My after-school routine usually looks something like this: 1) Inhale my lunch. 2) Take a nap until I’m ready to 3) Get to work. 4) Feel unmotivated; time to take another break. 5) It’s past dinner, I still haven’t done any work, and it’s about time I get started. 6) Stay up until 1 a.m., scramble to finish up my assignments. Oops, it turns out I didn’t finish my work, but I’ll 7) go to bed, hoping I’ll find the energy at 6:30 a.m. to finish my work without wallowing in my lack of productivity.
In the virtual school setting that requires six hours of constant screen engagement, an added load of homework, and other extracurricular activities (many of which have transferred online), technology places a great strain on our mental health. To understand the causes of online burnout, however, we must first understand the toxicity of hustle culture: the strive for perfection. If there is anything the “rise and grind” culture has taught us, it’s that we are never efficient and need to squeeze in as much working time as possible. Hustle culture is defined as “devoting as much of your day as possible to working — hustling. There is no time out or time in at work. Work is done in the office, outside the office, at home, at coffee shops — anywhere.” However, this term does not strictly apply to the workforce. Hustle culture in our generation, especially in high schools, has been on the rise as college applications loom over our heads like a storm cloud.
When we are surrounded by people who are continually working hard, or “grinding,” we feel like we have to reach a certain level of productivity. If someone takes five Advanced Placement classes in a year as opposed to someone who doesn’t take any, the student with a more challenging course load works harder. People look up to those who are hardworking. But what does “hardworking” even mean? Hustle culture manifests in different ways, depending on the individual’s circumstances. Students working a job outside of school to provide for their family while balancing their classwork are just as hardworking as someone who studies every day to maintain straight A’s. As we transition our lives over to the online world, it has become ever-so-important to address the issue of high school burnout. How can we get as much work done as possible without zooming through our days? After much reflection and seeking advice from others, here are a few tips to prevent online burnout.
Stop rushing; change your mindset.
Hustle culture is all about striving to squeeze in productivity at every given moment, then feeling like a failure when you can’t seem to get anything done. Avoid multitasking, give yourself a break, and take the time to refocus yourself. Rushing to accomplish as much as you can in a day is only a recipe for burnout.
It all starts with a change in mindset. Is food better when you shove it down your throat or when you savor every bite? This can be applied to all aspects of your life: is the day better if you absentmindedly get through it or when you immerse yourself in everything that you do? “We are always getting ready to live but never living,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. Find a balance between being productive yet still prioritizing your mental health.
Be realistic about your goals.
It’s good to have set goals in mind, but if you’re an overachiever like I am, you may have very high expectations of yourself. Instead of listing everything you could get done only by spending every second productively, be kind to yourself. There are days where you might find yourself exhausted after a long day at school. There are days that you feel so overwhelmed you can’t get anything done. Rather than setting unrealistic goals and feeling like a failure when you can’t check off all of the things on your To-Do list, acknowledge your flaws as a human being. We can’t stay on top of our game at all times, so forgive yourself!
Get some form of exercise daily.
Even if it’s just a ten-minute walk outside, it will help boost your serotonin levels. As an all-virtual student jumping from online class to class, I find it difficult to stay focused without moving around for a few minutes during my breaks. To help prevent online burnout, step away from your screen and let fresh oxygen circulate through your brain. When you spend time with nature, endorphins are released and your mood will also improve.
Talk to someone you trust.
There are lots of students who don’t want to share their struggles with others due to the fear of burdening them. Talking out your feelings to someone you trust will help you process your emotions. Thanks to technology, there are also many digital platforms and community groups that you can use to vent. 7cups.com is a great resource for when you need a listener. You can anonymously share your feelings in a one-on-one conversation with a trained teen or adult who is willing to listen to you. “You’re Not Alone,” an organization I created over quarantine to help other teens feel less alone in their struggles, has a Discord server for teens across the world to gather and rant, share personal stories, and give advice—we encourage you to join! There are plenty of other online resources, so use technology to your advantage! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; mental health is just as important as physical health.
Let’s release our obsession with rushing through our days. We should appreciate how much time virtual schooling has given us—time to reflect and pick up new hobbies. We should be mindful of how we are spending our day-to-day lives. At the end of the day, zooming through your day is simply not worth it.