April 12, 2021

SMITH | Feeling the Burn(out)

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I’m burnt out. The feeling in the pit of my stomach is the same as when I’m on a long run and my body is giving up despite being only halfway through. I have class and work and, not gonna lie, the global pandemic isn’t making things any easier. 

I get a sense that some of this is just me, as other students have said that this semester feels better than last semester. However, I believe there are some elements contributing to this burnout that aren’t unique to me. One friend put into words a feeling that I hadn’t been able to articulate: We may have adjusted somewhat to the day-to-day of the pandemic and Zoom University, but it’s debatable how conducive those adjustments are to a successful (and mentally stable) semester. 

We all know that going to campus to do work usually helps with productivity, but I must confess that I’ve gotten quite used to not leaving my apartment. It has all the snacks I want, cats and doesn’t require me to worry about the person sitting at my table wiping it down with disinfectant. 

Having been at Cornell a few years, I had a system in place for studying, doing homework and seeing friends that had started to fall into place. I had gotten somewhat adjusted to Cornell University, and Zoom University pushed me right back to what at times feels like square one. My system was upended and even though I’ve more or less gotten used to breakout rooms and hybrid classes, I’m still far from functioning optimally. More than anything though, I need a break. Truth be told, I spent my wellness days catching up with work and I don’t see myself spending the next set of wellness days any differently. Katherine Yao can sympathize.  

Most of us have been advised at some point or another not to work in our beds because then our brains start associating that location with work. But some days I feel like my whole apartment is my bed. My entire living space has become my work space and I do the vast majority of my work within its walls. “Coming home at the end of the day” doesn’t really exist but I also sometimes feel too stressed in external spaces, so there’s far less of a sense of rest wherever I go.  The more amorphous nature of online classes and the lessening of a “I need to be at this place at this time” mindset that results from Zoom University also makes it harder to find a time that feels like a break. It seems like every hour of the day is a reasonable time to catch up on that lecture recording or submit that Canvas Discussion. The result? Mental and physical burnout. A friend of mine quite literally found themselves at the hospital for what they were told was stress related stomach pain.

Keeping in mind students who are fully online, the pang of missing campus is also hitting extra hard as the one-year anniversary of campus’s March shutdown comes and goes. Chibuikem Iwuagwu  ’22 says, “I left as a sophomore and I’m returning as a senior and that really messes with my head.”

But despite a full year and then some having passed, we’re still in a pandemic. Mriganka Nerkar  ’22 summed things up pretty well:“ I think professors are thinking we’re used to this whole pandemic/Zoom thing that they just keep piling more assignments on, and upon that there’s no chance to really relax and take a mental break.” This sentiment is echoed by Chibuikem Iwuagwu  ’22 who said, “I know what I’m doing now, but professors are a lot less forgiving even though things aren’t normal yet . . .  it’s a sucky middle ground.”

 I don’t feel entirely left behind by the administration. After a class did poorly on a prelim one of my professors is looking into changing how the class functions a little to address what might be lacking. My academic advisor reached out to see how the semester was going and if I needed anything. However, the thing I need is something they can’t give me, or at least have decided they won’t give me. More than anything I need a BREAK and the scary part is . . . a break isn’t really coming.

Emma Smith is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at esmith@cornellsun.com. Emmpathy appears every other Friday this semester.