Escaping the burnout blues

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

The feeling of emptiness is intense and unyielding. Every single day, we wake up, go to class, do our work, eat, drink and go to sleep. We spend time with our friends, talk to our family and work hard. 

But the repetitive nature of this practice gets old very quickly. The sources of enjoyment in our lives become tiresome and drab. The only thing worth doing is schoolwork because there is no choice, and that too moves onto the backburner. Waking up, eating and sleeping becomes the priority. The phrase “I’m just tired” becomes a daily mantra. This terrible phenomenon is burnout.

Personal mental health struggles aside, burnout is the thing to fear most in college (other than an STD, of course). With the workload that Tech professors saddle students with coupled with the pressures of the corporate/business world, there is no question that students feel pressure to take on more and more commitments to build their resumes and portfolios. 

Engineering and computer science students juggle their time-consuming schoolwork, internship preparation and applications, organizations, and more. Pre-med students juggle their clinical hours, research positions, volunteering, etc., all on top of their course loads.

This push for high achievement has only exacerbated the competitive nature of opportunities, both within the Institute and out. In the generations before, this level of all-consuming work was not required of students, especially this far prior to entering the workforce. The need for extracurricular activities, internships and jobs to bolster a portfolio was not as intense as it is now. 

Students continually bite off more than they can chew and consequently work themselves to the bone in order to complete all of their work. 

Some students find the quality of their work diminishing, which, in a world where academic validation is a source of drive, can be very discouraging and tough for students
to stomach.

 Tech, unsurprisingly, is not free of guilt for furthering this issue. Professors are often cruel with the out-of-class work they require of students. 

From time-consuming weekly lab reports to egregiously long problem sets, some professors make courses far more difficult than they need to be. Students cannot withdraw from classes after the deadline, which sometimes is even before the first exam scores have released. Even if a student does withdraw in time, their transcript is given the scarlet letter of “W.” These are all sources of unnecessary stress and worry for students who are simply trying to make their way in a fast-paced, highly competitive academic environment. They should be supported and upheld, not suffocated and diminished.

So what can be done to combat burnout in a personal context? Can it even be overcome in the environment cultivated by our school? It is up to the individual to decide that for themselves. They must decide whether they are willing to take measures to improve their quality of life in order to push back against the effects of burnout. It is not that they must choose between a life of enjoyment and one of focused working but a combination of both
in moderation.

We all need balance in our lives. It is the only way to prevent burnout or at least stem its effects. Pursuing and discovering hobbies is one way to enjoy time in between classes or to relax in the nights. Allowing oneself the ability to breathe between the stresses of class and career work is imperative to living a
balanced life. 

There is no one way to deal with burnout; it varies from person to person. Indeed, the “work hard, play hard” mentality is only a path to exhaustion and burnout. But, if you are anything like me, you will ignore all of this information and do it anyways. Welcome back to Tech!