I think all students have been there. A school afternoon, sat at our desks and nothing is going into our head. A Saturday morning, when getting an extra few hours of sleep makes us feel guilty yet when we finally drag ourselves out of bed, there is no motivation to get anything done. Any time of day or night, exhausted.
You’re probably burned out.
That was me in 2016. The perceived need and expectation from both myself and others to do well in my preliminary courses that, ultimately, have no weighting on my final ATAR or what university courses I can get into or anything except people’s perceptions of me resulted in 4 or 5 hours of sleep, constant stress, lack of exercise and probably a bunch of negative impacts that accumulated into, in hindsight, serious burnout.
In retrospect, I know that I was burned out at the time. But I was stuck in a perpetual cycle of internalizing other people’s expectations (which were based on previous academic achievements) and forcing myself to strive for unrealistically high goals, at the expense of my mental health. I can’t say with full confidence that I am better now, but my head feels clearer than before and I feel as if some weight has been taken off of my shoulders. Reflecting upon 2016, I realized that it was an avoidable situation, or if not, at least it had been possible to lessen the degree to which I was burned out. Speaking from personal experience, it is crucial that you prioritize your mental health over your grades. This was one thing that I didn’t do in 2016, and perhaps of the driving forces behind me burning out. It starts off small at first; it’s okay, I can sacrifice an hour or two of sleep if that means I can put more effort into this assessment task; it’s okay, I can be under constant stress because at least I’ll be motivated to do work (I have never been so wrong); it’s okay, social interactions and outings with friends can be forgone if that means I get an extra day to prepare for the upcoming exam. Long story short, no, I couldn’t.
Sleeping around 5 hours a day resulted in dark eye bags (my friends still laugh at me for this) and extra (read: unnecessary) pimples that gave me even more stress. Constant stress, which I foolishly had believed would motivate me, resulted in anxiety and bursts of crying over fears that I wouldn’t do as well as I wanted or needed to. Lessened social interactions and outings with friends resulted in me being even more distant from them than I had been at the start of the year and perhaps more exclusion.
And before I knew it, I was burned out.
It definitely sucks, looking back on it and realizing how caught up I was in marks and grades and rankings. While, to a certain degree, I am still concerned with the above, there are certain changes I want to make or that I have already made in 2017 that will hopefully help me cope with my last year of high school, stress guaranteed.
I know this one is kind of, duh, but I used to not take relaxation very seriously. For me, it would be some kind of whatever thing that I’d do when I had time off from studying. It’s easy to become caught up in your goals and studies, which might mean that any time for unwinding is pushed aside. Set certain times for relaxing, or doing whatever you personally d0 to relax.
For me, I no longer do work on Saturday mornings because I have tutoring lessons in the afternoon. Instead, I try to catch up on TV shows or read for leisure during that time, because I know that the stress will pile on over the weekend and eventually affect my performance at school when the week starts.
- Find a hobby (or restart an old one).
This might actually fall into the above, but I used to play the flute and eventually gave that up after 6 years because personally, I believed that I didn’t have time for it. This year, I aim to practice (damn, it sounds like more work) or play my favorite piece once a week so that I can slowly start to pick it up again. It’s important to have a hobby outside of your studies so that you have something else (that is fun to you, hopefully) to preoccupy yourself with. Take up photography or crafting!
- Go out with friends, and if you don’t have any, make some!
This is actually something I really want to do this year. In 2016, I went out with my friends around 3 to 4 times, max. In the end, all I felt was extremely isolated. What really saved me were the new friends that I had made. I think that people, especially the more introverted beings, tend to see barriers around other people that make them appear to be impossible to approach. To be honest, in my experience, most of those barriers are your own perceptions and your own creation that stops you from building connections with other people. When you let those self-erected barriers down, what you might find will surprise you (hopefully in a positive way).
- Perhaps step back, and reassess.
This is what I did at the end of 2016. I looked at the sacrifices that I had made, and the things that I accomplished this year. Sure, I had succeeded academically, but I realized that personally, I had suffered. I grew distant to my friends and fought too much with my parents. My sleeping pattern was truly screwed, and my eye bags were compared to the Grand Canyon by those around me. In the end, I reached the conclusion that it honestly was not worth it. I think looking back on certain periods of time where you are extremely burned out can really set things into perspective for you, and especially make one realize the need to change for your own sake.
2017 is a big year for me: I graduate from high school, take my final exams and turn 18. I know that somewhere along the way, I will probably, most likely, burn out again. But I am positive that it will not be as bad as 2016.
If you are currently burned out, just take a break. A day or two, or even half. Drop all your responsibilities (at least the ones you can run away from) and breathe. Your mental health will always be more important than your grades. And know that, just like after every storm, the sun will come out, the grass will dry off and the future won’t look so gloomy.