Burnout. It was a key theme of quite a vast bit of my 2019, yet I barely recognised it for what it actually was until very recently.
burn·out | \ ˈbərn-ˌau̇t: exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration
I hate saying that I’m stressed, because I know there are people out there who do way, WAY more than I ever do in even a month, let alone a day. If I ever did say it, people around me would chuckle and go “what do you have to be stressed about?” and fair enough, because at a glance, I didn’t have much to be worrying about. For most of the year I was a student, and so I had peers going through the exact same thing who were able to still get up in the morning and function with no qualms. For the remaining months following finishing up at university, I only worked between November and December. I had a whole two months just searching for jobs day-to-day, and it looked as though I spent my days in bed and doing a wee Google search for “journalism jobs in Scotland” every so often.
That’s how I’d have viewed it, anyway. And that’s why I failed to see it as the above definition.
I’ve talked about struggles I’ve seen myself go through previously, and unfortunately at the start of the year, that came back up. It’s blah and pretty crummy, but it is what it is. I’ve always found it difficult to talk about these things, so I stayed very quiet about it all and just got on with it. On reflection, that was probably the worst thing to do – but there was so much going on that I felt I couldn’t really stop and take in how I was feeling. This was actually around the time we had to move, so it really was a hectic time with not much space for any other goings-on!
Burnout in students is getting talked about more often, which I’m really glad to see. I was obviously well aware of the stresses that come with being a high school or university student when I was one, but having come out at the other side and looking back, it’s crazy. It’s also almost expected when going through education, which meant that again, I took to just pushing through and getting on with it. It sucks that it happens, but I suppose it helped that I had others around me going through the same experiences.
What really got me, and what I’d really like to discuss, is the unexpected feeling that came with being unemployed. I graduated in 2018 and worked a summer job before going straight back into doing my masters; I finished my last class for that degree in May 2019 and didn’t pick up work until November. My excuse for not panicking about jobs for the first few months was that I still had my project to focus on over the summer months in order to obtain the MA, but as August drew to an end, I was increasingly aware that most students from the class had started working while I was still to even send in my first application. I’d always been very lucky to have got any jobs I had gone forward for before, so this was a whole new thing for me.
Let me tell you – no one prepares you for how lonely unemployment can be. I live with my boyfriend – who works full-time – and I’m seven hours away from home, so I struggled with keeping myself entertained. After a matter of weeks, I found myself not even bothering to get dressed, because I wasn’t leaving the house. My mornings consisted of waking up as my boyfriend got up to go to work and sitting on my phone going through the day’s new employment additions to various job websites. I’d apply if there was anything I was interested in (which was ANYTHING after a while); failing that, I’d just go back to sleep. It was an awful cycle, but one that I felt I couldn’t avoid after a while. I actually started to feel jealous when I’d hear the door close and the car start at 8am every day. AND I was rubbish at replying to emails or bothering with this website. The logical thing to have done was to spend my time writing on here and getting more creative, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to do it.
This was the time period I realised that I wasn’t feeling great. Obviously I was well aware that I felt miserable beforehand, but it was the beginning of a realisation that the way I felt could have an explanation rather than it just… being, really. It’s funny because the “traditional” understanding of burnout is that you’re overworked, but for me, I wasn’t working at all. What I was doing was spending every waking moment panicking about finding money and work, while having nobody to talk to until my boyfriend returned home at the end of the day or during a phone call to home through the week. I cried a lot. It was all a bit sucky.
But I was very, very lucky to have a job opportunity come up at the start of November, and to say it was the kick I so desperately needed is an understatement. Even having a reason to wake up, get dressed and head for the train was a god-send. I joked about willing to do the work for free – and only a part of me was joking. I’d got it into my head that my lack of employment and resultant loneliness was due to my incapability. I questioned my potential in the journalism industry on a daily basis, when really it was just a case of timing. That, and I had started to believe everything that burnout had caused me to think. Suddenly I was back to my old self, and I’ve sworn that this year will see me continue this new-but-old-found positivity. Yes, that’s a new term I’ve made up right now.
Eeeeh. This is turning into a total woe-is-me post! What I would like to do, on the back of this, is help people to recognise when little stresses here and there turn into full-blown burnout, and how to avoid it from creeping up. So, based on my own experiences, here are a few tips:
- Talk about your day. Whether it’s with family, friends, flatmates, even just on social media. Take time to reflect on how you feel and what’s caused you to feel that way – whether good or bad.
- Learn when to say “no”. I’ve always been incredibly bad at doing this, and I used to thrive on multitasking. That’s all fine and well, until it causes unnecessary upset and panic! Obviously choose your audience for when you do this, but it’s acceptable to admit when you’ve got too much on your plate.
- Switch off. This is easier said than done, I know, but I’ve come to recognise moments where I’m checking emails or scrolling online when I could be doing something else; often, something way more relaxing. I started off finding this especially difficult as a freelancer working from home, but I’ve started to make sure that I work on a 9-5 basis to ensure my spare time is my spare time.
- Sleep! I am absolutely the most hypocritical person in saying this, but it took all of this to teach me the importance of having a good sleeping schedule and ensuring you get enough sleep. I was getting too much sleep while I wasn’t working. Don’t do that either. But too little sleep can lead to pretty irrational thinking. There’s plenty apps out there now to help you fix your pattern, too!
- It’s all in your head. I know this is a bit of an open-ended one, but this is something I had to take time to realise. I’m an incredibly self-critical person, and so I was quick to blame myself when things weren’t going my way, as well as being hard on myself all through my studies. If you’re anything like me, you need to teach yourself that not everyone is out to get you, and you’re more than capable of doing something if you put your mind to it. Bad patches do exist!
Do you have any tips or tricks for dealing with stress? Let me know in the comments below!