Edited by Aminata Jalloh
A young adult comes into the clinic presenting with fatigue, dehydration, and lethargy. Their vitals are stable but the patient seems anxious and is burdened by a sense of “impending doom”. The patient mentions that they have been getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night, and consuming 5-7 cups of coffee a day. The patient’s medical history is unremarkable.
Diagnosis? Burn out. Send patient home with fluids and authentic advice.
We’ve all experienced these symptoms of burnout (and truth be told, some of us are at our wits end as this is being written) and know all too well that staying focused the last few weeks of classes can be a challenge. If you’re struggling with burnout, know that you’re not alone. We’re all in this struggle with you and you can make it through! Here are some ways that we’ve been fighting to combat burnout and finish strong:
For Ja’Neil, fighting burnout means “running through the line”:
“Run through the line” is something that my high school track coach would tell me when I was training to beat my personal record for the 100-meter dash. I would always take that last curve thinking I was scott free only to run out of steam in the last 10 meters. But when I finally took her advice, I ran the race as if the last 10 meters was actually after the true finish line. I finished much stronger every single race after that. The same principle has taken me through my first year of medical school. This year has proved to be challenging and just as tough as I had expected. During the second to last block especially, I realized that I would have to push even harder and “run through the line” so I don’t run out of steam before the year is actually over. Right now, this looks like not getting too comfortable, pacing myself, not cutting corners, and resisting the urge to operate only out of the workflow I’ve finally found. This process has definitely been easier said than done, but I realized for me to finish strong, I have to “trick” my mind into running through the line.
On this journey, the mind can be both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. I experience both sides of the coin on my drives home after a long day. If I’m only 5 minutes from home, I can start unwinding, thinking about how close I am to my bed and how good it’s going to feel to relax (you know the feels). Contrast that to when I’m super tired but I’m still a good 45 minutes away from home. During these drives, I literally have to fight to stay alert. This is when I start bumping Megan Thee Stallion to stay awake, I open a window, and I put my seat upright. In both cases, I’m headed to the same place, but how close I am to my destination determines how comfortable I get. So in the same way, as I’m finishing this year, I’m using every last fiber of my being to turn up the music, open up the window, and continue doing everything I can to run through the line.
To fight burnout, self-care is Roddley’s go to:
I have been a busy body since high school, but I didn’t experience burnout (thankfully) until my sophomore year of college. This is the year I took the most credits I’ve ever taken. In addition to that, I was heavily involved in my extra-curricular activities, a large part of it being my choir which traveled frequently. I was on the move every day. Rarely did I take time to breathe, relax, and just chill with my friends. I knew that I was experiencing burnout because I felt myself giving less and less energy towards important tasks with each passing week. My grades didn’t suffer profusely, but I could have done better. Thankfully, my choir traveled to California at the end of the semester and I was (sort of) able to relax on the trip.
Completing my senior year during a pandemic has taught me how to pace myself. Here’s what I’m doing: I plan out everything I need to do within the week, every week. This way, I can see everything that needs to be done to structure it in a way that doesn’t stretch me too thin. I do my best to make sure everything gets done while being patient with myself. I also take time for self-care (yes, even as things are falling apart)! Listen, I know that as students striving for graduate school we want to do any and everything we can to have our resumés look the best and receive the best letters of recommendation, but I realized that If I don’t take care of myself then I can’t be present to enjoy the fruits of my success.
France believes that keeping a level and clear headspace is the best way to fight the urges to give up:
Ironically, one day I was feeling super overwhelmed and well, “burnt out”, and found myself watching a health workshop about Burnout (that’s how you know it was bad). While watching, I received some needed insight that I’ll share in a bit. The past year has been unusually intense and collecting myself after it is proving to be intense as well (maybe even more). My time and attention are diverted between school, preparing for the MCAT, healing from loss, and managing my anxiety. Eventually, it became too overwhelming to manage it all. This is what led to the exact moment of me experiencing burnout while at a workshop about burnout.
That’s when I realized I needed to readjust my approach. I began doing devotion, meditating on God’s word in the morning, journaling, and using guided meditation apps like Calm. I also started taking walks. In addition to dedicating time to clear my mind, I sought advice from the administrators of my MCAT program and a pre-med advisor on how to readjust my academic habits. This means that I am rearranging my schedule (once again), changing my approach to studying, and am currently deciding if I should let go of MCAT prep altogether until I can dedicate undiverted attention to it. I’m also reframing my perspective on burnout itself: it is a normal part of life, and it is often a result of imbalance and not of incapability. People do amazingly hard things all of the time, but it takes pacing, a realistic plan, and a level headspace to keep pushing.
Burnout isn’t an unusual phenomenon that is the end-all-be-all of your current level of education. Our resilience or lack thereof is directly related to our wellbeing. Our advice to you is to be aware of the warning signs of burnout. If you feel like you may be experiencing it, reach out for help because you will need guidance and insight when things get blurry or unbearable. This support can come from friends, family, professionals, and mentors. Lastly, it’s natural to struggle when trying to adjust your habits and rewire your mind in order to make it to the end. We’re not saying it will be an easy process, but what we can promise is that you are capable, and on the other side of that discomfort is an even more resilient version of yourself, who is that much closer to achieving your dreams.