The Bane of The Hardworker

If you have ever gotten to a point in your work or student life where it feels like nothing matters anymore, where you feel so drained by your work to the point where you feel empty and de-motivated, then I don’t have to tell you that burnout is far from a palatable experience.

Occupational burnout, or burnout as it is most often called, is the official term given to the effects of chronic workplace stress. Burnout-inducing stress does not necessarily come from a work-environment though. Burnout experienced by students, referred to as academic burnout, can be just as debilitating and it can also seriously hamper productivity.

Burnout does not just set in suddenly; it proceeds in different stages. At first, when you embark on a new project or begin a new job, there’s excitement, passion, drive. This could lead you to push yourself to the limit, especially if there are strict deadlines. You might be trying to get as many things done as fast as possible. If this fast-paced, no-time-to-rest type of work system continues for a long time though, it could lead to the onset of stress.

It is at this point panic starts to come in. You feel like 24 hours aren’t enough in a day for all the things you have to do. You begin to drop the commitments you made outside work like hot potatoes. Your mind feels like it’s getting progressively rowdier and you seem to be frustrated all the time. Here’s the best point to pause and regroup. Because if you don’t, you’ll most likely move on to the next stage, where the chronic stress packs its bags and moves in with you.

Ironically, chronic stress is not characterized by the same level of anxiety as the stage before it, where stress is just setting in. The mind, just like the body, shuts down when under stress. So, this is the point where you begin to feel like there’s no point to anything you’re doing. You begin to feel cynical about your work or student life. You feel so desperately empty, like you can’t imagine why you bothered in the first place. Some people experience somatic symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. It takes a lot of time and energy to recover from this point of chronic stress, which is why it is advised to prevent the burnout from getting to this stage.

At the initial stage, when your passion is still very fresh, it may seem like you’re immune to demotivation and you have all the mental energy you need to last you a lifetime. But it’s important to remember that you are only strong at the moment because your mental health has been cared for prior to this time. You only have the mental fortitude to undergo the projects you undergo because your mental health is in good-enough shape, so take care of it.

If you don’t recognise burnout when it happens, and take steps to prevent it from happening again, it could repeat itself in a vicious cycle and cause more serious mental problems. Pushing yourself harder even when you know you’ve reached your limit is counter-productive anyway. You’ll be hurtling towards a lose-lose situation if you do that.

Small strategies like healthy sleeping strategies, frequent exercise, a healthy diet and meditation can make all the difference. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, you can also take time out to remind yourself why what you’re doing is important to you. You can gather material to feed your passion and re-inspire yourself. Remember, a flame that is completely ignored — not tended to or fed — will eventually go out, no matter how hot it was initially burning.

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