I loved movies about high schools growing up, from High school Musical to Mean Girls – I loved all the cliches. I just wished they put a bit more emphasis on the workload yet to come.
IB sounded like a prosperous new chapter, the determining factor of our higher education and our future. Like many, I leaped into IB with a weird mixture of excitement and nervousness. Even though we started off online, I was still looking forward to my new classes and the unique experiences my last two years of high school had to offer. What I didn’t expect was surviving on 3 hours of sleep every other night, trying to make deadlines one after the other. I rarely followed up with the “I’ll get more rest over the weekend.” I remember constantly feeling drained and on edge, and sitting in front of the screen for approximately seven hours a day wasn’t helping that at all. The next thing I knew, I was burnt out.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress, stated by Help Guide. This typically occurs when you feel emotionally drained, overwhelmed, and unable to meet constant demands. In my experience, I didn’t feel like reading, talking to people, or even just scrolling through my phone aimlessly. The pile of stress can lead you to lose interest and motivation in activities you previously enjoy. Symptoms can vary for each individual, but here are some common signs if you’re burnt out:
- Physical symptoms – such as headaches, stomach aches, or intestinal issues
- Emotional exhaustion – unmotivated, tired, and feeling drained
- Reduced performance – difficult to focus on a task and lack creativity
- Alienation from work-related activities
Psychologists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that stressed individuals were less capable of down-regulating negative emotion in comparison to healthy individuals. (National Library of Medicine, 2014) The two groups showed key differences in the amygdala – a brain structure critical in emotional reactions including fear and aggression. Burnout out participants had relatively enlarged amygdalae and showed weaker correlations between activity in the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, a structure involved in decision-making. Needless to say, chronic stress can take a toll on our mental health and influence the little factors in our daily lives.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) dubbed stress as the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”. Meditation, exercise, better organization skills… while these are advice that we should never undermine, the Learning Architect proposed the Stress Intelligence model to help us cope with these feelings of stress:
- Stress awareness – acknowledge your relationship with stress by understanding your triggers and responses.
- Stress knowledge – understanding what stress can do to your mental and physical health
- Self-care – commit to self-care and establish healthy boundaries and habits
- Lifestyle management – maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle to manage your well-being
- Everyday energy – create moments of sanctuary to replenish your everyday energy levels.
There’s often a misconception that stress is the enemy, but it isn’t! A stress-free life is virtually impossible! Without any stress, our bodies and minds simply wouldn’t be able to perform. (The Learning Architect) But sometimes in the midst of stress, we tend to neglect the importance of our mental health and well-being.
Personally, my breaking point was when I lost my appetite and felt nauseous all the time. And knowing that I was behind on school work on top of feeling weak was detrimental to my mental health. I quickly realized that not eating on time and not getting enough sleep contributed a lot to my symptoms. As someone who struggles with occasional insomnia, I found listening to sleep-casts on the Headspace app and sleeping in a cool temperature room very beneficial to my sleep quality. To many, journaling might sound corny. But I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy writing, it’s a simple way to help you prioritize your problems, fears and concerns (URMC Health Encyclopedia). I was never a sporty person, but I found jogging or hitting the gym after a long day of endless zooms very relaxing. You might not like running or journalling, but whether it’s lighting a candle, talking to someone or even doing a face-mask, it is important for you to understand your own form of self-care and incorporate it into your lifestyle. A small step goes a long way, and We’re all in this together.
Golkar A, Johansson E, Kasahara M, Osika W, Perski A, Savic I. The influence of work-related chronic stress on the regulation of emotion and on functional connectivity in the brain. PLoS One. 2014 Sep 3;9(9):e104550. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104550. PMID: 25184294; PMCID: PMC4153588.