What is burnout and how you can avoid it?

By Shout 85258’s Clinical Experts.

This past year has been incredibly difficult for many students. Virtual classes and social distancing have meant that many have not had the chance to make new friends and have been left feeling isolated, while others may feel worried about their finances, their course, or about upcoming exams or coursework assignments.

There are many pressures presented by the pandemic and students have been dealing with them for nearly a whole academic year. If you’re finding yourself feeling exhausted and a little fed up, that’s normal right now, but for many, burnout is something that can be brought on by a number of chronic stressors over time, which eventually leave you with a lack of motivation and interest in very much, particularly studying.

Burnout can affect anyone at any time, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained, it can become harder and harder to meet constant demands in your life.

Left to its own devices, burnout can creep into your life and wear you down. It’s a problem, because when allowed to build up over time, stress can take a long time to recover from. But what is it and how do you know when you should do something about it?

Symptoms of burnout

The feelings and physical symptoms associated with burnout can be noted as the following:

Extreme tiredness or exhaustion

It’s understandable to be feeling lethargic at the moment. It’s been a colder and wetter spring than usual and we’re in a pandemic. But if you find yourself completely running on empty, and your exhaustion is emotional or physical, then that sense of not having any energy is something to address.

Feeling frustrated or negative

The things that once made you happy about your course are suddenly making you feel disillusioned or even irritated. While we all feel frustrated from time to time, if you’re feeling like nothing matters anymore, it’s important to understand when these feelings are becoming more frequent for you.

Brain fog

Burnout and stress can impact your brain’s ability to concentrate and stay focused. It’s what some people refer to as ‘brain fog’ where you can’t quite bring your thoughts to the surface and make sense of them.

Physical symptoms

Long-term stress can lead to other factors that can impact your physical health such as headaches, stomach problems and digestive issues.

If you’re reading this and identify with the points above, it may be a sign of other issues such as depression, but if you’re feeling this specifically around studying, you may be wondering what you can do to stop the burnout creep, particularly when so many things feel out of our control at the moment.

Tips to help avoid burnout

  1. Bring awareness to your stress levels. Try to understand what factors are making you feel stressed, this will help you to be aware that you’re feeling stressed but can also help you identify what areas of your life you need to focus on changing for the better.
  2. Take regular breaks. If you’ve got books piling up, lab reports due or back-to-back essays to write, try adding in regular breaks every twenty minutes. This will help you feel refreshed and not overwhelmed.
  3. Set clear start and end times for studying. It can be all too tempting to leave it all to the last minute and pull an all-nighter, but it’s important to switch off from studying and set boundaries to stop it from encroaching on your evenings too.
  4. Nourish your body (and mind). Try to eat vitamin-rich foods and plenty of fruit and vegetables each day to help you feel more alert, rather than foods that are high in salt and fat which can make you feel lethargic. Dark chocolate can boost serotonin levels (a happiness chemical in your body), while caffeine and alcohol can have the opposite effect. Be mindful of how the food and drink you consume can have an impact on your mood.
  5. Make time for the things (and people) you love. When we’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, the first things that can go out the window are somewhat surprisingly the things that bring us joy and time for ourselves. Put on your favourite song, have a dance around the kitchen, get your sketchbook or favourite novel out, call a friend or family member, whatever makes you feel good, do it and remember how it makes you feel.
  6. Establish a good sleep routine. Make sure you’re getting the rest you need and deserve and try to go to bed at the same time every night to establish a routine your body is used to. Consider taking a warm bath in the evening and not looking at screens before bed, and notice if you sleep better that night.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to face what you’re going through alone. You could try reaching out to your university mental health support services, your tutor, or speak to a friend or family member.

You can also text SHOUT to 85258 for free, confidential support, any time of day or night. Taking the time to open up is an important step to getting the support you deserve.

For more advice and information, visit giveusashout.org 

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