5 ways to fight burnout after a year like 2020

Life is overwhelming, especially right now. This year has felt like the entire world has been on a bad luck streak with no end in sight. Between the pandemic and transitioning to virtual life, and all of the political issues which have taken center stage as the election has just taken place, it has been so easy to feel trapped in a cycle of mental exhaustion. With so much happening around us, we may need a reminder that it is okay – and essential – to focus on ourselves and prioritize our mental health in times like this.

Taking time to yourself may feel somewhat irresponsible right now. I have been feeling guilty about feeling mentally drained by the constant flow of news, and I have seen similar sentiments shared online. Of course, we all have an obligation to be educated members of society; however, we also are allowed to create boundaries with our intake of the news.

My friends and I have also discussed how virtual learning has contributed to feelings of guilt, especially when we are not being productive with our work. Because school and the rest of our lives are so entangled in the current moment, we can feel like every second of free time should be spent on school.

Luckily, it is not the case that our entire lives should revolve around our work, or even everything else happening around us. Now more than ever you should be putting time aside in order to attend to your personal needs, especially in order to maintain your mental health. I decided to compile a list of self-care activities that I have been implementing, or at least attempting to implement, into my life during the past year. I hope they can help you, too!

  1. Journaling

I have always been terrible at keeping a journal, even though it’s something I really would like to do more often. Journaling gives you an outlet to release your thoughts and feelings, and it also validates them by making them tangible. I am also a fan of bullet journaling, collage journaling, and other non-conventional types of journals where you can keep track of your monthly faves (movies, music, memes, etc). These are always nice to look back on, and remind you of the positives in your life rather than focusing on the negatives.

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation

Something that has really helped me during the past few months is learning how to be intentional with my thoughts. I tend to have some unhealthy thinking patterns, and I have been learning to stop applying value to my thoughts. Learning to let my thoughts exist without acting on them or allowing them to control my mindset has been a useful skill. Meditation has also been a helpful tool in building my mindfulness. I particularly find guided meditations on YouTube to be a great resource.

  1. Intentionally Setting Aside Time for Yourself

I have found that intentionally carving out time in my schedule to relax or do things that I enjoy has been really beneficial for my mental health. It originally made me feel guilty to take ~1 hour long breaks every day, especially during the week when I need to focus on school. However, I realized that if I added up all of the small breaks I take to scroll on my phone, I could instead implement more productive activities into my life. I have particularly enjoyed going on walks through my neighborhood to enjoy the fall weather sticks around. The best part about implementing “me time” into your routine is that there are so many options with how to fill your time, and you can do something different every day. For example, I also love channeling my energy into embroidery or baking, since it feels a lot more productive and satisfying than mindless social media scrolling. You may prefer to work out, do yoga, read recreationally, go for a bike ride. or anything else that makes you happy. Do whatever works for you.

  1. Giving Space to Your Emotions

Self-care tends to have this glamorized and positive connotation, especially on social media. It is easy to think of self-care in terms of face masks, yoga, and cups of tea. But the reality is that in order for those things to have a positive impact on your life, you also need to confront the things negatively impacting you. Self-care can be ugly. Sometimes self-care is a crying session when you’ve been holding things back all week. Personally, I have been learning to accept my struggles with mental health and unlearning the guilt I have internalized because of them. Sitting with these feelings is uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the less heavy they will feel. It is important to do this inner-self work, because distractions and avoidance will only work in the short-term, and you will be forced to confront an even larger build-up of negative emotions. 

  1. Therapy

If you are having trouble getting yourself mentally on-track on your own, I am a big advocate for therapy. It is not for everyone, and sometimes your first therapist will not be the best fit, but I view therapy as a really helpful resource. It is especially beneficial if you have been previously diagnosed with a mental illness or are currently seeking a diagnosis. Therapy is an extremely personal journey, so it is difficult to speak about it on a large level; however, I want to stress the importance of finding a professional who is trained in the treatment you need if you are seeking guidance for a particular issue. This is not to say that you need a diagnosis to go to therapy – everyone can benefit from having this outlet and getting insight from a professional. This also brings me to the point that therapy can be really expensive, but luckily Penn offers CAPS as a wonderful resource to all students. If you have been struggling, and feel like you cannot help yourself on your own, there is never any shame in seeking help from others.

There are countless other self-care alternatives, this list includes just some of the ones that have worked for me. I hope that you can implement some of these into your life, or that this list has at least encouraged you to find some of the strategies that work best for you.


Illustration: Alyssa Sliwa is an illustrator for F-Word magazine. She is currently undecided on a major and minoring in the Fine Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Posted by:Emily Campbell

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