Do you feel an overarching sense of failure and helplessness like every day is a bad day? Do you just feel exhausted all the time? You may be suffering from burnout.
The term itself was coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger in his academic article about the volunteer staff working at a clinic for drug addicts. Since then, hundreds of research papers have been published on the topic and it has become the most widely talked about mental health problem of our time. But what exactly is burnout? How can one prevent it, or restore one’s energy after feeling burnt out? This is especially relevant around this time of year, when students are susceptible to burnout in their struggle to keep up with midterms, employers, and social activities.
Herbert Freudenberger described the symptoms of burnout as exhaustion from excessive life demands, sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety, depression, and lack of emotional control. Brady Wilson, a published author of four books, explains this phenomenon from a neuroscientific point of view in his Ted Talk. The brain takes up 2% of your body weight but burns 20% of your daily energy. When someone is exhausted, the body will not cut the flow of energy to the parts of the brain responsible for breathing or heartbeat to save energy. Instead, the flow of energy sent to the executive sectors of our brain will be cut. The brain will then become what Wilson calls 'depleted'. The person will lose part of their ability to focus attention, regulate emotions, connect dots, and make smart decisions. A student could go from hardworking, attentive, and emotionally intelligent, to unwise, impulsive, and absent-minded.
With all this seeming so unpleasant, one must wonder how to avoid burnout. To do so, it is critical not to neglect other aspects of your life, even when school is demanding. The CDC recommends people between the ages of 16 and 18 get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night. Exercise is also beneficial. Although it takes time out of your day, it increases productivity, and improves sleep quality as well as mood. If you are feeling extremely overwhelmed, creating a to-do list or breaking down your tasks will give you better control of the situation, as the task will seem smaller and more manageable. Taking regular breaks from your schoolwork will improve concentration and energy levels. Even if you are scramming for an assignment, I recommend drinking some water away from your computer once every 20 minutes, especially since hydration can be neglected in these situations, causing headaches and dizziness.
Lastly, to avoid burnout, do not compare yourself to others. It creates unrealistic expectations that will exhaust and disappoint you. One of the essential practices in avoiding burnout is to put yourself and your health above productivity, a truly difficult task in a society that values productivity above anything else. Although the techniques to recover and avoid burnout from this article are useful, it is not fair to solely place the responsibility of our society’s burnout crisis on individuals themselves. It would do society good to take a step back and collectively reconsider our priorities. What’s more important– the essence of a person, or what they yield?