Formula Bharat

An Indian Formula Student competition

Hey Formula Student! The Burnout is Real. Acknowledge it.

5 min read

Sometime last year, I provided teams with the opportunity for a 1-on-1 informal conversation on anything, except for technical queries. My purpose was to get a touch base on the ground reality that teams have been facing in Formula Student, especially during COVID times and channel a course of action for Formula Bharat in the upcoming season. While the summary of these discussions would have a blog piece of its own, I came across this common theme that resonated with the majority of these calls and with my previous experience as a student in the same series ten years ago: Burnout. While Formula Student has grown leaps and bounds in providing technical resources available on the vast internet domain, it has failed to acknowledge the topic of burnout which is so prevalent within the ecosystem.

Pick any one of the scenarios that apply to you below (if they don’t, then you are probably in a better position than your peers):

  1. Are you a Team Captain / Technical Director/ Section lead who:
    • worries constantly about the future of the team because of (includes but not limited to)
      • leadership failures, both small and large scale;
      • constant team conflict and the inability of sections to see eye-to-eye;
      • lack of recruitment or lack of new members staying for the long term;
    • feels that you are falling behind on their academics and securing passing grades because you are constantly trying to hold the team together;
    • is unable to prepare and attend campus interviews during hiring season because you are so stressed between academic work and team priorities;
    • regrets not having the same social experiences as your peers as you are always focussed on the team meeting its deadlines;
    • hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time as you carry the burden of the team’s future success on your shoulders;
  2. Are you a new member / junior member on the team who:
    • is trying their very best to meet the tasks and deadlines set by you, and when you do, your efforts remain unacknowledged by your seniors – so you keep trying till they do;
    • is unable to break the niche clique barrier set by the senior leads but you sacrifice social experiences with your peers outside the team, to chip away for your entry into the senior clique;
    • is constantly trying to meet the unrealistic expectations set my senior members of the team;
    • is trying to get through the underlying subtle culture of ragging and teasing that new members may go through when they join the team.

If any of the above applies to you, you are on your way to burnout. It is time you recognized it.

What is a Burnout?

The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Today, “burnout” can be defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Are you on the road to burnout?

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or personal life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Causes of Burnout

Burnout is a consequence of ill-managed stress. For some, it is also a consequence of extreme personality traits such as perfectionism and pessimism. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, a burnout has five main causes:

  • Unreasonable time pressure
  • Lack of communication and support from a senior
  • Lack of role clarity (and expectations)
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Unfair treatment within the work environment

All of the above causes are very prevalent in Formula Student as well. Coupled with the stress of academics, relationships, parental and career expectations, a burnout seems inevitable.

But burnout is not inevitable.

Burnout can be prevented and in many cases, reversed as well. 

Dealing with burnout requires the “Three R” approach: (3)

  • Recognize.
    • Pause everything and take a step back. Watch for the warning signs of burnout.
    • Take an overview of your daily routine. Are you self-sacrificing too much at the expense of your own personal health? Are you saying ‘yes’ to everything? Are you taking on too many commitments?
    • Evaluate your personality traits. Do you look for perfectionism in everything – even in the placement of the pen on the table; does it add to your anxiety and stress? Are you always pessimistic – are you unable to see positivity in daily things? 
    • Re-evaluate your priorities. Instead of just making this a mind exercise, list all of your priorities down, in writing. Figure out what is important (need of the hour), what can wait, and what is ‘fluff’ (innovative cool stuff you want to do, but not important).
  • Reverse.
    • Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress.
    • Openly talk about the issues and concerns you are facing.
    • Delegate your work when you can. Stop taking the burden of the world on your shoulders, and be open to distributing it across the team.
    • Learn to ask for help. Too often, we equate asking for help to being weak. It’s a common social misconception that leads to more negative effects on personal health, than positive growth.
  • Resilience.
    • Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health.
    • Take the time to indulge in social activities – it could be joining your friends outside the team for an evening out, or attending family events and festivals.
    • Eat well and sleep well. 

Author Notes:

This topic has been very close to me since my early 20s. I used to enjoy taking onboard a lot of projects in diverse streams because they were exciting, and I most definitely suffered from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But doing so resulted in poor mental health and failing grades in my final year of engineering. It wasn’t until much later that I addressed the burnout I was facing and the importance of rejecting projects when my capacity was maxed out. Acknowledging that my time is valuable, allowed me to prioritize the activities I took up and gave me the opportunity to focus my efforts on specific projects, leading to more rewarding experiences. My takeaway advice would be to be aware when things start becoming overwhelming and to take action through prioritization to avoid being burnt out.  



The following blog post has been written by Cathy Dsouza. Cathy began her journey in Formula Student as an Engine member with the UofT Racing Team and since then, she has launched and run Formula North and Formula Bharat.