Burnout

Hi, I’m Lily. I’m in my second year of studying and need to confess that I’m already tired and need another uni break.   

I think most of us are feeling the same tiredness. Coming back to uni in person seems so much more tiring than it was at the beginning of 2020. Launching ourselves back into “normal” life seems necessary, but we all need to make sure that we take care of ourselves. A very real concern during normal times for students is burnout, and this could become more prevalent due to the stress of COVID-19. There are a lot of preconceived ideas regarding burnout –– what it entails and what it looks like. Because of this, most students don’t know how to prevent it, myself included. So, I went off down the Dr Google rabbit hole of research to learn more about burnout and the effect it can have on the lives of students.   

Burnout occurs after a prolonged period of stress and/or work. Eventually you have to stop and your body will force you to do this. Burnout can manifest itself in many different ways but for me it manifested in strange ways. I had a pretty mild level of burnout at the end of year 13 at school. I had a hacking cough that had no medical reasoning and was likely due to mounting academic anxiety. I had to slow down before the burnout I was experiencing escalated further. The way in which I functioned for my final two years of school was unsustainable. I remember being continually worried and stressed about academic work and volunteering. I knew that starting uni straight out of this mode would be a poor decision. I made the call to take time off and step away from full-time education for a period. That was the best thing for me, but it isn’t a viable option for all students. The way in which to solve burnout comes in two stages. Firstly, solving the initial health issues of stress and fatigue through rest and taking care of yourself physically. The second stage is altering what part of your environment is causing burnout. In other words, to create a sustainable lifestyle.   

Creating a personally sustainable lifestyle is a tricky and individualised task. I took a whole year off from studying, by the end of which I still didn’t feel entirely ready to return to studying out of fear that I could spiral back into my previous behaviours. But uni is very different from high school because I can reduce and increase my workload as I need. I enjoying working outside of uni because it’s a time each week where I don’t feel obligated to be doing academic work. I like having other things going on that renders uni a component of my life as opposed to the entirety of my life. Having something small that can take your mind off studies can be effective also if a larger time commitment is unavailable to you. 

I was once asked in a course to evaluate the work/life balance of New Zealanders. I found myself thinking about how much students have to balance and how this is unsustainable for a large proportion of students. Returning to studying after the COVID-19 national lockdown has been one massive shock to the system. Suddenly I can see people again and see everyone face-to-face. I love this, but even though I’m extroverted and social I am still struggling to find the energy to see people as much as I did pre-lockdown. The effects of COVID-19 on professionals in the working environment is only just beginning to be explored. The data currently available to us suggests that around 7 in 10 working professionals are suffering from burnout to some degree. Although I can only speculate, I think this could be just as high, if not even higher, for students. We have had to adapt significantly like the rest of the world, but the fact that we are in the earliest stages of adulthood is a further stressor. This time has been a bit rough to say the least. Therefore, collectively as students we need to be looking after ourselves and each other more than we ever have before.  

If you think you’re not alright, you’re probably not. Don’t keep it to yourself. Take care of yourselves and all of those around you. Most students are finding this period very difficult. Going back to normal life is taking as much effort and adjustment as going into lockdown was. UC was somewhat lenient and understanding during this period. Semester two 2020 is no time to stop this. We need as much, if not more, support now.  

The new normal doesn’t feel normal yet. The prolonged stress of 2020 is having a collective effect on the student body. We’re just trying to get through it all, have a bit of patience please.  

By Lily Mirfin