Illustration by Assel Mukanova

Navigating Mid-semester burnout

How can we prevent burning out in the middle of the semester? I discuss my tips and own experiences dealing with burnout.

Nov 7, 2022

While I isolated myself in my room due to lack of motivation to hang out with friends on a Friday afternoon, a WhatsApp notification popped up on my phone stating that we were expected to write a piece for The Gazelle soon. Having had to study for my calculus exam throughout the week, I found writing to be a welcome change in routine and I thought I would get to it right away.
The universe does have its ways after all; the second pitch in features was about burnouts and that made me wonder if what I was experiencing was a burnout. A Google search confirmed that I had most of the physical symptoms of one — frequent headaches, muscle pain, unprecedented changes in eating or sleeping patterns and feeling drained. I thought I had just had an exhausting week, but as I delved deeper into reading about burnouts, I realized that I had been mistaking my emotional symptoms of burnout for just feeling low.
Although the emotional symptoms of burnout are things we all feel sometimes — such as a sense of failure, self-doubt, helplessness, detachment and a cynical outlook on life — feeling this way consistently for several days or even weeks may mean that, unfortunately, you are on the road to a burnout. Burnouts are also characterized by some behavioral changes, like withdrawing from responsibilities, isolating yourself from others, venting frustration onto peers and most importantly, procrastinating or being less productive.
To be transparent, reading about it made me feel worse. The idea that everyone is doing great at university while I am struggling to maintain a balance between academics, social life and health was troublesome. But I was slightly reassured when I discovered that certain personality traits — such as perfectionism, pessimism and the desire to control (which leads to reluctance to delegate) among other traits — play a major role in making you feel constantly overwhelmed. To top it all off, my lifestyle was not very healthy either. From taking on too many responsibilites and refusing help from others to sleeping three hours per day, I was pushing myself closer to the edge.
Whatever the causes were, I knew I could not continue on the way I was. However, I was convinced that online proposed solutions to burnouts were unrealistic. Advice along the lines of “take a break, focus on your well-being and make a change” did not seem particularly helpful to me, despite seeming to be essential to recovering from a burnout. I thought I did not have the luxury of time to take a breath, but finally I realized that once I was in a better state of mind, I would be much more productive.
So, very reluctantly, I hung out with my friends on that Friday evening instead of working, which, in hindsight, was a wise decision for me to make. Forgetting about my pending work and the ever-nearing deadlines, I spent my weekend attending social events such as Halloween, the Diwali celebrations and just relaxing. Although I still have not fully recovered from burnout, giving myself some time without obligations allowed me to start the week with renewed energy. Life was not as bad as it seemed a few days ago.
In hindsight, a few factors led to my burnout. To begin with, seeing most people unwinding and traveling during the fall break while I was constantly stressed about my upcoming calculus exam led to my feelings of frustration. Spending time relaxing seemed like a guilty pleasure, which did not help my situation at all. I was also discouraged by my midterms results for some courses because I did not score well despite spending days studying. This made me believe that no matter how much effort I put in, I was destined to fail.
So after my own experiences with burnouts, here are my general tips for anyone who may need them. Burnouts do not happen overnight, they tend to creep up on you and build gradually. A very important preventative measure is setting boundaries and learning to say “no”. If you have to overextend yourself to meet others’ requests, just understand that your well-being is more important than others’ expectations or perceptions of you. As someone who generally struggles to refuse people who reach out for help, I know that if I learn to turn some people down, I would have much more time to myself. A very important factor is that most of us are living away from home and we are all probably struggling to build a support network that’s not primarily based on our immediate family and childhood friends. Obviously, having someone who you can share such negative feelings with, might help you get these notions out of the way. You could talk to your friends/family or even join a support group maybe. Also, if you believe that you do not have anyone to turn to, try making new friends and expanding your social network.
Setting out some time to de-stress everyday, whether it be in the form of exercise and meditation or pursuing a hobby, will help you counter stress. At risk of sounding clichéd, adopt a healthy lifestyle: take a daily break from technology where you just disconnect from the digital world, eat a balanced diet and most importantly, get enough sleep.The significance of getting a good night’s sleep stems from the fact that exhaustion makes you think irrationally, making it harder for you to remain calm in stressful situations.
A lot of these measures have been helping me overcome my own burnout, and I hope that if you just start by incorporating one or two of these into your own life, you will start feeling better, too.
Shahram Chaudhry is Deputy Features Editor. Email them at
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