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The Illusion of “It” Never Being Enough

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Maia Popa, 10A

Image from Is it a bad day or is it burnout?

On a daily basis, students urge themselves to study excessively in order to perform at their best whilst disregarding their mental health and overall well-being. The culmination of such prolonged stress is known as burnout, and it has become increasingly encountered in students and formerly gifted children with too much pressure on their shoulders.

Oftentimes, students are in the habit of taking up too much and leaving too little time for themselves. This can happen due to external pressure of having good grades, of being the first in your class and meeting everyone’s expectations. Our educational system often focuses on performance rather than mental development, and this is a factor which leads to physical exhaustion, mental fatigue and emotional detachment. Studying late at night, doubling up on caffeine, biting your nails until your teeth meet flesh and switching all emotions off while studying for hours at a time are things a majority of students do in order to keep their grades high and expectations met, yet it is often what leads to burnout.

Although burnout might have the same symptoms as stress, is highly differential. Stress involves taking up too much pressure that demands too much. A burnout, on the other hand, is about feeling that you are not enough. According to Maslach, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, "People kind of switch to doing the bare minimum instead of doing their very best.” Students experience this when they are told repeatedly that their grades are too low in comparison to their classmates, that they spend too much time doing useless hobbies or that they haven’t studied enough. Gifted children with solicitous parents experience burnout most intensely – years and years of never being enough, of being pushed to do more, to study more until late at night and to wake up before sunrise and start again where they left off, all in order to keep their reputation of “the smart kid” and not to let anyone down.

Even the most resilient students can become mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation and beyond caring when they are pushed too far by either parental figures or the school system. A severe burnout can even lead to suicide - under so much pressure and constant nagging, the desire for a moment of peace and quiet can become so high that some students might take their lives in exchange for it.

To quantify “too much” or to realise that you can take no more, there are a few signs that your body gives you in order to persuade you to slow down. A lack of sleep, malnourishment – skipping meals during the day – neglecting relationships and the loss of meaning in what you do are all signs that you are overworking yourself, hence damaging your body. “In our society it’s almost like a badge of honour to say, ‘I worked this much on this little amount of sleep,’” says Dr. Adam Borland, Cleveland Clinic. “We need to adjust that type of mindset.”

Although it might seem difficult to do so, it is important that you take a break once in a while. In order to reverse burnout, set reasonable goals which you can achieve easily and take some time to unwind at the end of the day. Celebrate small accomplishments, rather than telling yourself that it’s not enough, and start making time for hobbies or coping activities that bring you happiness. It is important that a student realises their worth cannot be measured in grades, yet finding value in what you do matters more. Finding the meaning in what we, as students, do on a daily basis can stop us from letting ourselves fall too deep and hitting the cold ground from which we might not be able to get up.

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