During the hectic pursuit of development and careers, you may not immediately notice how the body’s emotional resource is depleting until it is
In this burnout state, it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with people, and there may be feelings of anxiety and dissatisfaction with everything and everyone. Work that used to bring joy may no longer feel pleasant and may even become irritating. Everything can be perceived sharply, painfully.
Your body may work to prevent (or diminish) that pain by turning off emotions and protecting itself. It enters energy-saving mode, where it only performs the essential to ensure vital processes. And alongside this can come an indifference to everything—a serious symptom of burnout.
I used to think that burnout could never happen to me. I believed that burnout was a weakness that emotionally strong people could not have.
I remember a period in my life when I said “yes” to every opportunity presented to me. I signed up for volunteer events and clubs, and committed myself to doing all the work, despite being a full-time BCIT student. I chased my own clock, begging it to stop going so fast. The first time I noticed my symptoms of burnout was last April, in my second term. I did manage to turn in all assignments on time (and even received good grades), but each minute I spent doing those things felt almost nauseating. Positive emotions had disappeared, and slight irritation had taken their place. I realize now that I might have overestimated the scope of commitments I could handle.
At the time, I didn’t realize it was the start of burnout, and I blamed all of it on fatigue. I would remind myself that everyone gets tired because life, in general, is a difficult thing. It’s common to attribute our state of being to fatigue, and this is the quiet insidiousness of burnout—it creeps up. But what had seemed like fatigue, which I carelessly disregarded, eventually grew into a full-scale burnout: One moment I would feel a cynical indifference, and the next, an emotional roller-coaster with a final scene of bursting into tears and ending up with zero energy. Self-quarantining for two weeks somewhere no one could contact me seemed quite desirable.
Unfortunately, it took me two more terms to finally understand that I could not keep the same order of affairs. I had to discontinue working on certain projects and exit one club. Prioritizing myself—and not feeling embarrassed about that—was truly a learning curve.
Here are some tips that helped me overcome burnout and might help you, too, in case you ever need some pointers, whether now or in the future:
Tip #1: Avoid things (and people) that make you feel upset
It is important to remember that the resources of the mind and body are finite. Everyone has limits and boundaries, as defined by so many factors, including experiences, lifestyles, and the immediate environment. So, spend energy on things and people that bring you joy.
Tip #2: Massage your body
Whenever you feel tired, massage your neck and shoulders. Hug yourself. Pay attention to your body. Rubbing the body with a brush from the bottom up has a good effect on the lymphatic system. Another option is patting the meridians that go through the arms and legs: Go from top to bottom and from bottom to top.
Tip #3: Treat your inner child
Every now and then, let go of the constant self-control you have. Buy yourself some chocolate or treat yourself to something tasty. Spend the evening the way you want, like watching your comfort movie.
Tip #4: Let go of commitments that no longer serve you
During the most challenging time of my burnout, I found myself drowning in the tasks I had. Some of them were on my shoulders just because I didn’t say no at the time. I told myself to pause to reassess the direction I wanted to go, and I felt some of those tasks were not for me. When I explained my decision to people, they supported and understood me.
Tip #5: Meditate and exercise regularly
Meditating helps clear the mind. After all, the restless mind often creates tension that drains all our strength. Combine digital detox and breathing. To do this, turn off all electronics, whether computers or phones. Pause the music you’re listening to or the movie you’re watching. For just a few minutes, practice mindful breathing: Observing how you breathe for five minutes might be enough for the body to recharge. Give your lungs five minutes of undivided attention. For resources on implementing this mindful practice in your routine, I recommend listening to guided meditation.
Also, consider exercising in a way you enjoy. Try walking, running, or swimming. Approach the activity consciously; feel your body during the exercises. Let your mind focus on the sensations in your body instead of on moments that were or will be.
Tip #6: Explore nature
You live in British Columbia! I encourage you to explore it this summer. It can help you (re)become an enthusiastic and full-of-life person. A day in the fresh air somewhere in the mountains can do wonderful things for your mental health. Give yourself a chance to let go of your worries and connect with nature.
Tip #7: Get enough sleep
Healthy sleep might help restore your energy. Try to reduce activity in the evening. To avoid insomnia, you can brew a soothing tea with lemon balm or mint.
And there you are! Although simple, these tips are within the power of each of us. It is important to understand that burnout will not go away on its own. To cope with it, you need to consciously take steps towards a healthy, balanced life. Even if the steps are very tiny, the main thing is to do them every day.
Ultimately, wherever you are along your academic journey, monitor yourself for signs of burnout. If you ever feel stretched, remember that challenging things come to an end. These can include exam periods. Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. I, too, have felt the emotional exhaustion of studying at BCIT. No matter what happens, I believe that you have the strength to overcome feelings of burnout and boost your mental health. At the same time, if you feel unable to overcome burnout on your own, get professional help. BCIT provides ac- cess to resources and support services for free. Find options at bcit.ca/health-services/resources.