Photo by Casey Meyer.
At 7 p.m. on a Friday night, I am eating my first meal of the day. I’ve been going nonstop since 6:30 a.m., starting with homework I hadn’t had the energy to complete the night before, working at my internship afterwards, then interviewing a student for next week’s article, and finally ending my day packed with responsibilities by running a creative writing club meeting—which admittedly was a lot of fun. The next day, I wake up to catching up on overdue assignment and weekend homework.
This isn’t new. I am not adjusting to this schedule for the first time. Nor am I the first student be involved anywhere and everywhere they can. I am asked by close friends and roommates, “How do you do it?” The answer is: I didn’t say no. I agreed to having certain responsibilities; I brought this schedule onto myself. I have no right to complain about the busyness—and I’m not.
I am using my situation as an example of student burnout. Burnout is classified as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. So, the people who are reading this and have their days booked sunrise to sunset, I need you to listen to these symptoms.
1. Whether it be a resume, a perfect GPA, or the athletic schedule clogging your time, you know that you feel withdrawn from your friends.
2. You’re trying to keep up with your grades, but you struggle to pay attention in your classes, and your grades might suffer as well.
3. More easily than normal, you experience frustration with simple mistakes you make or that others make, causing you to be less sympathetic.
4. Above all, you’re perpetually exhausted, making it much harder to enjoy the activities, studies, or athletic endeavors that you have.
5. Eventually, you’ll start to lack motivation because you’re so overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities and none of the down time you have.
If you identify with more than just a few of these statements, you might have student burnout. It’s good to be involved, but not to the point of compromising your mental health—and this is where I have a problem with the way we talk about burnout.
I hear, ‘I’m so impressed.’ The truth is, you shouldn’t be.
We are trained to take on as many responsibilities as we can until we break. We hear slogans like, “Get involved, college is your only chance to do that!” Listening to that feels like I’m running out of time, like there is nothing after college, so there is no other option than to do it all now. The truth is we have our whole lives ahead of us. Don’t rush through all the stuff you want to do now. You have plenty of time.
At times, it almost feels like a competition. Who is the most stressed? I come into class looking underslept and stressed, and I am asked how many hours of sleep I got. If I say five and my neighbor says three, it’s almost like I’m not working hard enough because someone is working harder than me. Don’t worry about anyone else but yourself when it comes to your workload. Do your best with your health in mind.
From those who don’t see a competition, I hear, “I’m so impressed.” The truth is, you shouldn’t be. The symptoms I experience are not something to praise. Oftentimes, it looks easy. I look to be thriving, drinking coffee and bouncing off the walls with energy in class discussion. I go home and I crash. I don’t allocate enough time to complete my homework because I’d rather be asleep. It’s ridiculous to feel this young and this tired, but we are trained to feel this way—and that shouldn’t be the way it is.
Burnout should be taken very seriously because it can turn into a big problem for you later, especially symptoms like being withdrawn from your friends and lacking motivation—those can lead to depression. Figure out what’s causing your burnout and fix it.
Reach out to a friend and talk. Reevaluate your priorities. Is there any particular class that is too difficult for you? Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. As college students, we often compromise sleep for late nights with friends or getting homework done. Stay in tune with yourself.
Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year English major minoring in journalism and creative writing. KM867291@wcupa.edu