Why We Burn Out and How to Avoid It

It’s 3 a.m. on a Saturday and we’re pulling an all-nighter and studying for our test on Tuesday and preparing for that big event and planning our next organization meeting and fixing our resume for Monday’s interview and… we’re forgetting to take a breath because we’re on our fourth cup of coffee in the last two hours. Sound familiar? It’s a lot to handle during adolescence and adulthood, when life is already throwing so many new changes and obstacles our way.

It’s a mad rush to pad our resumes, make the cut for dean’s list, or secure the best job, and while ambition is so important in these years, rest is, too. Not the kind of rest that involves lying on the couch in front of the TV, one hand in a chip bag and one hand surfing Facebook on our phone. I’m talking about the kind of rest that allows us to rejuvenate and care for ourselves.

In college, I only gave myself the potato chip kind of rest, on the very rare occasions that I actually even “rested.” I worked my butt off and tried, to no end, to be perfect and the best at a lot of things that looked amazing on my resume but didn’t even make me that happy. In fact, they brought me anxiety. Not stress; stress is normal and can be healthy. Anxiety is not, and neither is perfection. I was lost, and I refused to slow down to ask myself where this lost feeling was coming from, and if it was even real.

That strategy didn’t work. Halfway through my senior year, I became burnt out and depressed to the point that I wanted to throw everything away and hide under the covers for the entire semester. Coming from a school known for its overcommitted students, I was not the only person I knew who felt this way. I was tired of trying to please everyone but myself. I finally began asking myself what was up, which led me down a life-changing path where I made the changes that now allow me to enjoy the things I commit myself to.

You see, ignoring feelings of intense pressure or anxiety, and pushing ourselves to unrealistic limits can lead us to burn out. In order to avoid it, we can do a few things:

1. We must stop and listen.

This means that, when we feel an emotion we don’t like, we don’t push it away and run from it. No amount of ignoring will keep us from feeling what we feel. When we learn to respect our emotions and ask what is causing them, we can really get somewhere. It is this kind of questioning that slowly brings us closer to ourselves and allows us to make important discoveries and necessary changes in our priorities and relationships.

2. We must be ok with what we are feeling.

We have to stop judging ourselves. One of the greatest contributors to adolescent and young adult stress and confusion is the need to be perfect. The thing that can be so difficult to realize is that when we fail, when we’re angry, when we react poorly, and when we screw up, we’re being humans, and we need to try to be ok with that. Otherwise, we will be unable to let go of our fear of failure, preventing us from genuinely, passionately devoting ourselves to what we love.

3. We need to take naps.

Why do they only happen in pre-K? We all need them. A short 15 minute power nap can really do wonders for our bodies, which sometimes need a chance to unwind, regroup, and chill. And getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, if we can swing it, is key.

4. We need to discover what it is that we love, and make time to do it.

This can be a process, so don’t freak out if you don’t have a clue what it is. Taking a few minutes, even just once a week, to try out something new or deepen an existing hobby is a good first step. It may be trial and error, but soon we realize we can actually make time for these little moments.

5. We need to learn to say “no.”

I know that this one is tougher than it sounds. We’re taught to work and work and work, more than anyone else in the office, even if it means 10 hour days with no lunch break or accepting yet another position as president of yet another campus club. When we spread ourselves thin, we don’t allow ourselves to give our best to any one thing, and that isn’t fair to ourselves. Saying “no” when we aren’t able to take on a commitment is not bad, insulting or mean. It is responsible and smart.

Burnout is so very common among young adults, and it’s important to recognize when it may be happening to us. It can be scary and foreign to admit to it and attempt to change things, but addressing it can bring us a sense of peace, along with the energy and motivation to be our very best.

Do you have any tips for staying motivated and avoiding burnout? Let us know below or tweet to us!

Image: Mike Hoff