Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Bloated. That’s the life style most Americans live. We constantly over extend ourselves, physically and mentally, by taking on more work, joining more extracurriculars, gaining more followers, eating more food, saying more words; and so, naturally, we bloat.
Okay actually you don’t pop, but you sure as hell wish you could.
It’s easy to realize you’re full after a big meal. Your body triggers your brain and reminds you that you literally cannot fit that last bite of cake in your stomach.
But more times than not we ignore that signal and shove the torte into our mouths and down the hatch it goes. You’ve overextended your breaking point, and now you’re nauseous.
Everyone has been there with food, and though anecdotally funny, the same concept can be applied in our work lives. We work until we’re bloated with stress, sleep deprivation and anxiety.
Our bodies scream, “Dude, take a frigging BREAK!” But just as we swallow the cake, we fork down one more work project or two more hours in the office.
Then the nausea hits. But this time it cannot be fixed with a glass of seltzer water and Tums. This nausea is what we call the “burnout.”
You feel lethargic, unimaginative. Your routine feels monotonous and days seemingly last for years. You’re exhausted but can’t sleep, sad but can’t cry and full but you still eat — burning out takes a toll on your mind, body, and soul.
I’ve found myself in this position more times than I’d like to admit. And it’s hard to face.
We pride ourselves on being strong and working to our breaking point, but in reality you’re not being strong if you’re in pain. The strongest thing you can do is take a few steps back and make a change.
For example, half way through each semester I find a new walking route to class. My brain likes the challenge and stimulation it gets when I discover another way to arrive at the same place. It also forces me into the present moment. And I simultaneously foster that “first day of class” energy.
Another trick I use to “un-bloat” my life is find an exercise routine (and I know this isn’t new and innovative information BUT it works). The endorphins released when you workout are powerful. In our primitive years humans physically exerted energy daily, hunting and gathering food, so biologically we need regular exercise.
It’s also so important to take vacation from your electronic devices. That means anything emitting blue light, so phones, computers, tablets, iPads, everything. Go outside and breath in some fresh air. Pet a dog or fly a kite (yes people still fly kites); do something to reverse your eyes’ dependency on unnatural light.
And finally, physically remove yourself — go on a trip. It’s okay to relax, completely “veg out” and do absolutely nothing to recharge. It’s hard for most workaholics, but recharging is the only way you can clearly assess the depth of your burnout.
With a clear mind it’s easy to set personal boundaries. You’ll be in tune with how much work you can reasonably balance, and discern when it’s appropriate to say no.
You don’t have to help a friend with their chemistry homework just because you understand it better than he or she does. Nor do you have to take on that project for a co-worker because he or she is “not so good with creative tasks.”
So, heed my words — Drink the water and take the Tums in order to make strides toward “un-bloating” your life. Burning out at work is real, but if you don’t take the time to check-in with yourself and say “no,” you’ll live a bloated life.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: