How to handle academic burnout

Hi there, if you’re reading this, I assume you are at that point in the semester where it feels like your academic workload is just too much. We have all been there, but how do you handle burnout as an upperclassman in high school, as a college student, or as anyone in the middle of a global pandemic? Maybe the following story and strategies will help you.

My story

I am a first-generation, and first-year college student from a very small town. Needless to say, if I wasn’t already lost coming to college, the pandemic surely set my confusion over the top. Not only was I coping from the loss of my senior year of high school, but I was also struggling with feeling like I was missing out on my first year of college. This combined with a college workload, trying to make friends, and holding a part-time job, lead me partially to burnout… not to mention the loss of spring break in the middle of the second semester.

But hey, we are all supposed to keep our heads up and move forward right? Students really don’t have time to take non-scheduled breaks, but that is exactly what I had to do. I got sick for about a month and a half in the middle of a semester with no spring break. I completely missed this time of schooling and was struggling to keep my head above the surface of my workload. How was I supposed to catch up? With looming midterms and a heavy workload on top of what I already had missed, I worked on school night and day for weeks thinking I was never going to catch up. I slowed down. I was experiencing burnout.

So how did I get back on top of things? How can you get past burnout? Consider these strategies.

Tips

Plan, plan, plan! Make yourself a schedule and stick to it. For example, say you are behind in a class by a chapter. Instead of trying to catch up ASAP, consider dividing that chapter into sections. Lots of textbooks do this already! Read a section or two extra in addition to your traditional workload per day. You won’t catch up right away, but you will not feel overwhelmed because you are getting your current work done while catching up segmentally.

Think about your routine. Do you go get coffee every morning? Do you workout at a certain time of the day? Let’s find some mood boosters for your routine, and don’t take this for granted, it has helped me the most! If you have a regularly scheduled part of your day that you look forward to, such as that morning coffee, evening workout, or even a nice hot shower, have you ever thought about setting it back an hour in time and working towards it as a reward? When you set back something you are looking forward to, you have time to flip around your schedule and start getting straight to work. Set mini-goals of what you want to accomplish, and when you start to feel bored, tired, or anxious, reach one more goal then take that well-deserved break you have postponed and have been looking forward to.

Find a shortcut. Time is crucial, you already know this. Shortcuts are a slippery slope, so don’t go crazy with this step. Do you spend a lot of time making your hair and/or makeup look good in the morning? Brush your hair quickly and throw on a hat or throw up your hair into a cute messy ponytail or bun. How much time do you spend on your phone or watching TV without realizing it? Save this as a reward and put away distractions. Do you study in an elaborate place far from your residence? Try something simple and closer. Do you spend a lot of time reading and watching extra material to understand concepts? Skip these for now and come back to them later when you have more time. You are in a time crunch, it is time to get a basic understanding now and a mastery understanding later.

Make a short to-do list. By all means, do not write out all of the assignments you have to do. This will overwhelm you so much. Instead, take it two or three days at a time. That way, when you cross off things you are accomplishing, it feels like you are making a larger difference in the workload you have.

Focus on your mental health. Burnout will get you down. But the feeling of being almost done with the semester and on top of your workload is exhilarating! Until then though, you can’t stay down in the dumps. Each night take some time to reward yourself by watching some Netflix or anything that brings you joy. Also, reflect on how much you accomplished.

You are dealing with a lot.

You are handling things in the best way you can.

Taking things one step at a time is better than no progress at all.

You are making strides to meet your goals.

You will get through this.

You have a plan.

You are taking time for yourself.

You are going to become a better person from this experience.

Time Management Tips for College

College is where you test your time management skills. You have to attend classes, complete projects, and study while also potentially managing work, internships, research positions, club meetings, volunteer work, scholarship applications, and more. So, how do you do it all, keep your sanity, have time to hang out with your friends, and have time for yourself? Here are some tips:

1.) Make a calendar

I like making a digital calendar on my laptop that syncs to my phone so I have it everywhere I go. If you have Apple products, the pre-installed calendar app works great for this!

I recommend adding everything you can to the calendar. Your class schedule, discussion times, labs, student organization meetings, volunteering times, your work schedule, and whatever else you can think of. Adding test dates and office hours are also good reminders to stay on top of your work and to check in with your professors.

2.) Stay on task and give yourself motivation

If you set aside time to do something, do it. If you don’t, it may throw off your schedule later. To keep yourself on task, reward your progress. This is a way for you to stay motivated. It can be as simple as getting yourself some coffee.

3.) Don’t pack your schedule too soon

Start your schedule with your classes and a few things you greatly care about. Then, add smaller things such as student organizations and volunteering opportunities as you can handle them. Adding to your schedule slowly will help prevent you from overwhelming yourself.

4.) Prepare for your day the night before

Set out your clothes the night before, have your book bag packed, and make sure all your assignments are done on time (before midnight). This will allow for your day to flow smoothly and you will not have to rush at any point to get ready after staying up late doing work.

5.) Make a routine for weekly things

Little things add up, and forgetting to account for time to do things like your laundry or taking out the trash can cause clutter until you find time to deal with it. Don’t let chores slip your mind and cause stress later. Make a day of the week chore day, or ascribe a chore to a day of the week.