Burnout. It sucks. I have experienced 3 major burnout points in my life. Once during an undergraduate degree, master’s degree, and during my doctoral degree. The first two times were not as severe and happened around finals week in the final semesters of both degrees. But during my doctoral degree, it happened during year 1 and was detrimental to all areas of my life.
You would think I would learn from my past experiences, but burnout can be hard to catch, especially if you don’t have awareness on how you are feeling and what you can realistically manage in your life. It wasn’t uncommon for me to practice 4-6 hours a day, study 1-2 hours a day, attend rehearsals, play the occasional gig, pull the occasional all nighter, or work on other academic demands.
This seems like common practice for many students, but for me this experience was not sustainable and after the 3rd occurrence, I couldn’t push through anymore. The accumulation of mental and physical stress, working through chronic daily pain (this was also at a time where I was working through an injury cycle), extreme academic demands, and ignoring my rest and health led to a final burnout that made me deeply question my love for music and career path.
I found myself deeply depressed, anxious, and having no motivation to get out of bed. I tried listening to my inspirational playlist of music to relight the fire, but I couldn’t feel any emotions. I was emotionally numb.
As you can imagine, my experience not only took away the joy of music, but caused me to isolate myself from my friends and family, causing me to feel even more isolated, depressed, and confused. Academics and music is often saturated with hard workers and people who seem like they can grind out work 24/7. I had such a hard time grasping my reality when I could no longer push my body or mind to fulfill the expectations of a music student. I often found myself asking, “what is the point?” “what do I do now?” “how can I keep going on like this?”
Luckily for me, I found a light in the darkness and made a huge pivot in my life to pursue health and wellness. This led me down the path towards recovery and ultimately led to me where I am today. But not everyone is as lucky and I realize how lucky I am to come out the other side and still be pursuing music with excitement like a little kid on Christmas morning.
With that said, I am not alone in my experience. During my graduate degrees I saw friends and colleagues go through different levels of burnout and many of those colleagues dropped out, took time off from school, or switched career paths.
My hope with this blog post is to shine a perspective on someone who has experienced burnout and give the reader a deeper understanding the what, why, and how of burnout.
Now that we have the perspective out of the way, let's dive into what burnout is.
My definition of burnout is the loss of passion, the loss of centeredness, and/or the loss of fulfillment in your work or life. The accumulation of stress, without the daily implication of proper self care habits can lead to mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion. If burnout is left unmanaged, it can lead to negative, life - altering circumstances.
Let’s imagine that the road to burnout is put onto a scale from 1 - 10. 1 being high energy, care-free, and centered, while 10 being full-induced burnout. As we move closer to 10, we move further away from being our true selves - one that is centered, focused, and resonates with the person you want to be. As we move closer to 10, the more work and time it will take to dial back the scale. In other words, burnout compounds.
The Warning Signs
Onset of Stress -> Continuation of Stress -> Chronic Stress -> Burnout
There are many warning signs and symptoms of burnout that happen along the way. These aren’t in any particular order and generally, you won’t experience all of these. Mild symptoms can include:
Lack of motivation to insure proper nutrition
Lack of sleep or reduced sleep quality
Lack of wanting social interaction
Dissatisfaction of daily life
Inability to focus (compared to your normal levels)
Avoidance of decision making, I.E. procrastination
Anxiety, change in appetite, fatigue (both mental and physical)
Forgetfulness (although I have this ALL the time lol, #ADHD)
General neglect and lack of awareness of your personal needs
Grinding teeth at night (can lead to TMJ)
Headaches and heart palpitations
Severe symptoms can include:
Chronic fatigue, both mental and physical
Body becomes less resistant to pathogens, thus increasing your chances to become ill.