Updated: May 24
As a student (or person really), there will come a time where you face burnout. You might think to yourself that I won’t burnout or that I have had it before so I know what to do if it happens again or you might not even get it again.
However, speaking from experience, burnout can happen many times and can manifest in different ways.
“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.” As defined by Helpguide.org. Burnout and being under a lot of stress is not the same thing and here is a short summary table to help you identify the difference.
Using this table as a guideline for the main differences between stress and burnout, I can positively say that I have been stressed and have experienced burnout. The first major burnout that I can fully remember was in my grade 11 year. This year was stressful (preparing for matric) but from about mid-year that was when the burnout began to set in. You see, many people if you asked them to describe me, would say that I am smart. I never saw myself as smart, just hard working (during this time of my life). Because of this twisted viewpoint of myself, I ended up causing my burnout by trying to live up to the expectations of others and nothing I did was good enough. The results of this burnout lead my marks to be undesirable (to my standards). Once the final exams were over and I could actually just take a break and not worry about living up to other people’s expectations, I was able to see the effects and the results of the burnout. During the holidays after taking some time to recover and to reevaluate my life, I realized that the only person I need to keep happy is myself.
So now with a fresh mindset and a better understanding of what had just happened, I made a plan, this my personal plan to make sure that I got to enjoy my last year of school but still do as well as I had planned to do. This plan now, looking back, I can see had more self-care elements in it than I realized at the time. I would prioritise my homework in terms of the due date, so once all the work that was due for the following day was complete, I would ask myself “can I do some more work without feeling unmotivated?” if the answer was yes, then I would carry on with one task at a time, asking myself the same question before starting the extra work. If the answer was no, then I would leave my study and go do something else, such as reading or just wind down with a series. This, up until recently, I realized became an unconscious habit of mine.
Over my 6 years at university, I experienced varying levels of stress. This I could all handle fairly well, obviously with some minor hiccups along the way. Heading into the first year of my MSc I was pretty confident that I understood myself well enough now that I could handle anything (ha ha ha, this was where my brain was like nope). December came and I prepared to take leave so that I would rest up and be fresh for the following year to finish off my research project. Sometime during this leave period, I ended up having a panic attach at 2 in the morning. I must say that was a scary feeling. I had never up until that point ever experienced a panic attack. After calming down and talking to my parents, I realized that even though I was on holiday I was still stressing. By February, I reached burnout again. You could ask anyone in the lab, I could not be bothered with finishing my MSc project. There was no hope left that I could get this done, let alone get the mark I was aiming for. Only by April did I realize that I was in burnout again and not just stressed. To solve this burnout, I went for the ultimate self-care option: a cruise! What better way to unwind than being on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, with no internet connection – that sounds like the start of a horror story for some people.
This 4 day cruise was just what I needed, I was far enough away from the lab that I would not be tempted to go in, I could sleep, eat and just enjoy myself as much as I wanted to, no internet connection (there was but this student didn’t have $$$ to spend) to just quickly check my emails. When I got back there was a bit more of a silver lining to my doom and gloom MSc project. With the love and support from my work wife, friends and family my MSc project was completed with no more burnout episodes.
People say prevention is better than a cure. While, burnout can be prevented. With a better understanding of the difference between stress and burnout, we can now pick up on the signs and work at them before it becomes too much. It should not just be the current trend but a practise in our lives, to include self-care in our routines. Do the things that make you happy and help you relax. Self-care is not selfish!
Remember it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help but rather a sign of strength.
After speaking to one of my fellow members here at The Science Experiment, I realized that burnout is more common than what people let on. This is what inspired this blog post. For more information regarding the value of a work wife and more self-care tips, please feel free to read some of our other blog posts.