How to demolish burnout

Work, school, social life, and a pandemic

Graphic Wilda Casado

The world is exhausting at the best of times, but life moving online due to the pandemic seems to have made matters worse for a lot of people.

“You can fall into that trap of every time you have a free block of time, you feel like ‘I can do it later, I’m home all the time,’ or what can happen is people end up not taking any breaks, and that’s really difficult too,” said Courtney MacDonald, a learning specialist at the Student Success Centre.

She also stresses the importance of using tools to keep organized. “It can’t all live in your head. You will burn out very quickly,” MacDonald said.

Many people are close to burning out without ever realizing it, but there are a few things to look out for in yourself and your friends, and a few things you can do if burnout is setting in.

What is burnout?

Loss of sleep or insomnia: While this can be related to many things, it’s a telltale sign that something is off.

Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and lack of productivity: Being inspired to do coursework can be hard for many people, but being in an environment that has a lot of distractions can be detrimental to your productivity and can cause you to fall behind in your work.

Negative mood or thoughts: People who are burning out are often anxious, angry, pessimistic, irritable, or depressed. Many realize they feel this way but can’t determine why.

Isolation: Many people who are experiencing burnout may not want to socialize the way they usually would. Having social connections has been known to strengthen our immune systems and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

Perfectionism: Many aspire to perfection to obtain good grades, which can take a lot of time and energy, but it doesn’t always pay off the way they hope it will. Perfection is meaningless if it all comes crashing down.

How to avoid it?

Plan ahead: Getting your class syllabus can be overwhelming, but planning out when you can work on assignments and setting mini-due dates can help you stay on track and make sure everything is done on time. You can also set reminders or alerts on your phone or email to remind yourself of what needs to be done.

“These are things that if you leave it to ‘I’ll do it if I feel like it’ on a day-to-day basis, often you won’t feel like doing it,” said MacDonald.

“We need to move from ‘I’ll do what I feel like’ to being much more proactive and really planning out ‘What does my week look like? What does my day look like? What kind of habits can I build that will support me?’ because it’s all the little habits and routines that make the difference.”

Don’t overwork yourself: When possible, reduce your work hours or assign only certain days in the week to school work.

Unplug: There is a difference between being unproductive and taking a break. Take time off and watch some trash TV or that documentary you’ve been waiting to see.

Eat properly: Skipping meals or constantly eating unhealthy snacks can dampen your mood, so plan out your meals if you have to, but make sure you eat right.

Starved for tips?

This article originally appeared in The Disorientation Issue, published September 8, 2020.