Fresh Perspective | Combating Burnout

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

It’s 9 p.m. Sunday night on the first floor of Hillman Library. I sit at a round table surrounded by papers and pens and empty Starbucks cups that were filled with espresso shots only an hour ago.

My planner has no more space as it’s filled to the margins with assignments and sticky note to-do lists. Essay due this week, exam the next. Sixty pages of notes due by midnight, and don’t forget about that discussion board post due tomorrow.

I’m knee-deep into my first semester of college, and it feels like I’m drowning in my own online ocean of work.

When I accepted the fact that all my classes would be online, I was discouraged. The last thing I wanted to do after my senior year being online was to have my first semester of college be through a computer screen as well. 

As most of my friends stayed home for their first semester, I felt the pressure to follow their lead. Why would I spend all this money to go to school if I would be stuck in my room and earning a degree through Zoom, right? When I told my friends and family that I still wanted to be on campus for the fall semester, I could hear the judgment in some of their voices.

For the most part, I don’t mind online classes. Yeah, it would’ve been awesome to go into a classroom and actually interact with my professors or classmates since I am such a hands-on student, but I’ve learned to accept the cards that I have been dealt because of the pandemic.

I get to do things at my own time and make my own schedule, and I get to decide when I do what. I think that is the biggest difference from high school — I don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. every day and sit through class after class until 3 p.m. I can do classes in bed, and I never have to worry about my outfit because no one will see it. I would be very rich if I had a dollar for every time I attended a class in my PJs from the night before.

Even though online learning was working great for me, as the end of the semester approaches, I’m starting to get burnt out by the workload on my desk.

Even though we’ve only been in the swing of things for more than two months, it feels like I’ve been doing enough work to last a year. I thought with online classes, I wouldn’t have as much work as if I attended a physical class every day, but boy was I wrong. 

It just seems to never stop. I either spend all my time in the library doing work or laying in bed stressing about the work I’ll do the next day. I have so much work it feels as if my planner controls my life and has me on a tight leash. All my Canvas assignments feel like a weight sitting on my chest as it gets harder to breathe.

I’m writing essay after essay and completing 200-plus pages of psychology notes every week just to stay on top of the difficult material, and I pull out my hair over the other assignments I have to do in a week. I spend my weekdays attached to my computer to get my work done in hopes of being able to relax during the weekend, but my brain has been conditioned to never stop thinking about school since there is so much of it.

I’m mentally exhausted and my fuel is slowly running out. I have been doing so much school that it feels like I wake up and do the same exact thing every single day, as if I’m alive but not really living. We are stuck on a hamster wheel that just keeps on spinning.

As if I’m not already stressed about this semester, having my academic adviser tell me to start thinking about classes for next semester just adds on to the never-ending cycle. I internally scream that I need to make it through this semester before I start adding future stress for the spring semester on my plate.

In the midst of this constant stress and work, I begin to question what I even want to do with my life. It is something everyone doubts at least a couple of times — it’s normal to feel like this. But it doesn’t help that I’m feeling lost in the midst of a mental breakdown mid-semester.

I’m exhausted, which is taking its toll on my mental health. If I felt like this in high school, I could easily take a day off and stay home from school and just take the time I need to recharge. It’s harder to do that here with online classes.

There’s no hiding or avoiding school because I’m mentally burnt out. Yes, Pitt has its student self-care days, but in reality, they are kind of a joke, because most of us used that day to catch up on work and assignments. I’m looking forward to our break not just because of the holidays, but because it’s two months of not having to wake up and do school all day every day.

We all feel burnt out at some point in the semester — but there are ways to handle it. It’s important to listen to your body and mind when you start to feel burnt out.

When you start feeling like your brain is walking through mud, close the computer, put the pen down, and do something unrelated to school. Color, watch Netflix, take a nap, lay in bed and stare at a wall if need be. We need to allow our brains and bodies to rest and not feel guilty about it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so learn to let it be OK when you don’t tick off everything on your to-do list. I’ve also learned I should probably start taking my own advice.

Sometimes I forget I’m an 18-year-old college student. I’m here to have fun and to live my life. We spend so much time obsessing over our studies, which is important, but it’s not all life has to offer. When I’m old and wrinkly in my 80s, I want to look back at my time and not remember the exam I studied my butt off for yet still failed but reminisce on the memories of when I actually felt alive.

We have one month left of the semester. That means we have a month left to study our asses off and work toward our goals and accomplish so many things. But we also have a month left to live our best lives and make memories and enjoy our time here before we go home for two months — that is, if you’re able to go home.

We all get burnt out, but remember why you are here and why you are working so hard. Some of us are going to be doctors, lawyers, writers, scholars, scientists, and some of us are going to change the world. When you feel the fuel running on empty, just keep that in mind. School and studying are very important, but living your life is even more important.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and self-care. Write to her at [email protected].