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Are you experiencing burnout?

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

Teenagers and young adults in general have to endure a lot of pressure to do well in school or university. The pressure stems not only from the requirement to master the learning material, but also in attempting to manage a job, personal relationships, and extracurricular activities at the same time. It is understandable to find it difficult to have to juggle everything. Add a pandemic, studies and work online, self-study, and the need to get up in the morning to attend another Zoom class into the mix, and then you got yourself a stressed out student.

Many of the signs of burnout are dismissed and its associated feelings are largely ignored as on the surface, it might look like laziness or a “bored student”. However, if you liken the experience to the metaphor of an iceberg, what you see as mere laziness is just the tip above water, whereas there are deeper emotions and maladaptive behavioural patterns hidden well below that warrant serious attention.

Burnout is characterised by exhaustion which surfaces due to the excessive demands we place on ourselves or by any external factor which outweighs our resources. This essentially results in the depletion of our energy levels and contributes to a drastic decline in performance. You may notice yourself feeling tired all the time and not having enough energy or motivation to get things done. You may find it difficult to concentrate on your work, and having to read yet another paragraph of a text might be harrowing.

The catch is that although you may very much be in love with what you do, whether the stream of study or extracurriculars, you may yet experience lessened enthusiasm and find yourself not having the energy to engage. The bottom line is that anyone can experience burnout even if they are essentially “living their dreams”. Subsequently, you may start feeling more cynical or pessimistic about other aspects in life too. This can cause strain on personal relationships and affect your physical health as well; constantly experiencing headaches and stomach aches and finding yourself being more susceptible to illnesses evidenced by needing medical aid more often than before are some examples.

You may also experience insomnia, loss of appetite, and withdrawal from relationships. A telltale sign is when you feel like you’re coping mechanisms are weakened through this experience and feel that you are emotionally exhausted. The silver lining, however, is that a change in lifestyle is most often what is required to reverse the condition. So here’s what you can do if you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Recognise that there is a problem

Instead of putting yourself down by branding yourself as “lazy” or “useless” for not being motivated, you ought to pause and take a long hard look at what the problem may be and where it appears to be stemming from, and identify the symptoms early on before it starts to take a toll on your life. This could be the easiest or hardest thing to do depending on the circumstances. Either way, it is necessary to keep in mind that pushing beyond your limits by disregarding the problem can cause serious harm.

Recognise your limits

It is vital that you know yourself and your capabilities. Where do you draw the line when it comes to your workload or time schedules? When you become aware that you are crossing certain limits, make sure you restrain yourself from exerting more pressure and placing more demands on yourself. Slowing down is the best thing you can do when you’re starting to feel increasingly tired and unmotivated, or in other words when you’re starting to experience the symptoms of burnout.

Give yourself a break

Take a break not when you absolutely need it or when someone forces you to take one, but when you want it. Take a five or 10-minute break in between 25-minute study sessions. You may try to fill up that free time with something else, but before you do, try not doing anything for that short period. Else, you can engage in something healthy that energises you, such as listening to a song, strumming a few chords on your guitar, or making yourself a healthy study snack. It is also important to differentiate between when you need a five-minute break when you need a vacation altogether. Either way, having time for yourself is key to a healthy lifestyle.

Prioritise

Calendars and task manager apps are readily available these days. When given an assignment and you tell yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow”, know that it will never be completed until the day before the deadline. So what you end up doing is reducing the chance of getting a good grade, forgetting that you need food to stay alive, working on the assignment until the next morning, and submitting that day, all the while throwing your health in the bin and taking one step closer to burning out.

Instead, be kind to your future self and start early. It is also important to be realistic when you assign a time duration to study. It is practically impossible for a person to concentrate on a subject for hours and still have the capacity to retain all that was learned/read. Study smarter, not longer. You can use a tool like the Eisenhower Matrix to guide you along. While evaluating priorities, make sure you allocate enough time for your family and friends as well, while also making sure you have some time during the day for some much needed “me time”.

Re-evaluate your goals

It is important to take time and re-evaluate your goals and aspirations. Make sure you are on track to achieving your long-term goals by breaking them down into sub-goals to make them more attainable and less overwhelming. Take some time to rediscover your true passions and make the necessary changes, like switching a course for example. In general, make sure you have a positive attitude towards accomplishing the goals you are passionate about.

Talk to a professional

Burnout and its signs may just signify a deeper underlying concern such as an associated mental health condition like depression and/or anxiety. Whether your need is personal counselling or career counselling, it would be beneficial to seek professional help. Through counselling, the problem and all its related factors could be explored in depth so that the root of the issue could be understood better, and therefore ways of managing it can be reviewed in light of professional advice.

Please contact the following services for further assistance:

1333 – Crisis Support Service

1926 – National Mental Health Helpline

0112 696 666 | 0112 692 909 | 0112 683 555 – Sri Lanka Sumithrayo

0717 639 898 – Shanthi Maargam

0710 898 473 – Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors

While burnout is not something that is taken seriously by most, its effects are rather significant. Recognising the problem and making the relevant changes will help you recover easily, but more importantly, it will help you recognise its signs if they ever emerge again. It is only sensible to gather the resources to cope with it now itself.