Healing and Preventing Student Burnout

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Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Student burnout is a common phenomenon that sadly plagues many of us at some point or another. While the exact symptoms will vary depending on the student and their specific circumstances, it will usually present itself as a combination of exhaustion, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and inability to complete the tasks at hand (FNU, 2019).

We will break down and say “I can’t go on any longer” however, you can. Just not right now, and not while you are in this unfortunate state. I strongly believe that burnout is a direct function of “biting more than you can chew” but you are already here so I am not going to tell you how taking 7 classes in a semester while having a job was a bad idea, you already know that. What truly matters now is getting over the burnout and ensuring that you do not fall into that pit again. Close your books, it is pampering night!

Getting over a Burnout Episode

The most common manifestation of student burnout is exhaustion. You are feeling overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do while exhausted and refusing to rest. This situation equates to running on a hamster wheel, unable to get off, and rest. So how do you get back on track?

  • Step 1: Realizing the problem.You are not a robot. You cannot keep running on fumes. You are not doing yourself any favors and by working through the exhaustion, you will not retain any of the information you are trying to learn. Every time I push through exhaustion, I find myself having to come back to the work I did and making massive revisions.
  • Step 2: Put down your pencils, turn off your computer, shut off your phone, or whatever is the source of the anxiety. Don’t worry! The work will still be here when you are feeling better. The faster you get a hold of your burnout the easier it will be for you to get back to work.
  • Step 3: Think of the things that bring you joy. Is it reading a book while sipping tea cuddled with your pet? Is it going on a massive rampage in your favorite video game? Is it sleeping? (Yes, sleeping brings me joy, don’t judge me!). What does relaxation look like to you? Plan for this activity.
  • Step 4: Engage in an activity that is unrelated to work that relaxes you. It is okay to take the night off. It is ok to write the day off. It is ok to put yourself first.

Ok, so you tried and it didn’t work. The likely reason you are unable to relax is that you are not unplugging your brain. I understand, especially when you are working from home, when the boundaries between life and work seem most blurred, it can be hard to “turn it off”. My work-around for this situation is having a designated space where I can capture all the random ideas that come to me while I am trying to unplug. This can be your phone, or a notepad, or yelling at Siri to write something down. It does not really matter how, what matters is that you get these thoughts out of your head so that you can relax.

Only proceed to the next step after you have unplugged and relaxed. Maybe the next morning.

  • Step 5: Take a retrospective look at your calendar, your to-dos, and your time management. Identify what the source of your exhaustion is. Perhaps you have too many assignments due the same day? Or you keep working until you fall asleep at your desk? When was the last time you took care of you? How often are you giving yourself R&R? Gathering all this data will help you determine where your weaknesses are and will help you plan accordingly.

Avoiding Burnout in the Future

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Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash

Personal story: A few semesters ago, I was riding the hamster wheel. I sat to study and would remain in front of my computer for 16+ hours a day between work and classes. I would unplug only to sleep, go to bed with the feeling of dread that comes from knowing the next day will be exactly the same, rinse, and repeat. My problem was that I became so fixated on my work, I completely forgot about the other things in my life. Here are my lessons for avoiding burnout:

  • Make time each day to speak with my friends and loved ones: It does not have to be for long, but it has to be done. Check-in with your tribe. Tribes keep us sane.
  • Scheduling time for R&R: At the end of my day, I have a couple of hours blocked for fun activities and I have these activities listed in the block to choose one. This may seem rigid and overly planned, but I do not have to think about what I want to do for fun. “Oh yeah, tonight is video-games night and the squad is ready!”
  • Blocking a lunchtime: I cannot stress this enough, especially if you work from home. Block an hour, or however long your lunches are for food. Walk away from your desk/office. It helps me to meditate at this time since it provides more energy for the afternoon block.
  • Plan your self-care routine: Bath, face mask, pedicures, manicures, massage day, shopping therapy? What does “treating yourself” look like? Plan that at least once every 2 weeks.
  • Exercise: I know, I hate working out too. However, the benefits of exercise go well beyond the physical visible perks. Thirty minutes a day will leave you energized, improve your mood, improve your self-image, and will do wonders for your mental health.
  • Planning ahead: Assign a day to plan the week. Determine what assignments/tasks will be completed on a given day. Break large projects into tasks that can be completed through the time available. Procrastination is best friends with burnout.

But my whole problem is I don’t have enough time! I am rushing through all these assignments, buried in papers and to-dos and you are asking me to put more things into my schedule?

Short answer: yes!

We all have 24 hours in a day. The difference between being burned out and not is how effectively you manage those hours. Sorry.

You do have time to do all these things I described. What you do not have time for is senselessly scrolling through Facebook, channel surfing, or binging a series while staring at your phone until you pass out. I mean sure! If that is what self-care looks like for you, by all means, be my guest. But more often than not, these activities are not conducive to fulfillment and happiness but contempt. The faster you realize that the faster you can get back on track.

Be intentional about your time and relationships. Be mindful. Take care of your mind first, and the rest will follow.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out Better Together!


FNU (2019, August 20). Tips for Preventing Student Burnout. Retrieved November 1, 2020, from Florida National University.

This post was originally published here!

Published by L. Leal

Productivity enthusiast, dog mom, and post-graduate student conquering the pitfalls of procrastination.

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