Finding reprieve in the exhaustion of burnout.
We’re stuck in a never ending cycle. Here at Craccum, there are a few topics that we love to rehash over and over: $5 vegan lunch, the Princes St trees, Dawn’s Parnell mansion (our critics might call us lazy, we would say we’re consistent!). While those are, of course, key aspects of student life at the University, we’ve talked about burnout repeatedly over the last few years. A quick dig through the archives shows that we’ve both written articles lamenting the pressures of productivity and exploring the symptoms of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. Now, heading into week five of Semester Two, burnout has been knocking at our office door once again. We’re just too tired to say no.
‘Burnout’ is a word we throw around all the time as students. When assignments start to pile up and workshifts start to consume our limited free time, it’s a core subject of sleepy conversations. But what do we actually mean with these complaints? The symptoms of burnout come in three different stages. The first usually includes feeling drained and depleted. The second sees a detached, cynical attitude towards work, daily routines, and other people. The third stage is pretty upsetting, including diminished feelings of accomplishment and less satisfaction with the work you’re doing, which results in you feeling less competent. Of course, these feelings can also affect you in a more direct physical manner, impacting your sleep schedule, energy levels, and appetite. Sounding familiar? We would also note that a sure sign of burnout is when your own essential self-care starts to fall by the wayside. We’re not talking about #selfcare in the gross, consumer-y way, we’re talking about the basic needs that shift in order to prioritise work. These are familiar concepts to the student body. So, if we’re so well-versed in the signs of burnout, you’d think we’d have all the power in the world to prevent sinking into that place, right?
Sure, we do have a certain capacity of agency in looking after ourselves. However, there are massive organisational aspects that contribute to the feeling that we’re constantly running on a treadmill. The structure of our University semesters are one aspect. They’re supposedly 12 weeks long, except for the two weeks break and the three weeks of exams that follow. We might get some long summers ‘off,’ but the semester is a really high intensity time that goes on for longer than you think. Another aspect is the workload: a full class-load usually means 40 hours of coursework a week, but it’s especially rare that that’s all students need to do. For most, work is a constant must-do during late nights or weekends, due to the financial precarity of student life. It’s not just the physical demands of this work though, it’s the constant emotional labour we do in those positions (whether that’s in retail, hospo, or customer service industries). We’re doing more than full-time—work tiptoes into leisure time. When deadlines start hitting, we stop properly juggling a healthy work-life balance. We lean towards the work side of the scale, and push other priorities out of the way. So, with all of that working against us… where to now?
All hope is not lost. Of course, keeping up those self-care necessities will help to stave off burnout, as well as recognising habits that make you feel bad. Keep yourself fuelled up, get some good sleep and take time off if you need to (and if you’re able to). It’s also clear that we’re already collectively actively engaging in one possible remedy: finding connection and support. While it’s concerning how much the term ‘burnout’ is thrown around on campus, the constant discussion shows we’re open to working through our tiredness together, and keen to keep an empathetic dialogue going. There’s no shame in asking mates for a chat, or letting them know you need some time out to rest. We’ve all been there! If burnout does swing around again, and we’re pretty sure it’s going to be rearing its ugly head again, then keep that support network involved. A problem shared is a problem halved!