How a Gap Year Reduces COVID and Post-Secondary Burnout


Raise your hand if you are feeling burnt out. If your hand is up, know you are not alone. Parents are burnt out, teachers are burnt out, employees and employers are burnt out, and students are burnt out. It's a very common experience that we're all having two-plus years into this pandemic life - something we never thought we would experience. We all need a little bit of a break from everything that's going on.

While a gap year is a break from formal schooling, it's not a break from learning or a break from your goals. This is an opportunity for you to take care of that burnout, and to feel excited and joyful. Learn more about how it’s possible to use a gap year to be productive and reignite your mental health in today’s episode!

Topics Discussed

  • How you cannot heal in the same environment that hurts you.

  • Why trying to be normal in a time that is not necessarily normal can be traumatic to your mental health.

  • How knowing the real reason why we are tired is significant and what to do about it.

  • The importance of finding excitement and joy on your own terms for your gap year.

  • Your permission to delay university or college for your mental health.

  • Why using a gap year as a tool can help alleviate burnout to set you on a healthy path forward.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association



Michelle - Raise your hand if you are feeling burnt out. If your hand is up, you are not alone. My hand is high as well. We are all burnt out right now, but we're also tired about talks of resiliency and mental well being. We all just need a little bit of a break from everything that's going on right now. And while a gap year is a break from formal schooling, it's not a break from learning or a break from your goals. This is an opportunity for you to take care of that burnout, but to feel excited and joyful. So let's learn more about how that's possible in today's episode. Have a listen.

[Music & Intro]

Michelle - Welcome to The Gap Year Podcast, where we explore the who, what, where, when and why of gap years. It's real people sharing their stories, ideas, and experts, diving deep into how you can make the right decisions in order to have a meaningful gap year. This is the place to be no matter where you are on your gap year journey. I'm Michelle Dittmer, your resident gap year expert. Let's jump right in!

Michelle - Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year Podcast. As always, my name is Michelle Ditmer and I am your host and gap year expert. Now, a year ago, I can't believe I'm saying this. I did a podcast all about languishing, which was the term of the time. Wonderful New York Times article really brought this term to light where you're kind of, um, just barely surviving. Life is just of “meh”, just kind of nothing. And we were all sitting in that state, but that was a full year ago and we've been through an entire other twelve months of pandemic life. So we are well beyond languishing. And I would suggest maybe that the word of the year this year is burnout.

Parents are burnt out, teachers are burnt out. Employees are burnt out. Employers, students are burnt out. It's just a very, very common experience that we're all having two-plus years into this pandemic life, something we never thought we would experience. Now, myself, I am usually this roaring fire. I ravaged through tasks, get stuff done, love meeting people. But now I feel a little bit more just like a smoldering ember. So follow me with this little analogy here. I'm still putting off a little bit of heat, but at a much much much slower rate and much less magnificent. I'm here, I'm doing my thing, and I'm keeping all the balls in the air, but it's not magnificent at all. All it takes these days for me is a very small breeze to take that little ember and basically turn it into a wisp of smoke to completely extinguish that flame. So it doesn't take very much to push me over the edge into just not being able to do the work that I want to do or have the experiences that I want to do. But something that always excites me is that fires can still ignite from embers.

Now, let me tell you a little story. My house backs onto a field full of lots of dry grass. And about this time last year, we had a huge grass fire. I'm talking firefighters with hoses putting it out. And all of this came from some warm embers that my neighbour had in their compost bin. And all it took was the exact right conditions for that fire to completely ignite, burn brightly, hot and quickly. It was full of power and energy and brought excitement back to our neighbourhood. There were flashing lights. All of the neighbours were coming out to talk to each other. All it took was the right conditions. And inside of all of us, we have that ember that has the potential to become that raging inferno again. We just need the right conditions.

Like many of you, I've been working with a counsellor and consuming a lot, and I mean a lot of self-help content through social media. And one of the elements that I saw on social really really stuck with me. It was this idea that you cannot heal in the same environment that hurts you. And this goes through a lot of trauma. No matter what your trauma is, you cannot heal in the same environment that hurt you. And that really rang true for me is how can I heal? How can I overcome this burnout that I'm experiencing because of the pandemic while in a pandemic? And it really, really hit me hard. And I said, oh, okay, I need to do something about this. I need to change my environment.

We're being asked to have better mental health, even though very little has changed for us. We're being asked to continue on in these, dare I say it, unprecedented times like they were precedented. Just keep being a student. Keep missing out on the things that you love. Keep shouldering the stress of all of the academics that you're trying to do. Keep trying to hold normal relationships, all while being happy about it and achieving success. And that in itself is a recipe for burnout. And we're all living that right now. We're trying to be normal in a time that is not necessarily normal.

The good news again about this is that we can bounce back like that fire I was talking about. But what I want you to ask yourself is, is the scenario you have planned out before you, is that scenario going to support that bounce back? Or are you just furthering that existing environment that's not going to lead to you overcoming that burnout? Obviously, this is the Gap Year Podcast, so I'm always going to bring it back to that idea of a gap year and how we can use that as a tool. And I want to share with you some ways that a gap year can really fight that burnout and can be an antidote to what is happening with the pandemic and whether we're mid pandemic or near the tail end of it, whatever that is, we are still in a state where we may be able to use a gap year for a very specific purpose, and that's for overcoming burnout.

So a gap here can be used to reduce external stress. So this is literally pushing pause on some of the most challenging things that you have going on right now as a student. So that's pushing pause on formal education. That's pushing pause on assignments and tests and marks. And as I say that out loud, I feel a huge relief for you. I feel that there is a bigger space for you to take a big breath, and to pause and to recover. And I think that's really, really important things that you can actually push pause on that. There is nothing that is going to damage your ability to move forward by pushing pause on formal education and delaying that start. It'll still be there for you. But we're just saying, not right now. Your gap year can give you some time and some space to rest. And again, going back to my obsession with self-help and TEDx talks, there was one done by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, and she talked about the seven types of rest that we need. And I'll put a link to this in the show notes in case you're interested in following up with that a little bit.

When we talk about rest, often we default to the physical rest, which is the first type of rest that she talks about. So this is getting enough sleep, getting enough physical rest for your body. And that can be passive, like sleeping or that can be active, like going for a walk or doing some yoga or some restorative things for your body. So that's number one, physical rest.

The second type of rest is mental rest. Letting your brain have some space to not be working so hard. And I think all of us, when we are dealing with our school and our jobs and our relationships, we have so much going on. And now we have this additional layer of did I bring my masks? What are the COVID risks that are going on? Am I going to have to go to online school? What happens if X Y or Z? That mental rest is something that is nonexistent for us right now because we are in that fight or flight mode 24 hours a day. Taking some of that stress off and giving yourself that place for mental rest where your brain can actually rest and heal itself is going to give you a lot of comfort. So that's number two.

Number three is sensory rest. We've got so much stimulation going on right now. We are consuming so much media. We've got all the news of the pandemic, news about the war, news about racism that's raging around homophobia, all sorts of things that are constantly stimulating us. We constantly have screens in front of us. We're constantly in a state of sensory overload and actually taking that time to rest. That part of us will give ourselves a place to rest and to heal and to be re-energized. So we've had physical, mental and sensory.

The next one is creative rest. And this is like a little brain massage. It's giving your brain the opportunity to think differently and to flex different neurons because there's no muscles in there but flex different neurons. Whether that is creating your own art or communing with nature, heading out for a hike and appreciating the beauty around you. That ability to be creative can be such a powerful form of rest.

Now we've got three left, we've got emotional rest. We have, again, that stress is an emotion. All of that navigating of ups and downs of relationships and the challenges that we're facing, all of these are emotional strains on us. So taking that time for some emotional rest, again, very nourishing for us.

Social rest. And this is something that is super powerful on your gap year is actually taking stock of all of the relationships that you have. This is not saying you need to detox from people. You don't need to go and have a meditation retreat with Buddhist monks. This is saying you get a chance to take stock of which relationships are fulfilling for you right now and which relationships are draining your energy. And so by having that social rest, you can pick and choose who you're going to surround yourself with so that your body is feeling rest from a social perspective.

And the last form of rest that Dr. Saundra talks about is spiritual rest. So whether you're religious or not, spiritual rest is really more about a sense of belonging, feeling of love and acceptance and having purpose. And I think this is one of the hardest hits in the pandemic is that ability to feel like you belong, to feel like you are connected, and to feel like you are living out a sense of purpose. And this is one of the greatest gifts that a gap year can give you is that ability to find your people, an ability to accept yourself and an ability to connect with what your purpose is. I've talked to a lot of young people that express that they feel a little bit hopeless right now or confused about what their purpose is and spending time to push pause on all of that noise that's out there that's confusing us. And taking some time to get that spiritual rest can give you a much stronger sense of purpose and connect you with things that are going to draw you to what your actual purpose is.

Now, a gap here isn't only for rest. It's not just about that relaxation of all of those needs that we have as human beings. It's also an opportunity for you to find joy and excitement on your own terms. It's a time for you to reconnect with things that you love, with people that you love, and making those things a priority. We are human beings. We are driven by that connection. We have certain tendencies of people that we gravitate, activities that we gravitate to. But in a hot, fast-paced society, sometimes those things get pushed to the side and we lose direction. We lose a sense of where we're going and what's important to us. But finding that joy and excitement through doing the things you love with the people that you love, that is huge. Imagine going on adventures again, making really positive memories that are going to shape your future in such positive ways. Imagine waking up excited each and every day about what you're going to do, not only that day or that month, but that whole year. I think we've all been lacking a sense of joy and a sense of excitement. And maybe midterms is going to do that for you, but I'm not so sure. But maybe you can find an activity or an experience that will ignite that in you, that will keep that fire burning. And finding that joy and excitement can be a really great outcome of taking a gap year.

All of these things that I've talked about are super rejuvenating. They feed our bodies, they feed our souls when we are burnt out. And that's what's going to give us that energy to move forward. There are tons of studies out there right now that are talking about the value of rest and that not only is this rest good for us, it actually makes us more productive and able to achieve our goals. We're seeing some very progressive countries move to a four-day work week. We are seeing companies offering six weeks of vacation compared to the normal two. We see sabbaticals popping up and of course, gap years. These are all tools that allow us to do our best work. They allow us to achieve our goals and live a life of balance where our life's purpose is not the daily grind, it's not exchanging our happiness and wellbeing for a paycheck or a top grade. Your gap year can be productive and rejuvenating. You can earn money while taking care of your own needs. Can you imagine that? You can develop critical life skills while taking on new adventures. You can move yourself closer to your career goals on your own terms.

Now, College and University will always be there for you if that's part of your path, if that's the direction you want to head, pushing pause will not take that away from you. I know that being bold and saying that you need a break and taking time to address all the other things going on around you, will allow you to step into that next phase with a fully charged battery. It will allow you to step to that next phase, excited about School ready for school. Knowing that you can put in 100% of yourself, so that you can get the most out of that College and University experience. That would feel good. Rather than just speeding ahead for the sake of speeding ahead and showing up with an empty tank and only being able to give it. That's not who you are. You're 100% type of person. So how can you get to a spot where your battery is at 100%? Today I am giving you permission to delay College or University. I'm giving you permission to move yourself towards your goals while taking care of your burnt out self. I'm giving you permission to feel excited about the adventures before you. I'm giving you permission to do it differently, but still end up on the right path. A gap here is simply a tool that you can use to make sure that you're heading out into the real world with the right set of skills, with the right mindset, and with the right energy level.

Now, if you've made it this far in the podcast, something that I'm saying is resonating with you. You know that your burnout is real. And when you imagine a year that you get to design with yourself and your personal goals in mind, I can feel you smiling. I can feel that sense of relief, that weight off your shoulders. By taking a gap, you're not running away from your burnout. You're identifying that there is a challenge and you're going to take it on head first. You're going to be your best self coming out the other side of it. You're going to create the conditions for yourself to heal so that you can tackle your wildest dreams. And while right now those wildest dreams might be a small ember almost extinguished by two-plus years of a pandemic, that gap year can be that little fan, that little bit of oxygen that can fuel those embers and bring it back to a wild and ambitious dream that you can achieve. You can achieve it once you're in that right state. Let's use this gap here as a tool to bring you back, to bring your dreams back to life. To bring excitement back into your life and set you on a healthy path forward.

Now, if you need support, the Canadian Gap Year Association is here to help you. We can help those dreams come true. We can help you to communicate your gap year ideas to any of those naysayers in your life. We can connect you with adventures that will absolutely 100% light you up and get you to that healthy place. A great first step for you is to book a call with us. We want you to succeed. We want to help you. We don't want to sell you. We want to help you. The decision to take a gap year is up to you, but we want you to see the potential that lies before you. So book a call with us. They are free 30 minutes chats Again, we'll put it in the show notes. Easy peasy. No strings attached. Come and talk about what is causing your burnout and what you think might remedy that. And we can help you put the pieces together so that you can overcome this burnout and you can step forward with confidence, with energy and excitement about your future. You are worth it. Let's move past burnout and restore the joy into your everyday, my friends. Until next time, keep on adventuring.