Oberlin Blogs

35 Notes on Burnout & Healing

January 17, 2016

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

With many well wishes and lots of love, I wish everyone a happy new year! As I now enter my final few months with you all in this particular space, I promise two key things: more (frequent) great posts and talking about the hard stuff in useful and connective ways. One thing that is really important for me moving forward is to not bury hard conversations away but to take them up in the best way(s) that I can and share them in blog posts.

I wrote this post inspired by my honest reflection of my own exhaustion after spending all of winter break and the beginning of Winter Term finishing finals. Today's post is about something I have some familiarity with writing about--burnout, healing and mental wellness for college students. In fact, a lot of us here on the blogs have written about these topics. I recommend checking this post, "My Least Favorite" for a recap.

Personally, I have recognized my own love for working hard has led me to be burnt out and the consequences to that are emotional, physical, psychological and social. This post, as a result, is thirty-five notes to keep close for those times when you overwork yourself and realize changes need to be made before the energy crash almost buries you.

"Hard Work" and Its Lies

  • Do not begin your day with saying, "I must be productive" or any other such variant. Instead, orient yourself to thinking "I am prioritizing this kind of work today."
  • To-do/task/agenda lists are fine; just not when they have twenty items on them. Cut it down.
  • Calendars can be your best friend if used properly. Put as much information in there that is useful to help you prioritize, not overbook and exhaust yourself.
  • Be a better judge of your own work time. Learn how to distinguish between "wasting time," "prepping for work (like reading before writing a paper)" and "doing work (actually completing an assignment)."
  • "Wasting time" is often subjective--if you read "slow," don't write papers quickly or need frequent breaks, that is not a waste of time. You have challenges/needs when doing work and you need to make space for them.

Mentalities Often Lead to Doin' the Most

  • Let's be real, a lot of us are chronic overachievers and it is unhealthy. Slow down. Eat. Shower. SLEEP. Seriously, do these things.
  • Real point #2: Many adults need to unlearn a lot of bad habits that lead to a widespread acceptance of socially constructed notions of success and worthiness that, keep it real, are limiting and individualistic.
  • Relatedly, as mentors, advisors, peers, guiders and supporters of youth let us not pass on the false reality that being successful means working 60 hours a week in corporate attire and that's it.
  • Mature into a visionary in whatever way that may look like for you. Think of your ultimate and hold on to that as you work towards it.
  • Imperatively, keep records of your aspirations, goals and dreams. Call dreams that you are working towards "pending realities" or whatever helps you to see it as more tangible than imagined.

Always Lyin': You're Not Okay

  • Get out of the habit of saying "I'm okay" when you are not, tell somebody at least some part of what is going on. Each time you refuse to do this, you signal to your mind, body and spirit that your wellness is not a priority.
  • Please do not let the only time you treat yourself well be when you are too far gone to appreciate it or too indifferent for it to be meaningful.
  • Simple things really do bring the greatest and most lasting joys. My best friend gave me a mason jar full of compliments... I carry it with me everywhere.
  • Pick some friends who will have two relevant questions for you when you are upset, sad, unnerved, shaken, lost, etc. The first is, "What can I do to help support you?" immediately followed with "And what are you going to do to support yourself?"
  • Have at least one friend that, plainly, sees through your bullshit and will make you talk/express yourself and hold you accountable for doing better. Let them support you.

The Trap of Not Saying No Only to Play Nice

  • Understand how you spend your energy and time. Be clear about your priorities and goals and continually search for ways to find balance.
  • You cannot have every experience at every meeting/event. You will miss out on some things, it's cool. This is the whole point of prioritizing.
  • Start treating your time and presence like a gift to yourself and others. Do not schedule six meetings on Monday and plan to go to four events on Tuesday. Say no because cheating yourself and others out of having a fully present and engaged you is not the move.
  • Meetings are important but they do not fix the world. Not having meetings does not help to move change, planning and organizing any further either. PRIORITIZE.
  • Respect people's time and their needs. If you cancel on someone, do it early. If you can schedule meetings around meal time and food, YAY. Be prepared. Most importantly, be honest and accountable. If something does not (seriously) require your presence, let folks know you will not be there.

Exhaustion Looks and Feels Like...?

  • Exhaustion may look different each semester as your body learns to adapt to the rigor you put it through. Commonly, it'll look like less showers, many all nighters/poor sleeping, under-eating and peaks in stress and anxiety.
  • It can also look like depression, mood swings, physical pain, social indifference, fatigue and an inability to adjust to periods of rest or non-rigorous times such as breaks from school.
  • A huge part of noticing your own exhaustion is having good folks around you who can point it out to you and ask what is going on. Often times, it is a mutual check-in.
  • When you notice your exhaustion, be proactive in asking for help and seeking to move beyond it in whatever ways that may work best for you. Keep in mind that your needs may change over time.
  • Too often, exhaustion does not come from a singular place. It is a combination of over-exertion on multiple fronts so your approach to resolving it will have to be as dynamic and involved as the conditions that created it.

The Grey Area(s)

  • Make clear distinctions between how you feel when you are stressed, exhausted and burnt out. They are interrelated experiences but not the same and it is important that you are in tune with yourself enough to know the "warning signs" your body gives during times of stress and exhaustion.
  • Ask for help, whether that help is professional (counseling, medical, etc.) or personal (friends bringing you food, checking to see if you ate, etc.). Do not wait until you are laid out somewhere, immovable, to realize you are running on empty.
  • Read up on things, you might find some support. Personally, I realized many of my friends were experiencing similar things I was, related to burnout, worry, and stress in college, and that helped me to find not only ways to cope but ways to move beyond it.
  • Talk. Create. Write. Run. Workout. Clean. Cook. Meditate. Pray. Do. Literally, find ways to be active and feel a sense of control. In the midst of feeling helpless, engaging in activity over which you have visible control will re-center and ground you.
  • Do not think that you are alone (because you are not). Dialogue with folks!

No Band-Aids, Just Healing Over Here

  • Readjust your daily routine and schedule to reflect your priorities, goals and needs, not just classes and events. If working out invigorates you, put it in your schedule! If a mani-pedi with your bestie is a bi-weekly highlight, throw that in there too. If you "forget" to eat, guess what should be going on that calendar FIRST? Adjust and you can do less crisis control later.
  • Give yourself things to look forward to on a sporadic schedule or hide things for yourself to randomly find. Promise yourself a sweet treat after a hard week. Take yourself to a restaurant and eat well. Write compliments to yourselves on sticky notes and put them on the mirror. Celebrate yourself and, most importantly, check-in with yourself.
  • Keep a journal or an art book or whatever medium you choose to create with handy. Translate your feels, needs, frustrations, worries and all that into things you can create. The point is that you will recognize these articulations as connected and you will feel more likely to be solution-oriented when you see that you are not just stuck. Creating is powerful, liberating and empowering work. Do it.
  • Invest in some supportive tools--whatever that may be for you. Personally, I have really sudden and intense anxiety attacks so I always have ibuprofen, herbal tea, a journal and a coloring book on hand. The former two are related to getting past the actual attack, the latter two are about channeling positive energy and re-centering.
  • Find your mood boosters! Workout, cook, run, go sit outside and sing, whatever it is do that. It reminds you where (and who) you have in your supportive square and that is imperative to have. Love these people and these activities, it will help to keep you grounded as well.

At this point it feels like a part two may be necessary, but that is up to my lovely readers to let me know! I sincerely hope that these notes are useful as they have been things that I have done (should be doing) and will start doing in my own life. Again, happy new year and happy commenting!

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