Merriam-Webster defines burnout as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.
Another definition of burnout is failing, wearing out or becoming exhausted from overwork or over use.
Burnout, then, is fairly problematic state to be in, don’t ya think?
I remember my first experience of burnout very clearly. It was my senior year in my undergraduate program. I was a philosophy major which meant my writing and reading demands were at an all-time high.
Between writing my senior thesis, balancing four other classes, working my internship, and trying to earn a couple bucks as a restaurant server on the weekends, exhaustion would have been a radical understatement. I was near my end.
And these things were only the tip of the iceberg. I was also having a psychological crisis wherein my anxiety reached its peak, resulting in a three week stint of motivation- and energy-depleting depression.
I was being crushed. Have you been here before? Maybe you’re here now?
The Dark Reality of The College Experience
We’re learning quite a bit these days about the consequences of the demands on students. Some of these demands, no doubt, are self-imposed; still, many others come from exterior sources.
Notice these are only the demands stemming from direct collegiate involvement; we haven’t even touched, you know, ordinary demands like friendships, family relationships, earning money, etc.
Back to what we’re learning about this issue, one bit of research that surveyed 67,000 college students across 100 different institutions found that one in five students has had thoughts of suicide, 9% have made an attempt, and nearly 20% reported self-injury.
There’s no question about it: something about the college experience has got to change.
It’s not exactly clear which factor in a student’s college experience is most predictive of mental health challenges and burnout because the number of variables relevant is quite large. Still, we know enough to know that college breeds demands, and those demands breed challenges and, for many, burnout.
While some colleges appear to be more sensitive to these problems and are attempting to do something about it, there will continue to be those that carry on business as usual.
So, instead of focusing on how colleges can defeat burnout for their students, I want to focus on how college students can defeat burnout for themselves.
I’ve got three ideas for you.
Give Your G.P.A. A Demotion
It’s likely that the most fatiguing part of college for students is the academics. The fatigue comes on the scene somewhat subtly, however.
You see, it’s not merely the time spent studying, doing homework, and taking tests that fatigues us as students. And because of that, it won’t due to simply cut down work loads (though that would certainly help some).
It’s also the stress and worry about the results of the studying, homework and tests. In other words, it’s the obsession with one’s GPA.
For some, the obsession is understandable. When you have Ivy League schools who pride themselves on their low admission rates for graduate programs and who reject applicants with 4.0+ GPAs left and right, it can a bit distressing to not care about your GPA.
If you’re not intending on going to graduate school, having a high GPA is almost useless.
It’s not useless to the extent that it can signify your hard work and intellect, but if hiring professionals are interested in whether you’re hard working and smart, your GPA will not be the first place they look (or the second or third place, for that matter).
On your list of things that really matter then, I recommend giving your GPA a demotion. Still work hard and care, but don’t overwork yourself for it. B’s are great. Internalize that.
Remember That You Grow With Your “No”
This point about demoting your GPA sort of presupposes that you have a certain ability. Which ability is this?
The ability to say no.
Champion for the Global Leadership Summit, Craig Groeschel couldn’t have said it any better when he notes that you don’t grow with your “yes,” you grow with your “no.”
This probably feels counterintuitive, but something about it seems fundamentally right.
I think it’s this: saying “no” allows us to recover, and recovery is necessary for growing, moving forward and developing. If you put off recovery, consider burnout an inevitable part of your future. Prioritize recovery, on the other hand, and you can very well defeat burnout.
The way to prioritize recovery? Identify places in your life where a “no” is needed.
Schedule What Energizes You
Whether or not you’ve been able to practice saying “no,” this last tip will be crucial to defeating burnout.
Our schedules have a way of filling up with tasks and to-dos that, all things considered, probably aren’t our favorite. Much of this in the life of a college student is unavoidable.
You have classes.
You group projects.
You have practice.
You have a project.
Not terribly much you can do to escape those demands. Here’s one thing you can do: schedule what provides you energy at the same time you schedule what takes your energy.
The above tasks are likely energy-drainers. So, what is it that does energize you? Put it in your schedule, even if it’s on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
You won’t defeat burnout without energy, and you won’t gain energy unless you actually do what energizes you.
Identify it and schedule it. If it would help, consider including someone else in the process as extra accountability.
Whatever it takes, fight for yourself and your self-care. That’ll be the only way to defeat burnout as a college student.
Written by: Bryan Forbes