What Is Academic Burnout and How Can I Avoid It?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

What Is Academic Burnout and How Can I Avoid It

'Burnout' - a phrase you've probably heard floating around classrooms or from your parents but never really paid much attention to. Surely it isn't possible to overwork yourself is it? It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that doing more is better when in reality it can be counter-productive. I'm definitely a hard working person when it comes to academics but by the end of my A Levels I'd reached a point of exhaustion and was honestly burnt out. I thought I'd use this blog post, albeit a bit different to my usual ones, to talk a bit more about my experiences of being burnt out as well as how you can avoid it.

It's only as I've finished my A-Level exams that I realised just how damaging they were to me and that the intense cycle of working I carried out was incredibly unhealthy. The main source of this was overworking, which I definitely did on a daily basis but found it so hard to avoid. Sure I had the occasional break, but sitting in the college library from 9am til 7pm, followed by a further 3 hours in Costa working, isn't healthy. No matter what anyone says, that amount of solid, concentrated work in one day isn't good mentally. Although I know that I put my all into revision and physically couldn't have done any more, I know that I didn't attempt it in the healthiest of ways.

Although for me doing this amount of work seemed normal and fine, it became apparent towards the end of exams that I was burnt out. Sure I still had the motivation to work, but I was physically drained. The amount of Diet Cokes I drank to give me some caffeine was seriously an issue, and I remember countless times being on the verge of falling asleep in Costa while I powered through the work. But at the time, I thought this was completely normal. Exams are just tiring, right?

Another sign of being burnt out is not taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Although I still kept up with the basic standards of hygiene and living, there were certainly things I let slip. My bedroom was an absolute mess (no exaggeration, it was genuinely horrific!) but I just let the mess pile up and was never home longer than a couple of hours a day to tidy it. Meals were also put on the backburner, and having my tea at 10:30pm became a daily occurrence that seemed normal at the time but really wasn't healthy. Even little things like drying my hair were abandoned as I frequently slept with wet hair - all these little things which at the time seemed normal but once you step back it's clear how damaging exams were to my everyday functioning.

And then there's frustration and cynicism, which is a huge part of being burnt out. I'm a sensitive person as it is, but this was taken to a whole new level during exams. I owe everyone a huge apology for all of the days when I was snappy, irritable and stroppy, as the intense stress and pressure of exams definitely caused me to react more than usual. I also had way more down days than I normally would, days where I'd feel utterly defeated and with no motivation to continue exams, but thankfully I have wonderful people in my life who helped me get through these moments.

The final symptom of burnout I experienced was being preoccupied with working, to the point where it takes over your life. Don't get me wrong, I still had some breaks and chilled out evenings, but as a whole my life became dominated by work. The few hours of Lipa on a Saturday morning would be spent doing mind maps in the wings whenever I wasn't performing - even just a couple hours a week that I couldn't pull myself away from work. I think the most evident case of work taking over my life was one Saturday evening right before exams, where it was getting late yet my boyfriend and I were still quizzing each other on notes. At the time that seemed completely normal and getting in an extra hour of work was a huge score, but in retrospect it's clear that work had completely taken over.

What Is Academic Burnout and How Can I Avoid It

It's only now that exams are over that I've been able to see what an unhealthy life I was living and that putting my heart and soul into exams may have been damaging myself in the process. Burnout is different for everyone, so don't think that you're not suffering from it if you're having different symptoms than I did, but I wanted to share my top tips for anyone who feels burnt out or is just struggling from the exam pressures:

Relax - this is my number one tip, give yourself some time off! Your life shouldn't be dominated by exams, you deserve time to wind down and relax too. And I don't mean a 10 minute break whilst working, as although that is helpful it's sometimes not enough when you're burnt out. Have an evening off, or even a whole day, and step away from work to do things you enjoy.

While I had exams I know that I didn't touch my keyboard, write a blog post or even just chill on my laptop watching YouTube, all things which I'd normally spend a lot of my free time doing. It's important not to lose these, plus having a break from working will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to power on the next day.

Sleep - this is definitely something that I ignore, but sleep is incredibly important and is vital for you to function normally. I'm the type of person who has adjusted to late nights and early mornings, but you've got to realise that getting just a few hours sleep isn't healthy. Although in the moment it may seem like you're being productive by staying up an extra hour to learn some more for exams, this last-minute cramming won't do anything except leave you feeling flustered, and the lack of sleep means you'll be exhausted and working the next day will be incredibly difficult. Trust me, sleep is super important!

Step back and assess - it's incredibly easy to get lost in the exam mindset and be so focused on acing your next few tests that you forget to see the bigger picture. However, it's important not to lose sight of reality and remember that these are just a few exams that will mean nothing in years to come. Although you can't deny that exams like GCSEs and A Levels are important, your physical and mental health should always come first, and it's not worth sacrificing your wellbeing for a few letters on a piece of paper on results day. Step back and look at the bigger picture, and try to remind yourself of what's really important.

Know that it won't last forever - the exam period might feel like a never-ending struggle but know that it'll be over before you realise. Although a few weeks can seem like a lifetime, and that final week seems to stretch on for months, remember that the end is always in sight and that it's just a few short weeks out of your entire life. Plus, there's the entire summer holidays to look forward to once they're over, so think of all the good times ahead rather than letting yourself be consumed in work.

I hope that this blog post has been useful for any of you doing exams and perhaps feeling like you're burnt out, as well as giving you an insight into the brutal reality of my exams and difficulties I faced. Thank you very much for reading this blog post and I'll be back later in the week with a new one, so make sure you check back then!

Love from Daisy x

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