End of the first semester is a strange time – holiday break can be a respite from the December revision, but the upcoming exams often cause a lot of stress. It is too easy to overwork yourself and end up dreading opening your notes and losing interest in your degree – or, in short, being burned-out. If you have experienced it before, you migh be, like me, already dreading that feeling.
Below is a short guide I prepared on burnout, and strategies that may help you fight or prevent it. As a third year student, I had time to make quite a lot of mistakes regarding studying and organizing my time. Thankfully, I also managed to learn a lot from them, even though I’m still working on some of the finer points.
A disclaimer of a sort
I wish I had a simple answer to burnout – do this, follow that routine, and it’s going to be alright. However, everyone is different, and even if something works for one person, it might not work for another. Secondly, the end of semester is stressful – finding ways to deal with it is, unfortunately, necessary.
Moreover, I am not a medical professional. If you feel that burnout, or any of the connected issues, is becoming too much – I would advise seeking help with the Counselling Services.
Quick theory lesson
Burnout can manifest in many ways, since studying or working is often a big part of our lives. Therefore, if you notice yourself:
- tiring more easily, or feeling under the weather
- feeling anxious,
- losing sleep or neglecting your needs over work
- lacking motivation
– this might be burnout, or the beginnings of one.
I usually deal with burnout at the end of semester, or during exam revision. I managed to work out some strategies for myself, and learned quite a lot from others while discussing the topic. Here’s what I got:
- Give yourself permission to rest – did you know that rest is a human right? Brains need time to relax and reset after studying, or even after worrying about studying. Keeping up high motivation or energy levels is just not sustainable, and taking breaks is a necessity. I generally try to have one full day when I don’t do anything related to my degree. I still feel guilty about it sometimes, but I am getting better at accepting that mental health is just as important as physical.
- Make an effort to stay healthy – eating healthy, not skipping meals, staying hydrated, sleeping well – all are important, and influence your general wellbeing. While it might seem a hard task in a busy student life on a budget, there are a lot of resources out there to help you start – even on this blog!
- Try out exercise and get fresh air – this seems like a cliche, but sometimes, cliches are good! Sport, or even going out for a walk, can have huge benefits – it helps you produce “happy” hormones, helps with sleep, and gives your brain time to rest.
- Find activities unrelated to your degree – consider finding something that requires your full attention and takes your mind off your degree. For example, if your degree is theory heavy, you might want to try something more hands-on. I wholeheartedly recommend getting into baking – I don’t know where I’d be now if I didn’t learn how to make bread last year!
An important mention for fighting burnout strategy is studying efficiently. It is a large topic, and there are a lot of resources available that go into it in a lot more depth than I do here. However, the key ideas are:
- Manage distractions – for me, it is going to the library with friends who can hold me accountable, and direct me back to my studies when I get distracted. You might want to consider locking certain apps on your phone, studying in quiet spaces, investing in sound blocking headphones – or finding a good study playlist!
- Have a reasonable plan – if you begin to find yourself overwhelmed, having a study/daily life plan can be a great help. But it has to be a reasonable plan you are certain you could fulfil, one that accounts for breaks, social life, and responsibilities of everyday life. It can help break down your work into manageable pieces and keep you on track.
- Set clear goals for yourself – this ties in with the previous point. It is generally easier if, instead of saying, “I will revise subject X”, you will plan for “finishing chapter Y and doing problem sheet Z”. It makes studying, at least for me, more manageable, and helps me stay motivated – being able to tick things off a list feels great!
- Prioritise – figure out what absolutely needs to be done well, and what doesn’t require your full effort. If, like me, you have perfectionist tendencies, this one will be very hard to accept. While you should strive to do things to your best ability – maintaining your “best ability” 24/7 is impossible.
- Make studying fun – trick yourself into enjoying studying again. Find a nice spot, get hot tea or coffee, listen to a good playlist. I do Physics, and I created a playlist with Astrophysics related songs for my revision. It helps me remember why I chose my degree, and makes even the boring subjects a bit more interesting.
More importantly, ask for help. Talk to your friends – maybe they are experiencing similar problems? You could try to find some solutions together. Talk to your academic advisors or lecturers – they probably have a lot of experience with students in similar situations, and might have some advice. You can also reach out to Student Support Services, or, as mentioned before, Counselling Services.