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Burning out: how to re-light the flame

Now nearing the end of my sophomore year, I am left feeling swallowed and slightly chewed by this sixth consecutive quarter. And I know it’s not just me. Friends, undeclared friends in particular, feel the same way — tired, stressed, maybe even a little fidgety.

This quarter, like all other quarters, there are deadlines to meet, presentations to give, work shifts to make on time, and all of that is to be expected, but what I can’t quite grasp is that it really seems as if it was week one, and then I blinked, and now it’s week five. And the same applies to homework. In the mornings, only a paper due the next day lives on my to-do list, but three hours later, after another class ends, two novels and another paper have made their way onto it.

I know how incredibly blessed I am to be here. I know that college is intended to be hard work, especially here, and even more so if you are pushing the maximum unit load. Right now, though, it’s not about that.

Perhaps it has to do with the consecutive-ness of having three intense quarters in a row, or just the rigor and pace of this quarter in particular. As we approach midterms and finals, this feeling is bound to multiply, and what worries me is that people do not talk about it enough; when this happens, we hide how we are really doing, and other people do the same.

With duck syndrome and imposter syndrome and all the other various syndromes we are bound to get at some point in time here, especially if we are stretched a little too thin, what are some remedies?

Remedy #1. Ask yourself: why am I doing the things I am doing?

Before you sign up for a heavy course load, made heavier with other obligations, think about your reasons for doing so. There is a difference between a healthy challenge and an unnecessarily difficult one. Is it imperative that you take each of these classes now, at the same time? Speak to your advisor to see what they think.

Remedy #2. Write down a list of things you’re thankful for.

On a Post-it note, jot down some things that you are grateful for, no matter how small. Happy that your dining hall had chicken tenders today? Write it down. Is the weather particularly beautiful out? Write that down, too. The small things add up.

Remedy #3. Get some sun.

Grab a water bottle, spread out a blanket on the grass and work outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Avoid having days when the the bike ride to class is the only time you spend time in the sun, especially because sun exposure correlates with levels of serotonin, a key mood-regulating hormone.

Remedy #4. Write down a list of things that make you happy. Then do them.

Walk around the lake. Watch a few episodes of “The Office.” FaceTime a friend back home. However small the things that make us happy may seem in relation to our obligations, make time for them. Sometimes, a good conversation with a friend over coffee means more than starting a problem set the day it is handed out.

Remedy #5. Call home.

However far away your family is, they can be as far away as you make them. Checking in with a family member or close friends back home when things aren’t going your way can put things in perspective; if you’re talking with a younger sibling, for example, they can bring you back to a time when life was simpler, unplagued by housing applications or grant results. If you are talking with someone older — a parent, maybe — and just want to vent, invite them to simply listen. If you want their advice, more likely than not, they will have some to offer.

Remedy #6. Exercise to your favorite music.

Once I’ve convinced myself to go for a run, shoes all tied, and I finally get into it, the day’s stress isn’t something I am aware of anymore. After exercising, it feels as if I have accomplished something — something that’s good for me and something I can be proud of. The feeling amplifies if you do it to your favorite song.

Remedy #7. Do nothing for five minutes.

Nothing. Don’t scroll mindlessly on Facebook, don’t. The same way you give your legs a break after a hard workout, your brain deserves some rest after working so hard for you. Sit in the silence. Take an actual break.

Remedy #8. Unplug.

Resist the urge to check your phone for messages the second you wake up. Instead, give yourself time to adjust to the morning and, when you’re ready, you can look at your devices. When you’re with friends, put your phone down. Connect with the living, breathing person in front of you. Give them your full attention, and they’ll give you theirs.

Remedy #9. Reflect.

Ask yourself: What makes what I am trying to do challenging? When and where do I get “stuck?” What resources — academic, interpersonal, or otherwise — can I use to nudge me in the right direction?

Remedy #10. Talk to a professional.

Sometimes we need a little more help than we can get by talking to friends and family. If things are feeling a little too overwhelming, it might be a good idea to explore your options by talking to a peer counselor at the Bridge or by making an appointment at CAPS by calling (650) 723-3785. No problem is too small for you to reach out.

When it feels as if everything seems to be happening at once, I think about a quote from one of my favorite childhood shows, Avatar: the Last Airbender: “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” In these times, remember that you are someone in progress.

 

Contact Amanda Rizkalla at ‘amariz’ at stanford.edu.

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Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla is a sophomore from East Los Angeles studying English and Chemistry. In addition to writing for the Daily, she is involved with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and is a Diversity Outreach Associate in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She loves to cook, bake, read, write and bike around campus.