proactively making decisions rather than reacting to the beckoning of notifications, assignments, and work emails allowed me to dictate what was truly important to me. Turning off my phone for a few hours every day and making sure to avoid all technology first thing in the morning has helped me intentionally choose how I spend the mornings, setting the tone for the rest of the day. In these ways, I have been able to counter my addiction to burning out.