Battling Burnout | Katie Davis (’26)

The digital sphere has recently erupted with stories detailing young adults’ experiences with burnout. From blog posts to Instagram stories, many people have begun coming forward with stories of how they slid into burnout, all of which tend to follow a similar pattern. 

Many testimonies begin with a high-achieving person, more often than not a woman, who begins by talking about her seemingly perfect life before developing burnout. She works inhumanly hard to maintain this perfect outward appearance. Common tropes include students who strive to maintain straight As in conjunction with a rigorous schedule or perfectionists who likely work either a boring, repetitive job or in a stressful field focused on helping others

While working, she might experience chronic stress or tiredness that she will ignore for months or years, but only after a serious degradation in her physical or mental health will she take time off of her work. Compromised immune systems, anxiety and depression, and an inability to complete work because of stress all indicate that a break from work is needed. At this point, recovery can last a few months or a year.

The prevalence of stories about burnout indicates that people are aware of the problem and take steps to avoid it. However, despite these efforts, burnout affects many people in school and the workplace. 

In college, the transition into gaining autonomy from one’s parents initially creates an environment of heightened stress. Not only do students have to work to succeed in their classes, but many also have to learn how to take care of themselves without the assistance of their parents for the first time. The chronic tiredness and repetitive days that students commonly report can increase their likelihood of developing burnout. Thus, students often experience physical symptoms like muscle tension, a reduced immune system, and mental effects like a heightened likelihood of developing anxiety or depression, or reduced cognitive capacity. 

Additionally, people can experience “study exhaustion” after college, which affects mood, competency, and life satisfaction. These people report feeling less prepared to enter the job market, and they have a higher likelihood of leaving their preferred profession. People entering into repetitive jobs as well as people whose jobs focus on helping others have a particularly high risk of burnout. 

Most stories of burnout have a strong sense of time. People will work and remain busy for years, ignore their symptoms for months until their burnout builds up, and then they can no longer complete their work. Therefore, one should take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of developing burnout as soon as possible.

A 2013 study proved the effectiveness of physical and mental techniques that you can use to reduce stress and a predisposition to burnout. By regularly exercising or meditating, you can reduce the likelihood of feeling stressed now and in a future career. Reaching out for support from your social circle can also reduce the likelihood of burning out. Many people who have successfully recovered from burnout cite their social circle as the most helpful resource during their recovery. 

Because of the gradual nature of developing burnout, it can take a long time to recover, but taking preventative steps to reduce stress now will ease potential recovery processes in the future.

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