Sustainable Student Living: Burnout

By Lucy Jordan, GLOBUS Deputy Editor

Burnout: a student’s fateful friend. Whether it’s those increasingly heavy eyes in the library, frequent TLC Netflix binges, or sudden overwhelming bursts of dread, usually of everything and nothing at all, we all grow accustomed to its everyday fatigue. But, what happens when we neglect to nurture these early warnings? What does it truly mean to be ‘burnt out’? And, how do we prevent it?

What is it?

Burnout, for some, arrives unexpectedly, as symptoms can often be easy to dismiss as mere products of the everyday. However, they are often noticeable long before they begin to have serious consequences. Therefore, they can be very possible to catch when mindful of them. Symptoms can include, but are not restricted to;

  • Alienation from work, hobbies, or loved ones
  • Stronger feelings of isolation, exhaustion, depression, or being overwhelmed
  • Physical symptoms such as insomnia, headaches, more frequent illness or hair loss
  • An inability to complete tasks or overall worsened performance
  • A loss of creativity or imagination

We all experience the symptoms of burnout to varying extents – life cannot be without the occasional ebb and flow. However, the case of having ‘burnt out’ can be an entirely new phenomena, and a rather debilitating one when ill-versed in how to counter it.

How to Deal with Burnout

Similar to its onset, addressing burnout can often take time and require real reflection of the issues at hand. It often cannot be dealt with alone and may require us to reach out for extra assistance. Seeking medical advice or counselling services can often be the appropriate first step in order to gain an official diagnosis and guidance for moving forward.

Furthermore, if your symptoms are a direct product of workload or studies, it may be appropriate to highlight the issues to your tutor or HR department. They can often then help to make the appropriate adjustments to ease recovery.

You may also wish to take a period of time-off, or re-evaluate current commitments or work structure. Good questions to consider are:

  • Is this workload sustainable? Will I still be able to maintain this in six months time?
  • Why am I doing what I am doing? Is this truly beneficial to me, or is it simply a distraction from issues or neglect elsewhere?
  • Do I have time for things I enjoy? Do I currently have a healthy work-life balance, or is my schedule overwhelmingly work-based?

A good test can also be speaking to your close friends and family. They will often be the first ones to notice when something is wrong, so they can offer great guidance in the changes we could make.

How To Prevent Burnout

Burnout prevention can often sit hand-in-hand with simply maintaining a good mental health, and actively checking one’s work-life balance. The regular combination of healthy eating, regular exercise, and sufficient time to rest are the essential pillars of one’s everyday energy.

However, it can also be worth doing doing that little bit extra to insure that current, healthy habits can be sustained. For example, before taking on a new commitment, check in with yourself and your capacity to take on further tasks. Maybe, you realise you are already being stretched thinly, and feel you may return to bad habits with yet another thing on your plate. Or, alternatively, you may feel you have time to spare and feel you may benefit from the addition of a new challenge. Either way, taking that time to figure it out is a great way to catch any early warning signs.

Similarly, it can be good to implement some conscious habits, to help counter unhealthy tendencies. For example, set aside a day each week which is reserved for, well, nothing. Not even a coffee with a friend, or a pop to the shops. This allows you space to decide what you really need from that time, and alleviates that clock-watching pressure.

Additionally, many people take up mindful exercises such as yoga, meditation or journalling, which develop a greater mind-body relationship, to alert you to when things may have gone slightly off kilter.

Burnout for Activists

Young people, especially students, are increasingly participating in social campaigning. However, activists are often quick to discover that their drive for change has boundaries – often in the form of their energy stores and mental wellbeing.

Due to the emotional element of campaigning, activists are among the most vulnerable to burnout. So here are some specific tips to help deal with campaigning’s demands:

  • Be sure to prioritise yourself. Movements are formed of individuals, so it is important to ensure that they are healthy, energised, and able to contribute without sacrifice.
  • Talk to, and support, others. Use the guidance of others to help form your own boundaries and limits.
  • Maintain other hobbies. As no one – not even Greta – is able to only talk about the climate emergency all day long.
  • Take time off . Just like work, campaigning has a time and place. However, you decide your hours, so make sure you are reasonable with your capacity.
  • Remember – it is not all on you. What you are doing is important, but it is not, literally, the end of the world if you take a day off.

Take Care of Yourself

Burnout can be scary and overwhelming at the best of times, let alone when away from home or during a period of significant change. Therefore, the best first step is always to reach out and ask for help; whether that be from loved ones, medical professionals, or members of your institution. Most students have access to both the NHS and university counselling services (services for Warwick can be found here), so make sure to exploit the resources available.

Furthermore, be mindful of just how common this issue is. Many students will deal from burnout in some form or another during their time at university, so do not be hard on yourself, or resort to negative self-comparison.

Disclaimer: This article is written from personal and anecdotal experience, and is in no way a replacement for medical or expert advice. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of burnout, or wish for further information, make sure to contact your GP or another medical professional.

Header Image: Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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