From Exhaustion to Empowerment: A Guide to Overcome Burnout
by Sahithi Medikondla, Press & Written Media Team
As the new school year is approaching, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our experiences from the past year. It gives us, especially me, a chance to see what went “wrong” and what went “right”. We can ask ourselves questions like, did I push myself enough? Did I learn and grow? I don’t know about you, but for me, my school year is never perfect and there are times when instead of those questions, I asked myself why? Why did I feel so stressed? Why was I always so tired? Why couldn’t I do it anymore? For me, these were hard questions to answer and it might also have been for you. These questions are only the beginning of the telltale signs of academic burnout. Burnout is stereotypically associated with seniors in high school or college and is usually considered to appear only at the end of the year or chapter of life. However, burnout can be experienced anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Today we speak of the truth about burnout, and how I was able to identify what I was going through, move on, learn, and prevent it from happening again in the future. All simply by changing my mindset.
Defining Academic Burnout
What exactly is burnout? Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress and overwhelming work or personal demands. It is characterized by feelings of depletion, cynicism, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. Frequently, academic burnout isn’t identified by individuals themselves, but rather by the people around them. So, what actually causes this? Burnout often occurs when we consistently face excessive workloads, experience a lack of control or support, and neglect self-care. And sometimes we ourselves don’t really realize that it’s occurring. It typically develops gradually, and it’s essential to recognize its warning signs. Initially, you may experience increased fatigue, lack of motivation, and a sense of being overwhelmed. It can decrease productivity and impact your relationships with the people around you. In this article, I specifically speak of academic burnout, which is only one type under the broader umbrella of burnout that can happen at any point in your life, even when you aren’t a student.
So now that we’ve defined burnout, let’s consider how to “move on” from it. “Moving on” can mean different things for different people — you might feel residual effects or might completely move on from it. The first step is recognizing and using self-reflection as a tool. Oftentimes academic burnout is due to us overwhelming ourselves, leading to stress. For strategies pertaining to stress, read Wave LF’s Students’ Guide to Stress Management! That stress, however, builds and starts to turn into a constant routine daily. The reason why “moving on” is so difficult is because of how a routine of burnout becomes the new “normal” when you’re experiencing stress that often. What sometimes seems like “just stress” after prolonged periods of time can be considered burnout, so one of the biggest things researchers recommend is seeing whether warning signs of burnout are prevalent in your life. Reflecting and realizing that you’re experiencing burnout and not just momentary stressful episodes is the key to starting to move on.
Growing & “Moving On” Individually
So how exactly can you move on? Moving on from academic burnout can be a challenging process that is undoubtedly unique to each individual, but with some strategies and support, it is possible to recover and regain your motivation and well-being. Here are some steps to help you move on from academic burnout:
Acknowledge and accept your burnout
Recognize that you are experiencing academic burnout and accept that it is okay to feel this way. Validate your emotions and give yourself permission to prioritize your well-being. Science has shown that long-term neglecting of your own well-being can cause an interval of burnout to turn into a long stretch of time.
Take a break
Allow yourself to take a break from your academic responsibilities. Step away from your studies and give yourself time to rest and recharge. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and a sense of fulfillment. Oftentimes, you might feel guilty that you’re taking time for yourself to do mundane things, but sometimes that is what you need to do in order to pause and reset.
Reach out to friends, family, or a counselor who can provide support and understanding. Share your experiences and emotions with someone who can offer guidance and perspective. Usually, people around you are the first to notice something is going on and are willing to help. This help can range from various things, it could mean particularly focusing on stress, your personal life, or other factors that might’ve caused burnout. Even just having someone to talk to is the beginning of realizing you’re not alone.
Reflect on your goals and priorities
Take the time to reflect on your academic goals and aspirations. Assess whether they align with your values and bring you genuine fulfillment. Because the root cause of burnout is mostly because you are overwhelmed, ask yourself questions. Questions like: Why am I doing this? Does this make me happy? Do I feel like I’m growing? Is it meaningful? Is it worth it? are good ways to see whether an activity or extracurricular is something you should continue doing. The hardest part of burnout is understanding that you can’t do everything and must say “no”.
Set realistic expectations
Be mindful of setting realistic expectations for yourself. Break down your tasks into smaller, manageable goals, and set achievable deadlines. It’s true to say you can’t (unfortunately) do everything… so do the things you think are best for you and push yourself. The key to burnout is realizing that you must push yourself to grow, but you don’t have to push yourself over the edge on everything that you do. Pick 1–3 goals that you want to prioritize and put your time there.
Develop effective study strategies
Explore and implement effective study strategies that work best for you. This could include time management techniques, active learning methods, and seeking help when needed, such as tutoring or academic resources. These strategies with help you manage your time better and allow for practicing self-care.
Prioritize self-care activities that support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that help you relax, reduce stress, and recharge. This could include exercise, mindfulness practices, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones — look here for self-care strategies.
Realizing, Reflecting, and Reevaluating
Balance is the most crucial to moving on from burnout. Burnout often takes a toll on both our physical and mental health, and achieving balance allows us to prioritize self-care, which includes getting enough rest, engaging in regular exercise, and nourishing our bodies with healthy food. Burnout is often also a result of chronic stress and an imbalance between work or responsibilities and personal life. By creating balance, we can manage stress more effectively. Achieving balance allows us to step back, reassess our priorities, and gain a fresh perspective. By engaging in activities outside of an academic setting, we can rediscover our passions, hobbies, and interests, reigniting our motivation and sense of purpose. And, by giving ourselves permission to rest and recharge, we can enhance our productivity and focus when we engage in academic endeavors. Remember, balance looks different for everyone. It’s about finding what works for you and aligning your activities, responsibilities, and self-care in a way that supports your well-being.
Balance is also one of the best ways to prevent academic burnout from happening again. Being able to clearly distinguish your academic and personal life is the start to establishing habits necessary for preventative measures. For me, it was hard to stop activities or opportunities that I was excited about because I knew that I couldn’t do it all. Prioritizing is only the beginning of preventing burnout from occurring again.
Establish clear boundaries between school and personal life and create dedicated time for rest, relaxation, and engaging in activities unrelated to work. Create a balanced schedule that includes time for academics, extracurricular activities, hobbies, relaxation, and socializing. This could mean having a different planner for your social events and homework or choosing to have dedicated time focused on one or the other
Practice self-care consistently
Make self-care a priority and integrate it into your daily routine. This can include activities like exercise, meditation, journaling, or anything that brings you a sense of peace and rejuvenation. Make it a priority and a habit in the long run and don’t be afraid to try new methods if something doesn’t work for you.
Have a growth mindset
It can be really hard, but sometimes mistakes and setbacks are opportunities for learning and growth. Focusing on progress rather than perfection can create a healthier perspective on academic achievement that helps prevent feeling overwhelmed.
Burnout is an indication that something in your life is out of balance, a “wake-up” call of sorts that anyone can experience. The biggest prevention measures that you can take are paying attention to the warning signs, prioritizing your well-being, and above all seeking a support system when necessary.
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