College has been rewarding in how much I have learned and grown as a person. This relationship is definitely a give and take, because I feel like I have given so much of myself to get where I am. Many times, I have minor pangs of burnout, but I know I must keep going and keep working.
Everyone around me relates to this feeling, but there must be some way of getting out of this bubble of feeling overwhelmed and consumed by schoolwork. I love learning and, by extension, love school. How do I stop feeling burned out by something I used to love?
—Bummed and Burnt Out
Dear Bummed and Burnt Out,
The competitive, intense atmosphere of college lends itself to burnout, and when burnout chases at the heels of something you love, it can be uniquely demoralizing.
You are right to acknowledge the hard work that you have put into your academic passions, but the attitude of forcing yourself to keep at it can only stave off your problem. Just like procrastinating on a major project will eventually catch up to you, so will burnout, and it’s difficult to escape either situation fully unscathed.
What, then, is the solution to this problem? In the hyper-productive neoliberal age, burnout plagues everyone from doctors to interns. It’s tempting to buy into “self-care” rhetoric, but a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem doesn’t acknowledge the symptoms of the system at large.
Purchasing a sheet mask or watching Netflix while soaking in the bath are actions that require the investment of time and money in some form; isn’t burnout about feeling suffocated by the responsibilities allotted to you every day?
Brianna Wiest writes, “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
This is the form of self-care that will benefit you. It isn’t fun to evaluate where in your life you are overextending yourself and then carve away time to breathe, but this conscious work is an antibiotic, while frothy self-care tips from listicles are (sometimes literally) essential oils. The former can actually help you heal, while the latter is, at best, a short-term placebo.
It is within your power to keep burnout from riddling your love of learning with anxiety and distress. I am not asking you to slack off, BBO, but I am asking you to see why your 24 hours seem so short and your to-do list so long.
Find a balance between school and work that leaves you with enough time to decompress. You deserve hours — yes, plural — in the day dedicated to relaxing, spending time with family and friends, and taking care of yourself.
Eat proper meals, exercise, and sleep enough. Carving out these times will restore you to a life that feels manageable and breathable, and doesn’t need a panic button.
Once you create a life that you don’t need to escape from, you will have time for nurturing your love for learning and a sheet mask or two. You can do this; I believe in you.
Aroog Khaliq is a junior from Overland Park studying English and psychology.