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A Graduate Student’s Recovery from Burnout

A Journey of Spiritual Growth

I was very reluctant to post this initially, but given that it’s an increasingly common problem among young professionals I think I have an obligation to do so. This past September, after 8 consecutive years of post-secondary education, I was diagnosed with severe mental burnout, to the point that I could not stare at a computer screen for longer than a few minutes and could barely formulate an email. This in turn led to depression, as I couldn’t see a way out of my “state”. I had to take a year off from school and re-evaluate everything I had worked tirelessly to achieve.

My journey to figure out what was wrong with me and to heal led me to a psychotherapist, a holistic practitioner, a naturopath, a Christian Orthodox priest, a vegan diet, a bioenergy practitioner, minimum-wage employment, yoga, meditation and kickboxing classes. While everything helped a little bit, it was only after I fully connected with my spiritual side that my condition started to improve.

This process led to a couple of realizations that I’d like to share. First, we live in a materialistic and fast-paced world, where we often suppress our true emotions and strive to live up to norms and ideals put forth by society. Success is judged by the size of one’s bank account, not character. Moreover, we live in an age of information overload, where we are disproportionately bombarded by negative messages and role models both online and offline. Finally, given the “survival of the fittest” in Western society, most of us are indoctrinated in the mindset of competing against others both in school and in the workplace, as opposed to striving to be the best versions of ourselves.

On my path to “beat out” the rest, which was marred by stress, anxieties, and jealousy, I lost track of who I truly was and experienced an existential crisis at age 26. I failed to build and maintain meaningful friendships, I lost my girlfriend of 3.5 years, and I was in the worst physical shape of my life. Fortunately, with the support of my family I was able to face reality head-on, not succumbing to drugs and alcohol and other potential quick fixes. The truth was that I badly wanted a quick fix, but deep down I knew that it was not a solution.

The point of this whole story is not that I’m something “special” or that I am sharing something “revolutionary”, but rather that collectively as young professionals in the West we need to stop acting entitled and start being more grateful. So what if you haven’t gotten that promotion yet or if you’re not at the top of your class? The vast majority of youth in the developing world would envy the educational and professional opportunities available to us. As part of our unique journeys in life we should only look to improve upon ourselves, which is within our control, and not constantly feel pressured to compare ourselves to others. Otherwise, how are we ever going to be happy? Finally, please take some time off your phones and emails and physically connect with other humans and nature. Having spent several months without using my laptop and with limited cell phone usage, I can confirm that there is another world out there.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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