Every academic year is a retelling of students strutting around campus on the first day of school with a sparkle in their eyes that slowly dims as the semester progresses. From social circles, organizations, and academic work, it is no secret that a lot goes on in a college student’s life. So much so, a five-month long competition for time and attention among those tasks seems to hover above students’ shoulders. It was still endurable though as students persistently adjusted and found ways to get through the semester-whether it be through a night out after surviving hell week or simply being surrounded by friends.
However, as everything shifts towards the new normal and the loss of those little things, the sheer amount of work may no longer be bearable. Some have even reached the state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion commonly known as burnout. While it is often downplayed as normal college stress, burnout is much more than that. Rather, it is a result of excessive and prolonged stress which leads to feelings of reduced efficiency and productivity, and eventually neglect of self-care.
Even though there are articles claiming burnout is a medical condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) rather identifies it as a medically diagnosed state that could pertain to a person’s emotional, physical and mental well-being.
With this, Dr. Lovely Lucky Evarretta, department chair of BS Psychology of De La Salle Lipa (DLSL), shared a roadmap of tips for those who wish to prevent or overcome burnout while traversing the often crisscrossing and winding road towards that coveted degree in the face of the new normal.
Read between the signs
The first step to recovery usually involves recognizing the warning signs of feeling off your usual track. Consider your physical, emotional and behavioral conditions as your very own set of directions guiding you towards understanding where your feelings are at.
Observe if you have been feeling drained or sickly too often, or if there is an unusual change in your appetite or sleeping habit. Reflect if you have been feeling pessimistic, detached, or helpless and ask yourself, “Have I withdrawn from my responsibilities? Have I isolated myself?” Notice how frequent you tend to procrastinate as well.
The presence of burnout can be unmasked by psychological assessments. However, remember that by simply keeping tabs of where these intrinsic directions are pointing, you will be able to know if there is something that’s supposed to be unmasked.
“Even though there’s a lot of instruments na for sure would help us to measure burnout, those symptoms na ma-o-observe natin sa sarili natin is one of the best tools para malaman natin if we are really burned out na or not,” Dr. Evarretta shared.
Maintain a clear path to self-awareness
Burnout is insidious by nature. As you live your busy life, don’t let it creep up on you by being aware of what is happening with you. Besides, not only will you be able to better handle yourself depending on your personality but you will also better observe how burnout symptoms affect you.
That is to say, ask yourself if you tend to be competitive, hostile, aggressive and time urgent. If it’s a yes, then avoid being overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities to the best that you can. Dr. Evarretta warns that people with such a personality of which she calls Type A are more prone to burnout because of the behavioral characteristics that they possess. Other Type A hallmark traits include impatience, difficulty expressing emotions, drive and perfectionism among others.
If you are already experiencing burnout though, be self-aware in such a way that you are conscious of how symptoms manifest in your life. Burnout may not be a condition but it can be an indicator of one.
“Since burnout is a state, it could be considered as a part of, a symptom or an indicator of a certain condition or a certain disorder. It may be an indicator but yet to be a medical condition,” Dr. Evaretta said.
Look beneath the surface
Sometimes, what is hidden underneath the surface strikes more than what’s visible above. Treat symptoms as a wake-up call from your head to which the best way to respond is by going slowly. Take some time off if it will help you assess your life and identify what could have made you experience burnout.
Determine if it is really due to what you have been doing in the past days or if it is the emotional baggage of something that is bothering you—especially now that there is a lot going on and the need to adjust has become very frequent.
According to Dr. Evarretta, being aware of what’s draining you makes it easier to combat burnout. Once you become aware of the cause, everything will fall better into place.
Reverse and reframe
Dr. Evarretta explained that the process of reversing is where damage is being undone. Manage your stress and seek support. Take a proactive approach too if you think this can help but be sure not to overcommit yourself. If necessary, take a complete break through social media dark out.
By undoing damage, you must also reframe your mindset because it is possible that you are unconsciously the one causing yourself to experience burnout. Reframe to process your thoughts in a different light and from there you may be able handle a situation that seems out of control.
Burnout could be a sign that something in your life is out of place so try to use what you are experiencing as an opportunity to rediscover yourself as well.
Re-evaluate your priorities
How long you dwell on something is usually based on the importance and urgency of the concern. As they say, what or who you wouldn’t give your keys to won’t be able to drive you crazy. Sometimes though, you end up feeling certain levels of burnout because the time you allot for simple tasks takes so long that you’ve run out of fuel for other more important priorities and involuntarily take them for granted.
Consider the itinerary of your 24-hour journey. What really has to be on your calendar? What can go? Determine if you have been investing too much time and effort on things that you should not dwell on and re-evaluate your priorities.
“Try to re-evaluate kung worth [it] ba talaga itong [mga] ginagawa mong ito kasi baka ‘yun ang nagcacause ng pagiging drained na nararamdaman mo,” Dr. Evarretta said
Practice pouring and focusing your energy on activities or tasks that you consider more worthwhile. By doing this, you will be able to avoid being drained.
Follow a routine
After re-evaluating, create a schedule involving the specific responsibilities that you must accomplish. Once you have created a plan, you will be able to know what you need to accomplish and when you have to accomplish them.
Through doing this, you will be able to avoid cramming as well, which not only minimizes stress but reduces the odds of being overwhelmed by work.
“Kapag kasi you have a plan, alam mo kung kailan or ilang oras or ano ‘yung schedule mo. So kapag naka-plano kasi talaga, makakatulong siya sa’yo para ‘di ka masyado ma-burn out,” Dr. Evaretta said.
She also added that it is a must to practice goal setting, a psychological technique that she confirmed a useful tool to recover from burnout. She explained that working towards a target and striving for it to be aligned with your interests is beneficial to one’s own performance, well-being, and functioning as a person.
Even if you are used to people coming to you for help, you still have to put yourself first. Practice self-compassion.
Taking good care of yourself and prioritizing your mental health is always helpful in lessening the feeling associated with burnout. If you feel that there is way too much going on already, it is about time to pause, breathe, and do the things you love and enjoy.
Remember that you have to help yourself before you can help others. If you aren’t completely okay, you might only end up making yourself feel worse or drain others in the process instead of helping them.
There are a lot of self-help tips out there that Dr. Evarretta deems helpful. But the question would be, “Is this what they need?” Once again, be self-aware. Know what is effective for you because what’s beneficial for one person may not work with another.
“It is okay to always choose yourself,” Dr. Evarretta added.
Ask for help
If the manifestation of burnout is becoming too much for you to handle, seek help. At times, burnout can lead to depersonalization and odd behavioral changes which Dr. Evarretta considers extreme manifestations of burnout that may start to impair your overall functioning
Remember that if you need help, seek it–-whether it be from mental health professionals, support groups, immediate friends, or family. Don’t be afraid, especially for professional help.
Dr. Evarretta assures that professionals are trained to provide an assessment to determine what triggers and causes you to experience burnout as well as advice on managing yourself while coping with burnout.
College is expected to bring about stressors that not every student may be able to handle. The long hours of studying, writing essays and time-limited quizzes and the transition to college in itself can be a source of stress. For others on the other hand, there could be more on top of mastering major courses and finalizing decisions about future careers while juggling the increase in responsibilities and organization work.
Like what Dr. Evarretta said, stressors will always be present and what happens will still boil down to how they will be managed and coped with. Remember though that experiencing burnout from adapting to over half a year into the community quarantine is understandable.
Regardless of how bright of a student you are, how motivated you had been at the start of the semester, or even how much you want to accomplish, keep in mind not to work yourself to the point of fatigue. Yes, the war has just begun and you should be a warrior of your dreams but once burnout manifests, don’t lose heart. Like COVID-19 and the tasks you have lined up for the semester, it can be overcome.