Imagine feeling unable to complete even the simplest of tasks. I’m not talking about those annoying chores or returning days-old texts. For me, it was my schoolwork and anything that related to my rising career as a writer. See, over the past year, I had a long battle with burnout syndrome. Luckily, I recently overcame it and here’s how you can too.
So, what is burnout? Burnout syndrome, as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” My burnout was the direct result of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program I went through in high school combined with the stress of my first semester in college. Back in high school, I was so swamped with work and extracurriculars that I never really gave myself an actual break. Even over the summer before college, I studied tremendously for my fall classes. Once college started, I slowly began to lose track of my assignments and eventually stopped caring. I had absolutely no idea what was happening until my parents pointed it out, heck, even a close friend suggested burnout syndrome. I knew things had to change if I wanted to achieve my goals and here’s what I did.
Reflecting. Yup, I did a lot of this. Now, it might seem silly at first or a waste of time but trust me, it’s critical to reflect on what’s going on in your life and figure out what’s stressing you out. By identifying stressors in your daily life, you can try to eliminate them entirely and replace them with things that make you happy. Personally, I made a list of major stressors on one side of a page and on the other, I wrote down what puts me in a good mood. While doing this, I also realized that I had been experiencing burnout for quite some time — all the way back to the beginning of my senior year in high school, to be exact. However, I noticed that I had been stressed out more than usual and my list allowed me to pinpoint one major stressor in my life that was worsening my burnout: my calculus class.
After realizing that my calculus class was making my burnout worse (I mean come on, it’s a tough class that I didn’t have to take in the first place!) I decided to drop it. Withdraw. As in a W on my transcript and repaying Bright Futures their money. Yeah, what I did may seem a little brash, but I had contemplated dropping calc since the first week of class. Now I finally had a legit (and less embarrassing) excuse to do it rather than use the ‘I’m not good at math’ excuse.
Personally, my mental health is much more important to me than undergoing excessive stress for the sake of impressing the medical school admissions board. Another thing I realized was that I was constantly worrying about ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if I don’t get into medical school?’ and ‘What will I do?’ were constantly looming over my head, which disabled me from focusing on other tasks. After reflecting for some time, and I mean weeks, I decided to switch to a major that offered more career opportunities in case plan A didn’t work out. Looking back now, I feel like a ton of weight has been lifted from my shoulders but dropping a class and switching my major wasn’t all that helped me battle burnout.
After tossing out what was subconsciously stressing me, I started to focus on my mental and physical health a bit more. Hitting the gym and eating clean always rejuvenated my mind and made me feel better so I found myself going to the gym at least four days a week, eating a low sugar diet, and even painting again! I found that by dedicating time to myself each day, I began to feel more in control of my life.
Now, self-care is different for everyone and what I see as self-care may not be seen the same as others so do whatever makes you feel better. If you do take one piece of advice from my story, I highly suggest you take away this part. I like to think of self-care as a temporary ‘escape’ from the chaos of the world. This is a time where we can nurture ourselves, mentally and physically, while creating the best version of ourselves possible. Not only that but taking some time each day to put on a face mask or wash your hair will give you a break from work or school which will help realign your focus once you go back to work. See, we may have absolutely no control over certain things in life, but self-care is the one thing we have absolute control over.
Another thing I did was limit how many tasks I had open at once. I know I’m the type of person who can handle being overloaded occasionally, but I also know that if it’s too often, then I end up falling apart. So, I started focusing on fewer projects and making sure that I put in all my energy towards those. In order to keep track, I made sure to constantly utilize my Lilly Pulitzer agenda. It is one of the best investments I have ever made. I have been using them for the past few years and it has helped me tremendously in overcoming my burnout because there is just enough room for me to plan, plan and plan. Making sure you are staying organized while going through burnout is the most important thing you can do to minimize the negative effects. Writing down important dates, tests, or meetings will help you stay on track and give you something to look forward to since burnout also makes you feel lost at times.
Overall, my burnout was on the milder side, but I do hope my story helps those of you who are currently going through it. Eliminating stressors from your life, implementing self-care into your daily routine, and attempting to stay organized through it all are great ways to help drive burnout away. However, change begins with you and whether you’re ready to take the next step towards getting your life back. Trust me, it wasn’t easy even for a mild case like mine and there was a lot of self-discipline involved but the result is so worth it. I look back now and I realize how glad I am to have taken initiative because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do great things like writing this article in order to help you guys! Anything can be overcome; you just need to believe and trust in yourself.