Living Through “Dead” Week

Here at Azusa Pacific University, a little thing we like to call “dead” week has just come to a close. University students have been fervently reading, writing, and studying to get to the other side of finals week, hopefully with a decent GPA under our belt.  With every completed assignment, motivation seems to be slipping away, but mama’s cooking and unlimited time to Netflix the days away keep many going.

Needless to say, my dead week did not disappoint. I slept for 5 hours of the 60-hour span between Tuesday morning and Thursday night. These hours held both tears and laughter, filling conversation and frustrated rants.

One of the assignments that I had to complete this week was a writing portfolio that contained all of the work that I completed for my Writing for Communications class this semester. In the many hours that it took to compile all the drafts, finalize the pieces, and put the finishing touches on my portfolio, I realized just how much I articulate my journey in my schoolwork.

One of the assignments was to write a blog post, and I chose to write about burnout amongst college students, which at the time I was clearly experiencing. For what it’s worth, I thought I would share some encouragement with my fellow students. We are SO CLOSE. Netflix and good food are just around the corner ;)

So here’s a little snippet from my portfolio and a look into burnout:

This morning at 7A.M., my phone buzzed to the tune of the latest Katy Perry hit signaling the beginning of my day.

A quick shower and two cups of coffee later, I am running out the door for a full day of work, classes, meetings, and coffee dates –it’s my lifeblood. Between art lecture and communication theory class, I will council a struggling friend and cram in some reading.

In the evening I will attend my aerobics class, run a small group meeting for adjusting freshman students, attend my intramural flag football game, and eat some dinner somewhere in-between. Oh, and after these duties are checked off the list I will complete any remaining homework – falling into bed between one and two in the morning.

Rinse and Repeat.

The life of a college student can be extremely stressful.  Expectations are higher, responsibilities are heavier, and small decisions are more significant. Amidst English lectures and bio labs, students are encouraged to attend guest lectures and meet with professors one on one. In addition to these demands, well-rounded students join clubs, attend school events, and engage in community service. This doesn’t even begin to take into account the basic spiritual, emotional, and physical needs that arise in student’s lives.

It’s no wonder that in the midst of all this chaos, university students are experiencing burnout.

According to psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, burnout can be described as the “consequences of severe stress and high ideals.” This distinguishes the difference between stress and actual burnout. Suspended levels of anxiety and the pressure of perfection leave many excelling students emotionally exhausted and incapable of productivity.

A study from the Journal of Higher Education at Ohio State University adds to the conversation. Research professor Yoram Neumann says, “College students may in fact experience the burnout phenomenon due to learning conditions that demand excessively high levels of effort and do not provide supportive mechanisms that would facilitate effective coping.”

This calls to question the standards and expectations the university imposes. Are university requirements realistic for striving young students? Is the American education system properly preparing young people for the college experience?

The answers to these questions are multi-faceted. I do not feel that it is productive to the purpose of this piece to dive any further into the brokenness of societal expectations. However, as a university student, there are several philosophies that I have adopted to combat burnout. Perhaps some of these may resonate with you.

Make time for yourself. That’s an order.

Somewhere along the way, success has become the golden calf of our culture. Anything and everything should be thrown aside in the race to get ahead. Basic human needs are sacrificed for the sake of academic and career advancement.

And it only gets harder from here on out.

How do we find contentment and peace in the midst of all society demands of us? I believe the answer is as simple as consciously feeling breath expand your lungs. It means taking the time to savor the food that you are so ravenously consuming at lunch. It means standing outside and staring at the stars before you go to bed. It means making eye contact with the strangers you pass on your way to class.

Become aware of yourself and your relationship with the world around you. You are one tiny part of a giant world. Let yourself become swept up in the mystery of the universe by appreciating the intimate parts of life.

Let go of your desire to be perfect.

Well-meaning mentors always used to tell me, “just be the best that you can be.” But I could always be better. Inside of me was this notion that I could muster just a little more. I could have worked a little longer on that paper. I could have been a more consistent friend. I could have sacrificed a little bit more of myself.

Something tells me that I am not alone.

I have found comfort in author Robert E. Quinn’s words that “True excellence cannot be sustained indefinitely… Excellence is a dynamic state, not part of a routine process. You maintain excellence for limited periods of time, and then you lose it.”

The “best that I can be” often does not exist. I am human. I am finite. Perhaps I could have done better, but in this moment I am incapable of achieving anything more.

Accepting inadequacy in the spectrum of human limitation releases weight from my chest. It will bring you freedom too.

I believe that our sanity is wrapped up in the small things. Basic joys remind me that my definition is more than my GPA or financial status. Respecting yourself and embracing your humanity are the first steps toward fighting burnout.

Breath in. Breath out.

Rinse and Repeat.

I pray that no matter what the coming week holds for you, you are able to pause and remember why you are here.

For some additional inspiration here are 55 ways to take care of yourself when you are stressed19 signs that you are doing better than you think, and here’s a two-minute study break/stress reliever that you must watch every few hours :)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

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