November 8, 2011

Battling the Big Red Burnout

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As we approach the end of the semester, it seems as if East Hill has lost much of its luster. For many students, classes are no longer interesting, free time is rare and obligations seem to be piling up. What began as a promising semester has evolved into a monotonous, uninspiring routine without purpose. In other words, Cornellians are experiencing a burnout.Having felt this myself, I think it’s important that we each take a moment to put our academics and interpersonal relationships in perspective. In breaking from routine and reminding ourselves of our purpose at Cornell, we can again take a stake in our educations and forgo dangerous apathy about our futures.To find evidence of this loss of purpose, one need only to take a quick walk around campus. Despite an unseasonably warm week, not as many students as expected seem to be spending time outdoors. Rather, the libraries are full, and smiles are few and far between under florescent lights. To say students seem stressed would be an understatement. Attendance in many of my classes seems to have declined, and the quality of discussion has subsided markedly; it’s apparent that few are caught up with readings. Nevertheless, we try and limp through to Thanksgiving Break.I have personally felt disconnected from my studies and campus commitments recently. Notably, my motivation for going about the day has changed since the beginning of the semester. In early September, I was genuinely excited for lectures and enjoyed readings. Now, I anxiously and tiredly focus on maintaining grades and checking responsibilities off a list. Needless to say, I’m far less productive. Based on conversations in classes, over dinner and in meetings with professors, it seems like I’m not alone — something seems to be missing from the usual, more enthusiastic hustle and bustle that uniquely characterizes life at Cornell.If anything, a rare week of warmth and sunshine in November should serve as a reprieve from normalcy. Consider this week an impetus to deal with burnout and reinvigorate what remains of the semester. I was able to address my exhaustion by enjoying the outdoors off campus, having earnest conversations with friends and getting more sleep. In doing so, I was able to see the bigger picture and again find meaning in life on the Hill.When the weather cooperates, Ithaca is indeed gorgeous. A few of my friends and I discovered this in earnest when we took an impromptu excursion to Buttermilk Falls last week. Turning off our phones for a few hours and getting lost in nature helped us look past syllabus deadlines and busy Google Calendars. Just breathing fresh air and taking off headphones opens you up to nature and to deep thinking. If you don’t have a friend with a car, have no fear — adjacent to campus are the Cornell Plantations, with meandering trails and a large arboretum. A peaceful, if brief, walk or run without a destination will surely remind you of what you want to get out of your time here.In addition to connecting with your surroundings, it’s also important to connect with those around you. More often than not, I find conversations recently have either revolved around obligations or have lacked substance. I’ve found that switching gears and talking to my friends about issues, people and just thoughts in general can be inspiring. Trust me; it’s much more interesting to discuss thoughts on faith then thoughts on a paper about faith or how long you’ll spend writing said paper. It is important to discuss and identify stressors, but only when these conversations mitigate exhaustion rather than just add to anxiety. Having genuine conversations with friends inspired me to think critically and avoid mundane tasks and rote memorization, however briefly. When discussing what’s on your mind, assurances from friends can make you see that your problems aren’t as imposing as you may have thought. Again, the end goal is to make a connection with something beyond yourself and see past immediate deadlines and responsibilities.Perhaps the most important way to freshen your outlook on the semester is to get more sleep. Certainly, this is easier said than done, and many of us have not had the benefit of Prof. James Maas’s introductory Psychology course. But it’s painfully apparent that a late night coffee from Libe Café is no substitute for a full night’s sleep. For me, one of the best feelings is waking up in the morning with the promise of a productive day. Prolonging an already-stressful late night is not only counter-productive but also unhealthy. I’ve had to remind myself recently to, at a certain point, just go to sleep. True, your obligations won’t go away. But undoubtedly, you’ll be better equipped to deal with them in the morning.Starting this column at the end of a long night in Olin and finishing while basking in the sun on the Arts Quad, I’ve come to again remember why I’m here at Cornell. I chose my classes and activities on campus because of genuine interest and a desire to learn. The key truth to keep in mind is that these greater goals are more important than individual grades and meetings — those smaller achievements are meaningless if you’re too exhausted or apathetic to appreciate your short time at Cornell.Taking a deep breath outdoors, sharing thoughts with friends and trading caffeine for sleep renewed my excitement to learn and to partake in campus life. Investing in work and extracurricular activities might mean studying a little less or taking a break, but it reaffirms our purpose and commitment to everything we do. Collectively, we can restore the positive energy that should always abound far above Cayuga’s waters.

Jon Weinberg is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at jweinberg@cornellsun.com. In Focus appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg