Youth Mental Health: Effects of Burnout

Written By: Jade Rauch-Word, Student at Grand Island Senior High

My name is Jade, I’m a student at Grand Island Senior High, and this year I’ll be a junior. In this article I’ll be talking about my story with mental health, in hopes that maybe it’ll help others my age or people who also struggle with the same thing(s). In this article I want to talk about working, mental health, and burnout. Healthline.com describes burnout as: “a state of mental and physical exhaustion that can zap the joy out of your career, friendships, and family interactions. Continual exposure to stressful situations, like caring for an ill family member, working long hours, or witnessing upsetting news related to politics and school safety can lead to this stress condition.” I’m speaking from my own personal experience, so not everyone will be the same as me.

This school year, despite all the COVID regulations, started off really well and was going pretty smoothly for me. I struggle with anxiety when around others, but not even that caused me many problems the first half of the year. But then winter hit; it was a tough time for me, but eventually it got better after I communicated about my mental health and problems with my mom and got help. When spring came, the weather got nice and track season started for me. Everything was going really well, and I started feeling mentally well and truly happy for the first time since before winter. I was really passionate about track and started putting all of my excess energy into it. Things were going amazing, but they didn’t stay that way, as I started suffering from burnout. The first stage of burnout is called the “honeymoon phase”, which is described as lots of energy, motivation, and passion for a new thing you’ve taken up and little-to-no issues with your work, which is what I went through with track. As the season went on, I got more and more serious with track because I was getting really competitive. I also felt more and more pressure to be the best which put mental stress on me to keep pushing myself to my limit.

Overall, just lots of my time and energy were spent towards track. Now that’s expected for a school sport, but this time it really got out of hand for me. My anxiety also started to get worse, which made every day at school a struggle for me. I would get to school really early for early-bird block, spend all day working at school, stay after for track, get home just in time for dinner, and by the time I finished dinner I had little down-time to myself before I had to go to bed. I also missed lots of school for track meets, which made it hard to catch up once I fell behind. It ended up killing any energy or passion I had left, and school became really hard for me. I’d show up early running off little sleep, spend the whole day at school batting off intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings or trying to deescalate panic attacks, have fun and spend any physical energy at track practice, come home and eat, and not even look at my bookbag. I was so tired physically and mentally most days I didn’t even bother trying to do my homework. Missing assignments piled up and I didn’t know all of the content I should’ve been learning in class, which caused me to start doing bad on tests and my grades to drop. It got bad enough where I just stopped caring. I dug myself this massive hole that was so hard to get myself out of, and after getting so far down I didn’t even bother to try to keep climbing anymore. I ended the year far past my final straw; I didn’t pay attention in class, all I did during school was try to bat away anxiety, and I dreaded every day ahead of me because every second I was in school I just wanted to be done and go home.

I gave up on school and focused all my energy into track until the season was over, then focused on doing good on my finals and getting missing work turned in the last week of school. I ended up raising most of my grades, so on paper they ended up good at the end of the year.

To others who looked at my grades I wasn’t struggling, I was a perfectly good student with good grades, but those few months were my worst rock bottom yet in almost every way. But out of all of this, the biggest and most harmful issue created from my burnout was its overall mental effect on me. I subconsciously put up mental blocks and went emotionally numb without even realizing it, and I had no idea how to fix it. If something was bothering me, I couldn’t feel it until something brought it up. I was neglecting all my relationships and my own mental health just to be able to drag myself through each day. My memory also became terrible: most days I couldn’t remember what I ate for breakfast that morning, I always forgot about homework assignments or tests, I couldn’t remember whole conversations I had, and if I had an argument five minutes ago, I wouldn’t even remember why I was upset or what led to it. I just didn’t feel anything.

The only way I experienced emotions or identified any problems was through track. Which is good… but how much energy and time and importance I was putting into it was so unhealthy. The fact that I only felt alive or experienced emotions during track was not okay. Really, I had so many issues I had to identify and address, so many emotions I had to process and feel, and they were all just blocked off. This was the effect of my school/sport burnout. I let it get out of hand, and never got help. I used to see a therapist in winter, but once I got busy, I never ended up booking another session. I guess one thing I regret is letting it get so far out of hand which led me to not say anything, to let myself adopt unhealthy habits, and also to not reach out for help, which ultimately led me to let the burnout consume me and everyday life.

The reason I wrote out this whole story and am sharing it is because I want to raise awareness for mental health and cause some good change in this world. I want this article to help people when they read it, especially students/young people my age. Something I want you, the audience, to take away when you read this is to always, ALWAYS put your mental health first. I understand school is important, or maybe your extracurriculars are really important to you like mine are to me, but NOTHING should take priority over your mental health. So, make sure to check up on yourself once in a while. If you’re really passionate about something, that’s great! Pursue and feed that passion, let it grow, but make sure you take breaks and judge how much time and energy you’re spending on it. Do things in moderation and keep your work-life balance, well, balanced. If you’re starting to feel tired and unenergetic and overworked, or you’re feeling your passion fade, step back from your work and take some time to yourself. If you’re not sure what to do or where to start, you can always reach out for help. The internet can also be a very helpful tool to educate yourself on mental health conditions IF you use it wisely and know where to find your information. On a final note: please, if you’re struggling with your mental health, find an adult or mental health professional you trust and say something. There will always be someone, somewhere ready to listen and able to help.