Burn out: New Trier’s epidemic

I honestly didn’t know how to start out this article. For the past 2 years, I’ve had a hard time even describing ‘burning out.’ Regardless, of copious amounts of research I’ve done, there’s no real explanation for it, just the common triggers: academics, sports, parents, it goes on. It’s hard to write about it when I can’t explain it. I did find a common pattern though, that it often leeches on your average high school student. Not the smartest in the class or the athletic star, but the student who does enough to get comfortable in school: The A and B student, that’s involved in one or two sports and has done a few clubs here and there.

Burning out feels like a weird in-between phase. The best I can describe it is as a cloudy headspace where I didn’t feel like doing anything. It’s not directly laziness or depression but a mixture of both, like I was tired of everything. I tried my best not to take it out on anyone, but it was inevitable when I was constantly on edge. I wouldn’t lash out because I contained all my tension, but it ended up taking a mental toll. That mixed with constant fatigue, drained all my positivity and fed my mood swings.

I remember specifically I would get home and literally crash anywhere. Most of the time, I ended up on my bed, passed out holding my iPad vertically, while it played whatever Netflix show I was watching. Other days, I’d fall asleep on my bedroom floor among sprawled out papers. The worst of it, however, was taking out the stress on my parents. I guess subconsciously I didn’t want to take it out on anyone else, fearing I’d lose friends and gain a bad rep. So instead, I’d push over my parents and give them attitude, because I knew that no matter what I said or did, it wouldn’t change how much they loved me.

Last year, I had a weird epiphany, one that seems obvious now. I don’t remember what triggered it but I realized, in the midst of all the angst I had, my parents continued to check in on me. Even though I’d walk into the house, not wanting to talk to anyone, they still made an effort to come into my room to talk to me and bring me little plates of snacks. It was the little things that I underappreciated. I fully understood then, how much I took them for granted when all they did was care for me. All I could do was apologize to them, in an attempt to relieve the guilt.

It’s hard getting past it, because I felt stuck and constantly tired. Sure, all the homework, tests, parents, friends, and sports can influence it but it just feels self concentrated. Like there are days when everything feels fine, but others where I felt drained of all energy.

I want to reiterate however, that it’s not depression. It’s as serious as depression, but less extreme. I compare it to roots of disengagement that consumed all my time and attention. That’s when burning out feels draining because it doesn’t seem to stop. The thing about burning out is that most of the time, it’s self-perpetuating. I don’t want to blame my teachers or coaches entirely for the stress because all the pressure was manageable. It was on me, that I didn’t know how to cope with it.

I procrastinated all the time and still do. But I did that because I lacked energy in the moment to devote to my homework or go to practice. I fell into a loop where I felt, I had fallen behind because I was trying to catch up on all the work I didn’t do the night before. That was the hardest part. Aiming to balance lack of sleep, homework I didn’t do, and homework I needed to do, while maintaining a social life.

As a result, my grades suffered a bit, my friendships strained, and my relationships, especially with my parents, became tense. So I felt more tired and more drained, because it was a never ending cycle. I felt a lot of guilt because I knew I had homework that needed to be done, but couldn’t bring myself mentally to do it. Even though homework always felt like a chore, for some reason, it felt heavier, like it was quite literally weighing me down. The only thing I had enough energy for was social media and Netflix because it didn’t require much thought. That’s part of the reason why burning out is so confusing. You know that you should be doing productive things and you feel guilty when you don’t. But when I actually sat at my desk and forced myself to pay attention, I felt my brain go numb and my eyes slowly close. I couldn’t think, I just sat there reveling in exhaustion.

But despite feeling like the tiredness never ends, it does. Eventually I found a balance when I understood myself better. I started to notice signs that indicated I was falling deeper into the loop. For example, when I was getting tired, I knew not to push through it because it would waste more time and energy. So I would get up in the middle of studying, even though it was difficult, and took a nap.

There really isn’t a direct way to medicate all the tiredness, you just deal with it. If you’re already in the loop, you’re stuck. But that’s ok! It’s a lot of trial and error, but you get used to it. If you tend to procrastinate, work around it. Come home from school or other activities you do and chill. Take a half hour to an hour to do whatever makes you forget about all the homework you have to get back to. Or take a nap, eat a snack, do something that helps relieve stress.

The one thing I took away from the last three years, was to make time for myself. Even if it was going out with my friends on the weekends or locking myself in my room and watching Netflix for a couple hours. It depends on the mood. But most importantly, have friends to vent to. Knowing you have one or two close friends that you actually trust and can offer a good second opinion is what can help break the mental block.