It is only Wednesday and I feel like I have already had a full week. I had a fantastic weekend visiting some of my grandparents, but was still a bit travel-tired going into the work week. And then the work week exploded. Or imploded. Whichever you prefer.
I’ve been nonstop busy at my job, putting in extra hours on tight deadlines and praying I haven’t made a mistake somewhere. A freelance project that’s been slow-moving completely ramped up in its final stages, and long story short it was 1 a.m. yesterday (technically today) by the time I felt like I could really take a breath.
The feeling sucks. And I want to clarify that this is brought on mostly by good things, that other people of course handle more, and that I know I’ve handled more. That perspective helps some. But it doesn’t extend my deadlines or get my projects done, nor does it make my stress dissipate like a summer haze. The fact is — even if you love what you do and life is generally good — some days are going to get to you. Things are going to go wrong, your to-do list will pile up, and there will be some final straw that makes it feel like Murphy’s law is out to get you. You’re going to feel burnt out.
Unfortunately, it seems like many of us emerging adults are crap at handling burnout. Some of that is having not developed skills; but it isn’t helped when the expectation for success is to have a 4.3 high school GPA with sports and volunteering to get into a good (expensive) college and have the time of your life while also studying and doing multiple internships to have a job right when you graduate so you can put in 50-hour weeks and support yourself and make new friends and work and start saving for retirement.* But it doesn’t have to be that intense — even small seasons of stress can lead to brief burnouts. The good news is that it isn’t permanent.
If you can, take a day off. If you can’t, or are realizing that your burnout has settled in more deeply than what one day off can fix, there are still things you can do. The important thing is to remain conscious of how you’re holding up without hyperfixating on it to the point of making it worse (which I have a tendency to do if I’m not careful).
Life doesn’t slow down, so the first step is to simply keep going. Draw temporary motivation from commitment or spite or stubbornness if the goodness of your heart isn’t getting the job done. (Of course, make sure that your actions toward others are kind no matter where you’re pulling motivation from.) If you just needed a little dogged effort to push through, great.
If you’re still feeling burnt out, try to incorporate things that make you feel more you where you can. Maybe that’s going for a walk or listening to music or carving out time for a hobby. I try to make sure that I spend a little time outside every day and that I take a break for my meals instead of working through them. If things are particularly rough, I might step outside or default to a playlist that gets me through.
If it persists, know that it’s okay to consider taking something off your plate. Your friends and family are there to support you, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Figure out a way to shift your routine once the grueling season is over. After my worst semester of college I spent more than a month almost entirely alone, and while I no longer have any desire to be a hermit, it was the reset I needed to get out of the funk I’d been in for months.
And, as always, it’s also physical. Pay attention to how your body responds when you get stressed or overwhelmed. My boyfriend recently pointed out the extent to which I force tension I’m feeling mentally or emotionally into my shoulders, so now when I’m stressed one of the first things I do is relax them. Sleep is good for you. I promise. Drink water and take deep breaths. Just get up and stretch for a minute if your work is mostly sedentary. Way too often we ignore the physical consequences of stress, and being nice to your body can take some of the sting out of stress, which helps fight burnout.
*If you’re an emerging adult, you probably know that person (or are them). If you’re not an emerging adult and that scenario sounds far-fetched, it’s pretty average among my peers.