MY BURNOUT LEARNING CYCLE: Beating Stress of College Starts with Balance and Prioritizing

This is the third in a series of three blog posts on burnout in college students. We visited the counseling center, talked with students, and used personal experiences.

By ANNELISE MILLER, CSU Student Staff Writer

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Burnout is something I have personally experienced time and time again. It is why I felt called to write about it. It was something I struggled with for most of my years in school. Unexpectedly, the COVID-19 pandemic was my catalyst for improvement.

I can remember almost exactly when completing schoolwork started to feel impossible. I had always struggled a bit with deadlines, but I always loved learning. It wasn’t that I felt I couldn’t complete the work, or that I didn’t care. I was just an easily distracted child.

However, sometime around 7th grade, that was no longer the case. I just couldn’t get myself to care. I was tired a lot and didn’t see any meaning in my work. However, this was also a source of anxiety for me. I hated getting in trouble and doing something “wrong.” So, there was something inside of me stopping me from completing my work, but the fact I wasn’t completing my work stressed me out incredibly. 

Sometimes the stress and anxiety would win, and I would enter a hyper-productive phase. I would try to complete all of the missing work and stay on top of my current work. And then I would feel good. I was back to “normal.” And it would stay great! For maybe a month. And then it would catch up again. Maybe I missed one assignment. Or I failed one test. Trying to make it up and stay on top of current work became just too much for me at the time. This followed me into high school, too. However, halfway through junior year, that changed.

I was a high school junior when COVID-19 shut down schools for the first time. I was still actively working on “fixing” my cycle with burnout. I was making some progress with the help of therapy, but school getting shut down was the most direct catalyst for my improvement. At the time, I was doing a lot. I worked, did extracurriculars, and one designated “social” day of the week. I was booked Monday-Sunday every week in addition to homework. But with COVID-19, that changed. I was forced to take a break. My school shut down over spring break, so initially, I didn’t even have schoolwork.

When school came back into session (via Zoom), I was able to focus much better. Without so many extra commitments, I was able to prioritize my time. It taught me that not filling my schedule to the brim is what would help me. Obviously, we can’t all currently drop every single one of our commitments. However, we can determine our priorities. We can learn our limits and do our best to not exceed them. 

I know many people like to do it all. I see my friends and others fill their schedule to the brim. If that works for them, then that’s great! But the single best thing for my burnout and mental health that I have learned is to not do that. I encourage everyone who feels like they constantly struggle with burnout to explore and find the balance best for them. A benefit to being a student is that we have campus resources to help us. Do not be afraid to ask for help

“It can be difficult to recover from burnout. So it is best to address stress early and regularly. Developing good habits around eating, sleeping, and movement can be important in addition to taking extra time for yourself to do something that makes you feel competent and capable.” -Dr. Kimberly Sommers, from the Counseling Center

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