Monday 14 May 2018

Competitive Burnout

Julia, a Sub-Editor for Student Minds, writes about 'competitive burnout' at University, the added stress this can bring, and how to juggle the demands of University Life.

- Julia

I’ve always been involved with lots of things in my time at university (and when I was at school), both extra-curricular and academic. Of course, why wouldn’t you want to do things that intrigue you or which allow you to challenge yourself? However, I’ve noticed that more and more at university there is pressure to do things for the sake of doing things. People feel that in order to be seen as competent or successful they need to have been in a play, written articles, and played a sport to a high standard… and all while maintaining top grades and an active social life.

Even more so, in the desire to come across as this successful and all-rounded person, it is now seen as important to show that you do more than anybody else, even showing off about being burnt out. At my university, it is incredibly common for people to one-up each other on how many deadlines they have and how little sleep they have been living off. While I think it is important that we acknowledge that there are times when university is difficult and we experience high stress, I don’t think it is healthy that it becomes a culture of ‘competitive burn out’. Particularly for students, like myself, who experience mental health conditions or other disabilities, the pressure to always be stressed can put a particular strain on our health or make us feel inadequate when actually we are intelligent and dedicated.

I still do lots of extracurricular because I want to; I take pride in putting work into my degree, and, yes, I certainly have a social life. However, being burnt out and constantly stressed is not a pleasant way to live your life, nor something to strive too. I encourage you to think about the impact of telling someone around you that you were up all night working on an essay, and doing twenty other tasks at once. Not only is it bad for your health and increases your stress, but it can contribute to the anxiety and imposter syndrome that many already feel at university.

It is okay to decide that you would benefit more from an early night than finishing an essay or to turn down an opportunity for an extra-curricular activity (even something you’d otherwise love to do) just because you feel you need some downtime. Sure, you might find yourself experiencing stress or lacking sleep during term time, but it is also okay to prioritise yourself over overworking.

I'm Julia and I'm currently studying music at the University of Oxford. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I've been keen to do work talking about mental health, as well as other disabilities. Alongside sub-editing for Student Minds, I am the Oxford editor for Blueprint zine, a website with articles on mental health started by students at Cambridge University, and I'm also the chair for Oxford SU's disability campaign. I am absolutely delighted to be able to help with the Student Minds blog, to allow other students to talk about their mental health experiences and make discussing mental health not taboo, but something people can discuss openly and unashamedly.

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