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Burnout: The Gifted Student Epidemic

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Burnout: The Gifted Student Epidemic

Burnout is a symptom many academically strong students struggle with throughout their school experiences.

Burnout is a symptom many academically strong students struggle with throughout their school experiences.

Photo hosted by https://www.mindful.org/is-it-a-bad-day-or-is-it-burnout/

Burnout is a symptom many academically strong students struggle with throughout their school experiences.

Photo hosted by https://www.mindful.org/is-it-a-bad-day-or-is-it-burnout/

Photo hosted by https://www.mindful.org/is-it-a-bad-day-or-is-it-burnout/

Burnout is a symptom many academically strong students struggle with throughout their school experiences.

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5:45 AM. The alarm rings, beginning the almost 18 hour day

6:30. Choke down a breakfast and wave the fatigue away, as the anxiety about all the deadlines swirls.

7:30. Lug a 25 pound backpack to the early morning class taken to allow for extra credits.

8:30 to 12:15. Get in 4 classes, frantically scribble in the planner all the assigned work.

12:15 to 12:30 . Devour a lunch, try to talk to all your friends you don’t see all day in 15 minutes.

12:30 to 3:45. Finish out the rest of the day, mind and bag getting heavier.

4:00 to 4:20. Sacred relaxation time. Text all the friends you couldn’t see, watch YouTube or read your self-chosen book you haven’t touched in forever.

4:30 to 9:30. Back to back- make dinner, clean it up, pack lunches for the family, tidy the house, play with both of the siblings, talk with the parents. Shower, finish any chores, work out.

9:30 to 11:30. Homework time. Push through the tiredness, burn your eyes out on a computer screen, then choose to either collapse in bed or push through and stay up for many more hours.

No, this is not the schedule of a med school student, or a Harvard pupil. It is not one a single mother getting her bachelor’s degree, nor a senior who fell behind. No, this is my schedule– the schedule of a 14 year old gifted student in 9th grade.

Ever since I was seen reading above grade level in kindergarten, my academic expectations skyrocketed.The minute my first all-A’s report card came home, my parents told me that it should stay that way. I was set up for expectations of success from day one. Across America, many students share this same situation.

According to the National Association for Gifted Children, around 3 to 5 million children are known as “gifted” in the classroom. It brings about an elite status in your school, as your teachers commend you for being mature and driven. But at what cost? Being gifted when you’re little is all fun and games but once the real world hits, the reality of being intelligent becomes a burden.

Beginning in elementary school, gifted children are enveloped in a web of expectations that does not relent with age. As I aged, it progressed from advanced classes and greatly anticipated Gifted and Talented days to never-ending mountains of work from AP courses. Many gifted students like me push themselves especially hard in high school, loading credit after course onto their platter to challenge themselves and encourage success in college.

Classes like these also bring to the table hours of work, projects, and essays to complete. However, high school is also a time of self-discovery–you are supposed to make new friends and break old ones, find out what you love and what you don’t in the quintessential adolescent experience.

Attempting to balance healthy relationships, a social life, and school along with a smothering amount of academics is impossible, with the only solution being sacrifice. But failure is not an option for a gifted student, which is what leads to the new 21st century epidemic- student, or “overachiever,” burnout.

Florida National University states, “Burnout is characterized by a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands.”

When multiple stressors are placed upon the mind and body, especially a young student’s, it gets to a point where your body gives out. “As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place,” Florida National University continues.

Burnout looks different for everyone.  For me, it is numerous sleepless nights, even though I can barely keep my eyes open during the day, stabbing headaches, easy irritability, and an overall dissociation from and apathy towards life in general. Common symptoms for students especially are nausea or a lack of appetite, extreme fatigue, headaches, dissociation, and a newfound cynical tint cast onto your daily routine.

“One major symptom I face from burnout is dissociation,” gifted freshman and personal friend Victoria Cole* (named changed to protect privacy) said. “My mind will frequently detach me from my surroundings and experiences as a way to cope with my stress. Although it appears to just be ‘zoning out’ on the outside, my brain is trying to avoid the thoughts that make me anxious. When I experience dissociation, I feel the world is not real anymore, and it makes me feel so helpless.”   

With the seemingly never-ending to-dos, ostracization is often the result of too much on your plate. I can not begin to count the number of times I have had to reject socialization in favor of staying “on top”- declined Skype calls, cancelled sleepovers,, turned-down requests from my siblings to play together, being stuck to my desk listening to my family watching a movie downstairs- the list goes on and on. It feels as if you are set adrift on a solitary ocean of you own making, trying your hardest not to drown as you watch your family, friends, and hobbies fade on the shore. And I am not alone.  

“It has hit me hardest attempting to balance massive amounts of homework, extracurriculars, and a healthy social life in the short 24 hours of a day,” Cole elaborated. “It’s nearly impossible, so sadly, I find myself pushing my wants to the side.”

Yet, a gifted student can not let go of their picture-perfect future, and will do whatever they deem necessary to get there. Ask any overachieving pupil what they are afraid of–including me–and chances are the answer will be “failure”. The knowledge that you have gotten this far, with years of support trying to propel yourself to greatness, ties a weight to your wrist, an incessant fear of letting everyone down. We are raised to be the future. To be role models and trailblazers, changing the world as we know it. That’s what society has told all of us. So, how can one expect us to relax and enjoy the fleeting years of adolescence when we are already supposed to be transforming society for the masses?

The insatiable desire for success will never withdraw from the culture of gifted students. However, students must find a balance of “work” and “play”  that is healthy for both them and their futures. Weaving in what I find enjoyable- biomedical sciences and arts- in my schedule soothes the stress of burnout, and helps me cope with all I have to do.

Katie Booth, the Gifted and Talented coordinator for Scott County High School, wants students to know that they don’t have to do everything.  She advised, “Students should think carefully about what they truly love, and then devote their attention to that. For example, if you know math is your strong suit, focus on classes that allow you to dive deeply into that area, while giving yourself breathing room in other areas so that you can pursue a job shadowing program for math careers.”

Yes, we are dreamers, artists, groundbreakers, and working to bring change- yet we are also young, overworked, and simply, “burnt out”. We are carrying new beginnings on our backs, but we must not forget that we are just children. To all my fellow talented individuals: don’t forget to breathe. The future can wait for us.

“It’s about finding balance, being curious, and pursuing the things you think will make a long-term impact on your future,” Booth asserted.

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