How to work through the mid-semester burnout

By Olivia Montes

Elm Staff Writer

As the semester comes to an end, students are feeling the side effects of the constant classes, work, and study routine.

Hailed as a common problem that every person has and continues to have throughout their lives, burnouts are cited as a regular build-up of different stress factors, including our desires to become successful and structured in a matter of months, improve relationships between our fellow citizens, and maintain the overall ‘perfect’ life, leading to the eventual development of this feeling of complete exhaustion over a period of days, weeks, or even months.

According to a BuzzFeed News article by Anne Helen Petersen, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” the reason we burn out is because we push ourselves toward doing work, work, and more work in the same pattern day after day.

“That realization recast my recent struggles: Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out,” Petersen said. “Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.”

“There is nothing wrong with work, when work must be done,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson said. “But a culture that funnels its dreams of self-actualization into salaried jobs is setting itself up for collective anxiety, mass disappointment, and inevitable burnout.”

For students, especially those vulnerable to high amounts of pressure from the expectations of their circumstances, they’re consistently reminding themselves of the overall picture, as well as the endless amount of work required to get to that point, and stressing themselves over the future to the point where they cannot even focus on the present.

“Burnout is of a substantively different category than ‘exhaustion’,” Petersen said. “Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.”

Another cause for burnout is our consistent need to overextend to our absolute limit to reach the highest level of success, not only to demonstrate our capability in the workplace to our peers, but also the way we perform in our everyday lives.

“Ambition is by no means a flaw, but we all need to develop healthier habits in order to be truly successful,” The New York Times’ Elaine Welterworth said.

“We [as humans] often wear harried lifestyles as a badge of honor, as if stress, anxiety and sleeplessness are prerequisites for success — but we do ourselves no favors by normalizing unhealthy work habits,” she said.

This, of course, is not the solution; the more we sacrifice our own personal health in favor of demonstrating a mask of unshaken, stable perfection, the more stressed out we become. We’re not doing ourselves any favors restricting our lives to only work, work, and more work.

We not only have to find the time to take care of ourselves, but we also must find the time to shut off the laptop, walk away from the notes crumpled up on the desk, and take a break — for both our own safety and sanity’s sake.

While finding the time to sit down, relax, and not even think about doing any extra work already seems like an impossible task and an even more temporary solution, it provides moments of calm, cool, and collectiveness when you need it the most.

You not only get the chance to escape and clear your own head, but also regain the strength to keep hustling. 

For starters, all you need to do, according to The Daily Beast’s Diane Kelly in her article “8 Signs You’re Way Too Stressed (and How to Deal)” in 2017, is take a deep breath, and slowly unwind from there.

“If you find that you’re experiencing this during the workday, taking a few long inhales and exhales can help when faced with a high-pressure situation,” Kelly said.

“Try devoting time for stretching breaks throughout the day to help prevent muscles from tightening up, and make time for some of these yoga poses to unwind at the end of the day,” she said.

The simple solution would be completely abandoning the work altogether, but the reality is that if humans continue working, burnout, in all its different forms, will never disappear.

“One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central,” Thompson said.

But that doesn’t mean you should allow it to completely take over your entire life. The more you take a moment to step away from the laptop, the books, or the paper for a quick inhale-exhale break or exercise session, the better off you will be at not only performing well in classes and at work, but at managing the unforeseen and taming the unexpected head-on, helping you continue the flow of your hustle.

If you form a balance between fulfilling your public and personal responsibilities, you’re not only improving your physical health, but also your emotional and mental state of being.

“You can be successful without sacrificing your sanity,” Welterworth said. “You can sprint toward short-term wins, but you need stamina for long‐term success. There is hustle and there is flow, and you cannot sustain one without the other.”

Photo: “Burnout” by Heber Guerra-Recinos

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