Quarterly Week: A Survivor’s Account

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Carolyn He, Contributing Writer

Disclaimer: I am documenting my experience with burnout and my experience only. I am by no means a professional, so please seek out professional help if you feel you need it 🙂 Please also be noted that the writing is fairly dramatized and almost satirical for the sake of entertainment. 

Quarterly week really hit me like a semi-truck — an eighteen-wheeled monstrosity carrying a load of a thousand tons. Or more accurately in my case, the weight of unreasonably high academic expectations I had set for myself. Following this stress-filled week of strenuous testing and studying, my motivation became only a fleeting thing. I was experiencing a classic case of burnout. Suddenly, it became a laborious struggle to pay attention in class, and my productivity levels tanked. 

It was even worse at home. Although I had fencing to occupy my mind in the afternoons, upon arriving home at 6 o’clock every evening, I promptly spiraled into pits of lethargy and despair. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage my mental health, I promised myself that I would methodically treat this debilitating case of burnout I had. My resolution included managing my expectations and achieving a work-life balance. Essentially, I would give myself time for my mental health to recover. That’s not to say I let myself off the hook completely, for I vowed to achieve 30 minutes of productivity per day. 

What I fool I was! The moment I tabbed into a Google Doc or Classroom assignment, my traitorous fingers stubbornly refused to associate with my keyboard! My last three brain cells fled my mind faster than I could polish off an entire bag of cheese puffs! I resorted to all forms of procrastination to stave off the torture (aka annotating) my English teacher had assigned for the day. I would eat entire bags of Trader Joes’ white cheddar cheese puffs (as aforementioned) and I would spend lengthy hours scrolling obsessively through social media. Every now and then, I would glance guiltily over at my English book waiting to be read and annotated. There was a little voice in the back of my head that nagged and nagged and nagged — incessantly — like a small child. I would have loved just to ignore it, like I would a real child, but my conscience refused to let me rest. I decided to pull myself together. 

What better way was there to activate productivity mode, I reasoned, than to procrastinate even further by rereading all my favorite books? Although this may sound counterintuitive, giving the mind time to relax proved to be the most effective cure for burnout. 

I probably spent no more than 45 minutes a day reading books (assigned reads and free reads combined), but my mental health flourished from undergoing this simple action! Perhaps it had to do with the serotonin flooding my brain when I encountered my favorite characters, or perhaps it was simply soothing to disassociate myself from this tumultuous world, if only for a moment. Regardless, allowing myself to indulge in this healthy way ultimately enabled me to move past my mental roadblock. 

Of course, burnout is only temporary; it may seem daunting at the moment, but the stress associated with it will come to pass. 🙂 My advice would be to participate in a light activity that is EFFORTLESS and FULFILLING for the individual! Off the top of my head, that can be cooking, playing an instrument, meditating, or hanging out with friends. For me, the easiest way to unwind happened to be reading books. 

To help others who are currently battling their own burnout monsters, I have compiled a list of books that are light and perfect to read during these mentally arduous times! Feel free to give any of these lovely novels a try, regardless if it is for pleasure or for the sake of salvaging mental health. 

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones

Witty, whimsical, and charming, this book is the first of a low-commitment trilogy set in an enchanting world of moving castles, anamorphic fires, and melodramatic wizards. Fans of Studio Ghibli may be familiar with this story! 

  1. An Enchantment of Ravens – Margaret Rogerson 

A standalone fantasy novel with more fluff and luscious prose than plot. Filled to the brim with simultaneously wholesome and angsty moments, this book is perfect for any hopeless romantics!

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea – TJ Klune

This book leaves the reader with feelings reminiscent of receiving warm kisses from a loving, golden sun. It is wholesome, fulfilling, and I wish I could bottle up its essence and bring it with me wherever I go!

  1. My Lady Jane – Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a comedic reinterpretation of Jane Grey’s story, the infamous “Nine-Days’ Queen” of England, which made me cackle many times aloud!

  1. The Big Friendly Giant – Roald Dahl 

A classic tale of friendship and kindness; this book has been my go-to comfort novel since fourth grade 🙂 

Reading may have worked for me, but it would be ludicrous to imply that reading works for everyone. In that spirit, I have also compiled a list of professionally recommended methods of making burnout feel more tolerable. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Burnout:

  1. Manage your expectations. Don’t expect too much out of yourself if you find you cannot meet previous standards. Set reasonable goals, and make sure to take breaks if you need them!
  2. Get plenty of exercise, food, and sleep! Ensure that your body isn’t physically stressed. 
  3. Maintain relationships with classmates and family members — remember that you have a strong support system that you can always rely on! 
  4. Reevaluate your habits. This can simply be rearranging your schedule to be less work-heavy or changing up your study habits. 
  5. Manage your time. This plays critically into avoiding procrastination and staying on top of deadlines. Set a schedule for yourself or start small by simply creating a to-do list. Moreover, try to make time for YOURSELF!
  6. Take it easy! Take as many breaks as you need to, take a step back from the cause of stress, and let yourself decompress by doing an enjoyable activity!