Are you constantly exhausted and depressed, with an endless pit of anxiety tumbling in your gut? Do you find yourself re-reading paragraphs of your fifty page reading assignment, as if the words are flying over your head? Are your 8:30s starting to hit different in the mornings? Do you want to just bash your head with a textbook, praying that some of the content transfers to your single brain cell?
If you are suffering from these symptoms, then you are most likely experiencing burnout. According to psychiatrist Dr. Maslach, burnout is a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. There are three fundamental consequences of burnout: overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
In college, exhaustion is never out of our grasps. Most of our days are just pure demand – go, go, go – with no time to think or breathe. Jesus, take the wheel.
However, the other two factors were not as prevalent until now. Cynicism and detachment from the job would translate to “yeah, it’s worth 20% of my grade. Who cares? I’m going to fail anyways.” We are in the final stretch of the semester now. Exhaustion has taken a horrendous toll on your motivation, and your patience is wearing thin with all these assignments and obligations due in the next 14 days. You’re starting to think, “What’s the point of all of this anyways?”
Consequently, the sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment floods in. If you have performed mediocrely in your classes, you might feel an indifference to the ultimate outcome, contributing to your feelings of burnout. Likewise, your physical and mental exhaustion are at their peak; your brain can’t seem to formulate a single thought. Subsequently, your mental health is not optimal. It’s almost as if the monthly Duke mental health emails don’t do shit for our actual mental wellbeing.
We’ve all gone through hell week; we’ve all been there. Exhaustion, anxiety, depression. Please, what’s new? How does knowing what is causing my burnout, this inescapable feeling of dread and helplessness, prevent me from actually feeling it?
Well, my dear reader, I too am extremely, really, very, to the greatest extent, burnt out. There is an incomparable pounding in my chest, in rhythm with my doubts and fears of being an absolute failure. As I update my calendar for the next two weeks, I don’t see assignments and exams but potential mishaps and opportunities for catastrophe. It’s not a weight on my shoulder, but more so on my pride, where I feel as if I am supposed to do well, and I will be an utter disappointment if I don’t. Yes, I know, my first world problems have no place in the real world. But hey, pain is pain. However, I am willing to bet that some of you are also desperately combating with similar struggles.
If it was the beginning of the semester, I know that I would be grinding at full speed ahead, ready to seize the day and wear my Duke Blue with pride. But I am just so tired. We are all just so f*cking tired.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a solution for burnout.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have recommended a proper night’s sleep and a healthy number of study breaks to optimize academic performance when experiencing burnout. But, as we know, there simply isn’t enough time. We are stuck in limbo, gritting our teeth, praying that we make it through the semester in one piece.
So, let’s circle back to the question proposed earlier, “What’s the point of all of this anyways?” To that, I respond with another question, “Why did you start all of this anyways?”
The funny thing about life is that everything comes with an inherent sacrifice. The accomplishment that brings you immense joy will be what simultaneously curses you with complete dread. As Mark Manson states, “What we gain is also what we lose. What creates our positive experiences will define our negative experiences.” Perhaps, a part of that immense joy is the cathartic relief that the sacrifice was ultimately worth it.
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I admit that this conclusion is a little grim; there’s no pretty solution to this terrible burnout we feel. However, I think it can be comforting once you acknowledge that this negative experience could be part of a future positive experience. Rather than perceive it as pushing yourself forward, think of it as being pulled forward by potential success. So, chug that second energy drink or triple espresso shot and get back to work. It may seem like an endless demand of obligations but take everything one at a time. Remember, even the bare minimum is better than nothing at all. Before you know it, you’ll be holding candy canes instead of chemistry textbooks. I wish you the best of luck on your finals.
Linda Cao is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.