Going, Going, Gone: Burning Out and How to Cope

I’ve come to accept that a true fact of my life is that I’m always tired.

I ran into a friend on campus the other day and the first question we asked each other after exchanging a greeting was, “how are you?” We both knew this was an unnecessary question to even voice. We were smack in the middle of the first wave of midterms for the winter semester, both attempting to cram as much information as possible into our brains in a short period of time and functioning on little else other than caffeine and pure adrenaline from lack of sleep. In fact, so was every other student across Toronto at that particular moment.

Nevertheless, we asked each other the question and got the inevitable answer of, “I’m tired.”  We both listlessly nodded in agreement and silent understanding and continued on with our day. I didn’t think much of that conversation until a few days later, when I finally had a minute to myself. We’re all tired all the time. Students in particular, although this problem is far from being exclusive to students.

Society seems to be in a perpetual state of tiredness. Everyone is in a constant state of motion with a seemingly endless to-do list of activities and responsibilities, some more time-consuming than others. I’m convinced people have forgotten how to truly rest.

I’m not saying this because I’m the prime example of a well-balanced and well-rested individual. Far from it. If anything, I’m the poster child for burnout, and it’s my own fault.

I’m guilty of taking on too much: too many classes, too many work responsibilities, too many social commitments. I convince myself that I can handle everything I signed on for and push myself to manage my crazy schedule, even as I feel myself getting closer to the point of no return.  And then I hit The Wall.

I dread this happening, because this translates to me essentially having a breakdown. My body goes into survival mode and I’m incapable of doing much more than sleeping copious amounts while l attempt to deal with my backlog of exhaustion. My immune system is usually shot by this point, meaning that my chances of having a severe cold for weeks skyrockets. It’s a miserable existence. On average, I hit The Wall two to three times in a given academic year, and although I can sense the impending doom, I never do anything about it, the rationale being that I can’t, because there’s so much to do.

It’s ridiculous that I’ve rationalized putting myself through this multiple times a year, and it’s time that I consciously make an effort to at least lessen the speed at which the train approaches the station.

Ignoring the fact that I’m rapidly approaching a burnout as I write this (and am therefore, a slight hypocrite), I’ve made a list of things I do to cope with The Wall, and how to hopefully avoid hitting it at all.

First and foremost, learn to say no. And not the kind of no that can be misinterpreted as a maybe or a yes, but later. If you’re a people-pleaser like me, it’s incredibly difficult to turn someone down, but sometimes you need to. I’m currently reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck” by Sarah Knight, and (true to its word), it’s actually changed my life and helped me to learn how to begin saying no to things and people. 10/10 would recommend. Saying yes to things too often is usually what gets people into the position wherein they feel burned out, so if you cut that down, you’re already well on your way.

However, if you’re already knee-deep in the burnout, all you can do is employ damage control. Engage in whatever helps you feel better. I’m not going to put a blanket statement here, because everyone’s got their own grab-bag cure, but do whatever you need-whether that’s sleep, a Netflix binge or human contact (that’s still a thing, right?) to feel like less of a zombie.

If you’re past recovery and swearing up and down that you’ll never let yourself burn out again, you’re lying to yourself. Life will inevitably happen and you likely will run yourself ragged again. But if you make an effort to catch the early signs-constant tiredness, sluggishness and apathy, to name a few-and try to regain a balance by doing whatever made you feel better in the past, perhaps the train will deploy an airbag when you hit the next Wall.

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