Getting Through Burnout
By Allison Miller
College students are exhausted. Balancing schoolwork, jobs, and a social life can feel like a completely different dimension from the rest of their life. By the end of the semester, college students are aching for relief and find it grueling to finish the semester strong. Grades slip, projects and homework assignments go undone, and their social battery falls to zero. While experiencing this mental strain, healthy coping mechanisms are often the last on a student’s mind. Many turn to a stagnant lifestyle of substance abuse and self-isolation. Generation Z has some of the highest levels of stress and mental health issues in our society today, and college students are no exception. These struggles can quickly lead to burnout – and in a demanding academic environment, even the brightest of students will likely experience failure for the first time.
Finding ways to navigate burnout can be extremely difficult for already downcast students. Reaching out for help while also dreading social interaction can be extremely taunting. To add to this, due dates keep coming and going and hardly slow down. Except for a week-long break, the spring semester consists of sixteen weeks of homework, quizzes, projects, exams, etc. One wonders if this break is enough to fight burnout. While weekends offer an opportunity for some to rest, many are still tackling classwork or working jobs. That said, when breaks are hard to come by, here are a few strategies to tackle burnout:
Rest can be as valuable as gold to a burned-out individual. However, finding time to rest can feel impossible while performing other tasks that never seem to end. One quality that leads to mental strain is anxiety, especially anticipatory anxiety of events to come. Maintaining a schedule is daunting when there is so much to keep up with – but can be used to ease anxious feelings. Many find that when they follow a routine, their levels of anxiety are lower, and they are left with more time to rest. Knowing what to anticipate might help reduce the stress of figuring out what to do next while increasing the likelihood that you will stay on task.
Planning intentional time for rest can also help increase mental productivity. Many individuals will power through tasks while their body is craving a break, thinking this will help them get more work done. In reality, taking breaks to realign mental focus is more beneficial. A great method to use is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves a twenty-five-minute work period followed by a five-minute rest, with a longer fifteen-to-twenty-minute break every four intervals. Many who follow this regimen get more done in less time because they avoid distractions and reset their focus every 30 minutes or so.
Another activity many use to reset their mental focus is physical activity. The idea of going to a gym, or even on an outdoor walk is overwhelming for some individuals. Nevertheless, about 30 minutes per day of some form of physical activity has been proven repeatedly to reduce stress levels. This may even include house cleaning, stretching, or walking instead of driving to class. However, a trip to a fitness center might not fit into a busy schedule as well as these do. Many bodies benefit from movement, and even crave it. Being kind to your body and its physical needs as well as mental may be difficult but has some of the greatest benefits when fighting burnout.
While beginning a new time management strategy or exercise regimen may be daunting, one of the simplest tips to overcome burnout is taking every task step-by-step. The smaller the steps, the easier it is to tackle. Sitting in the anxiety of an entire to-do list all at once will often reduce the motivation to do any tasks at all. Two ways to organize a to-do list are either by the time needed to complete the task, or which task needs to be done earliest. Once it is decided which assignment or project to face first, breaking it into manageable pieces makes the task feel more doable. In addition, the feeling of accomplishment from the completion of each small piece creates a sense of productivity and incentive to work on the next part. By doing this, you can avoid feeling discouraged when starting a new task and instead make it seem like a job that you can complete.
On top of the struggles surrounding time management and exercise, we are faced with the fact that college is often referred to as a turning point in life, where many long-lasting career and life decisions are made. This only adds to the stress that individuals face daily with all the other responsibilities of a college student. While it can feel alienating, no student is alone in this feeling. Finding a solid support system to discuss some of these frustrations can benefit mental health. Many campuses offer counseling services, sometimes even free ones. If a counselor does not feel right, though, confiding in close friends or family members may relieve some anxious feelings.
College schedules quickly turn intimidating once a semester gets rolling. By the end, students are tired and finishing strong feels impossible. Yet, there are still some strategies that are simple to incorporate into daily life. The pressure that burnout brings may begin to ease with the incorporation of burning off some steam, a solid routine, and some time-management. Though it may feel as though there is no way to end strongly, these strategies have been shown to help college students get through that feeling of burnout and conclude the year on a high note.