Prove your humanity

Tired uni students aren’t an unusual sight. They roam the campus, with heavy eyelids, untamed hair, pillow-creased faces and assessment-heavy bags pulling at the muscles on their shoulders. But there’s a high chance that the exhaustion you are feeling isn’t just ‘everyday exhaustion’, but burnout.

Most, if not all of us, have experienced symptoms similar to those of burnout. Especially at university with exams squishing our social life; assessments overpowering most of our mental space; and social, financial and familial responsibilities taking up the little free time that we have left over.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by constant excessive stress. It results from feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and being unable to meet constant demands. When the stress continues, it can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, increased cynicism and detachment, and development of feelings of ineffectiveness or being unaccomplished.

When experiencing burnout, you’re no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level. Burnout grows and develops over time, like a leach slowly draining your energy.  It often remains unrecognised until it’s too late, but there are some signs and warnings that our bodies flash at us.

Signs related to mental and emotional well-being:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Depression
  3. Anger or increased irritability
  4. Apathy
  5. Pessimism, cynicism and/or feelings of hopelessness
  6. Isolation and/or detachment
  7. Impaired memory, concentration and attention
  8. Poor performance and/or lack of productivity

Signs related to physical well-being:

  1. Chronic Fatigue
  2. Insomnia
  3. Chest pain and/or heart palpitations
  4. Shortness of breath
  5. Gastrointestinal pain
  6. Fainting, dizziness and/or headaches.
  7. Weakened immune system
  8. Loss of appetite

None of these individually cause burnout, but a combination of multiple over a long time will. And ‘getting over’ or treating burnout isn’t as simple as realising you may be burnt out.  As Sherrie Bourg Carter puts it in an article: “Burnout isn’t like the flu; it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life.”

From 28 May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included burnout in the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. While it is not classified as an illness or disease, the WHO defined burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Burnout has the potential to affect multiple areas of a person’s life, and prolonged burnout could result in the deterioration of physical and mental health.

So, all your energy, enthusiasm and passion have been depleted, and replace by exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment. What can you do to feel better? The short answer is: make some changes in your life.

The first thing you’d have to do is recognise what it is that is causing you stress and anxiety. Once you understand the source of your stress, you can modify the way you approach each situation and implement small changes in your routine which will relieve some stress.

You could also:

  • Take breaks as you study
  • Ask for help if you’re stuck or struggling
  • Delegate some tasks
  • Limit the time you spend scrolling mindlessly through Instagram
  • Go have a drink with friends
  • Exercise or go for walks
  • Be realistic, you may fail sometimes, and that’s okay
  • Dedicate some time to yourself (self-care is important)
  • Set up a routine where you have time to simply do nothing

There’s no denying that giving the best of yourself to your studies is good, however, looking after yourself is even more important. You are more resilient and more able to handle life when we are feeling our best, both physically and emotionally. So, if you find that you’re starting to burn out, to dissolve under the pressure of everything around you, take a moment to breathe, look after yourself.

Self-care is something you do with the intention of enhancing energy, restoring health and reducing stress, and is something that will look slightly different for everyone. Being mentally and physically healthy is important to every single one of us. We only have one body, so let’s start looking after it.