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A dull online school leads to burnout

In the modern age, the one feeling we may call universal, if there ever was a universal feeling, is that of burnout. The dreaded inability to work even a minute more due to work-related exhaustion has always plagued students greatly, but with pandemic-related measures limiting our ability to walk out of our rooms, this feeling has become the definitive feature of online schooling.

Burnout occurs when the reward for what we do isn’t commensurate with the effort we put in. In other words, burnout is the inability to derive any sense of enjoyment from work due to overexertion. Too often, we doubt our self-worth when we face the reality that much of our work remains unfulfilling and unstimulating. That’s why for many students and teachers, the transition to online learning has greatly intensified this feeling of burnout. 

Group discussions, social interactions and a general atmosphere of collaboration are the most defining aspects of traditional schooling. Online learning makes these valuable sources of activity inaccessible or at the very least insufficient. While the advent of breakout rooms attempts to simulate group discussion, it undeniably fails to capture the sense of connection that can be found in traditional forms of group activity. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), groups will always outperform even the best individuals. Excessive individuality — a mentality that distance learning inherently promotes due to alienation — hinders our ability to gain perspectives unique from our own circles and beliefs. Though it seems harmless at first, isolating ourselves oftentimes fuels an impending burnout.

In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) theorizes that the significant increase in general anxiety can be attributed to a lack of social-connectivity. Advances in technology, despite its advantages, have always been a source of our generation’s consumerist attitudes toward life — after all, we have an infinite amount of information and entertainment right at our fingertips. But as the shift to online school virtually triples the amount of screen time we normally consume, we must assess the ramifications of overstimulation. Aside from the mundane activities we are limited to, the overload of information found in distance learning crowds any existing spaces in our minds to truly reflect and digest. It fails to reap the benefits of education to its fullest extent. And as our grades, or other measures of our performance, begin to reflect the consequences of sensory overload, we increasingly find ourselves feeling inadequate. But why do we place so much worth, to the point of burnout, in the idea of “achieving” in the first place? Perhaps it’s because our environment subconsciously tells us to. 

According to philosopher and author Byung-Chul Han, burnout and other neurological illnesses linked to burnout stem from a culture of positivity. With every “Yes you can” or “Just do it” — every frivolous attempt to reinforce the notion of unlimited potential — we mindlessly internalize the expectation to prove our worth through our accomplishments. Unfortunately, the reality is that every individual is different and has limitations that vary in degree, but we often fail to recognize that. Subsequently, this harmful mindset — a manifestation of the neo-liberal capitalist attitude toward life — fosters a pattern of self-exploitation. When we don’t fulfill a goal that we worked hard for, such as attaining a certain score on test, we feel dissatisfied and incompetent. It’s an inescapable cycle of overworking to the point of exhaustion and punishing ourselves if we fail.

That’s not to say that I don’t support ambition itself. In fact, I believe we all need to have goals outside of the system that seems to dominate our everyday lives. But ambition should be channeled in a healthy way in which we recognize that not everything is as attainable as we believe it to be and that maybe, we need to critically re-examine what our goals are. Preventing burnout in online school begins with being conscious about its innate disadvantages and being more forgiving to ourselves. 

In the end, no one is immune to burnout, but we can prepare ourselves for it by knowing where it comes from and how it affects us.
By Emily Cao, Feature editor
Editorial cartoon by Remy Wong