College can get overwhelming. You’re chasing deadlines, striving to do your best in all your subjects, juggling between extracurricular activities and a part-time job while making time for your friends and family — all at the same time. You can’t rest on your laurels either, no thanks to your parents’ expectations for you to do well.
While some stress can be a good thing, too much can contribute to a burnout, which may affect your studies and social life in the long run.
If left unchecked, it can spiral out of control and lead to depression, which makes it important to catch and treat it early.
Burnout can be described as a “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress” over long periods.
Burnout has a wide range of symptoms, but here are some emotional, behavioral and physical signs that you may be experiencing it.
#1. You lack motivation
Did you power through your first semester with zeal, but find yourself winding down over the following weeks to the point where you just can’t stomach the thought of going to class, completing your assignments or maintaining your grades anymore?
In a burnout state, mustering the motivation to do anything can seem like a monumental task. You may dread the thought of all the studying and coursework you have to do, and generally feel negative about it because you are mentally, physically and emotionally drained.
This leads us to our next point.
#2. You are always exhausted
If you constantly find yourself slogging through your day-to-day activities, such as attending classes, completing your assignments and studying late into the night, you’re probably on the verge of a burnout.
A night out with your friends may seem like a chore, and you may find yourself wanting to stay home more than usual just “to rest”, even after getting a good night’s sleep.
#3. You fly off the handle easily
Your mood tends to change drastically when you are suffering from burnout. For example, if you’re usually an optimistic and happy-go-lucky individual, a burnout can flip that 180 degrees.
Though you may not notice it at first, your friends might point out that you are increasingly snappy and short-tempered.
#4. You are often physically unwell
Burnout can lead to health problems and physical symptoms.
You may find yourself falling sick more often, or experience stomach aches, cold sores, headaches or migraines.
And the more stressed you are, the more frequent the ailments.
Preventing and recovering from a burnout
If these symptoms sound eerily familiar to you, perhaps you may be suffering from a burnout.
Here are some tips to help you avoid going under and bounce back.
#1. Be realistic about what you can achieve
With only 24 hours in a day, there’s only so much you can accomplish at a time — if it’s not possible, why push yourself to the brink of exhaustion?
A good way to avoid burnout is by being realistic about your tasks, and ranking them in order of importance before tackling them one by one. To boot, research suggests that multitasking can negatively affect your productivity, so take it one step at a time.
#2. Schedule some ‘me’ time
When you’re too focused on achieving your goals, you may be guilty of disregarding other aspects of your life (e.g. your health).
So, instead of staying cooped up in your room studying, it’s important to carve some time out of your busy schedule to do the things you enjoy, such as blogging, reading or playing the guitar, which can leave you feeling refreshed.
You could also spend time outdoors to bask in some sunshine and gather your thoughts. This not only helps improve your well-being, but it is also believed to prevent mental health problems.
#3. Take guilt-free breaks
Being busy may be a somewhat of a status symbol in our culture (i.e. the busier you are, the better) but according to science, scheduling breaks can not only help you avoid a burnout, but it can also “replenish our energy, improve self-control and decision-making and fuel productivity”.
While there isn’t an agreed time frame on how long you should take a break, some studies suggest that taking a 20-minute nap may improve your alertness and motor performance, while another suggests taking a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes of work.
So whether it’s a 10 or 20-minute break from studying or working on your assignments, it helps to take a short breather during a busy day to watch funny cat videos or chat with a friend to relieve your stress.
#4. Reflect on your past achievements
Are you too hard on yourself? Or are you under a lot of pressure by your parents or lecturers to perform well academically?
Instead of berating yourself for not doing enough or for not meeting other people’s expectations, it helps to look back at your past successes and engage in positive self-talk to avoid burnout.
Take a step back and reflect on what you’ve done right, and what you can do to improve, before moving forward with an action plan.
Learning from your mistakes is part of the learning process, so don’t be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings and work towards improving yourself.
#5. Practise self-love
You don’t have to fork out cash for a spa day or a quick getaway to treat your burnout.
Start small by maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly and sleeping and waking up at regular hours. Besides that, a technology detox also helps as reports suggest heavy use of technology is linked to stress and depression among millennials.
#6. Talk to a professional
People who are burned out aren’t necessarily depressed. However, “burnout may increase the risk of someone getting depression”.
If you feel that there is more to your burnout than meets the eye, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. You could get in touch with your college counsellor or even contact Befrienders Kuala Lumpur at any time of the day for free and confidential emotional support.
It’s important to remember that burnout can be prevented so that it doesn’t develop into something more sinister — the first step is to accept and acknowledge it.
Burnouts aren’t just for working adults — it may affect you too. If you think you or a friend are exhibiting symptoms of burnout, do not hesitate to reach out for a helping hand or two, or to lend an ear in their time of need.
After all, it can strike anyone at any time of their life.