By: Jenaya R. Curry
There isn’t a single student who hasn’t felt the overwhelming urge to throw their textbook across the room, defy the school system, and emphatically declare, “I’m not doing this anymore!” That is, until your sanity kicks back in and you get the work done. But what happens when this temporary moment of frustration becomes chronic, filled with stress, headaches, lack of motivation, and falling grades? This isn’t laziness or low willpower. I’m referring to student burnout, characterized by overwhelming pressure as well as mental, emotional, and, oftentimes, physical exhaustion. This is all too common at least once in a student’s life and can affect college, high school, and even middle school students. When looking for advice, you can find several articles on dealing with student burnout, but they have one flaw: They don’t cater to students going through a burnout phase. Rather, they offer tips such as “organize your notes and study materials,” which are more suited for prevention. As a college student with 19 credit hours this semester, and who is recovering from burnout myself, here is some advice – and it doesn’t involve drinking water or grabbing a study snack.
Stop what you’re doing.
In this stage, powering through only makes things worse. Your brain is signaling to you that it needs a break, so do just that. Indulge in a favorite dessert, go outside, dance to music, read a book, hang out with friends – anything – to get your mind off schoolwork. This is a chance to recharge, but no overindulging. While this may sound like an excuse to procrastinate, I’m trusting you all can figure out the difference between “I don’t want to do this” and feeling like you’re on system overload. At this point, some of you must be protesting: But my assignment is due tonight! Okay, then your first step is to…
Figure out the bare minimum. Note: This is a temporary
Unfortunately, the best thing you can do to help recover from mental exhaustion is to rest. You don’t want to prolong burnout by adding extra pressure, but there are assignments you must get done. Chances are, however, what you absolutely need to complete is much less. Check your syllabus and consider any late polices, assignment weights, your current grade, and your own prioritization.
For example, at the peak of my burnout I had five assignments all with midnight deadlines: a Spanish discussion board, a Communications essay, a Biology test, Spanish homework, and a formal lab report. The first thing I did was axe the Spanish homework, because I could still get 90% of the total points if I turned it in anytime the next day. The deadline for the discussion board was non-negotiable, but I took a 0 on the assignment; Spanish discussion boards were only worth 10%, and there were four others left in the semester. I could also bring my grade up a few days later with an easy (based on experience) test worth 25%. I was unprepared for the Biology test (worth 10%) and had no time to study but getting even half of them correct speeding through is better than a 0. In those few hours, I put most of my efforts in to the communications essay and formal lab report, and since each of these are based on rubrics, not correct answers, I did the components criteria worth the most points first and managed decent grades for both. I must emphasize again that this is only meant to be used in extreme circumstances, when everything somehow piled up and you’re on the verge of breaking down. It won’t work if you make it a regular habit. Now that you’ve figured out what you need to prioritize, do you need help getting started?
Try the five-second rule.
Not the one to eat things off the floor. This is Mel Robbins’s rule to switch your brain to action-mode. It involves closing your eyes and visualizing the moments when you complete the goal – hitting the submit button, walking to class with the assignment in your hand, or, let’s be honest, finally sleeping after cramming for hours – then counting to 5, opening your eyes, and starting before your brain has time to hesitate. The five-second rule sounds like a dressed up version of “just do it,” but Robbins’s video on it is worth watching…after you finish your work.
Don’t let it happen again…or at least try not to.
Burnout usually arises when we take too much on and place undue pressure on ourselves, or when we get careless (i.e. procrastination, disorganization) and create high pressure trying to fix it. Prevention really is key, and the next time you’ll likely recognize unmanaged stress before you cross into burnout territory.
Remember it’s not permanent.
The double-edged sword of time is that it does keep moving. You won’t be in the burnout period forever; it’s impossible. But trust me, the consequences can keep you from ever wanting to experience it again – though I’m sure finding that out already.
Do you have any tips or experiences you want to share on student burnout or stress? Leave a comment! We’d love to hear what you have to say.