As we near the end of the semester, you may be approaching the point of burnout without realizing it. Stress is common and normal at this time of the year, as many students balance graduate studies with teaching, employment, relationships and other responsibilities. However, getting to the point of burning out can be harmful.
Here are some signs for recognizing burnout, a few ways you can manage it through the rest of the semester and tips for recharging over winter break.
Signs of burnout
Feeling exhausted at the end of the semester—physically, mentally, emotionally or a combination of the three—is a sign that you may be experiencing burnout. Other signs include:
- Loss of motivation
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Missing deadlines or a decline in academic performance
- Isolating yourself from others or experiencing loneliness
- Difficulty sleeping, changes in eating patterns or an increase in substance use
- Experiencing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or irritability
Finding ways to manage stress will make it easier to avoid burnout and maintain your motivation. Stress-management techniques work differently for everyone, but one thing you can do is take breaks throughout the day. Whether you have five minutes or an hour, you can go for a short walk, practice deep breathing or meditation, watch a funny video or meet with a friend over a cup of coffee.
Sometimes we feel burnt out because it seems like everything is urgent and needs to be done right away. If you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, it can be helpful to make a physical list of your to-do items and prioritize them. This exercise can help keep things in perspective and focus on one thing at a time. We recommend downloading the ultimate to-do list and organizer app, Wunderlist, free on iOS and Android.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or talk with someone about how you are feeling. Graduate students can experience external and internal pressure to perform at a high level academically, which can add to extra end-of-the-semester stress. Reach out to your support system of friends and family to talk things out, or visit Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS). CAPS offers a number of process groups specifically for graduate students to talk through common stressors.
Taking time to recharge
After the fall semester ends, find some time over winter break to relax and recharge:
- Prioritize getting enough sleep (7–9 hours per night), eating nutritious foods and getting regular physical activity.
- Engage in some of your favorite hobbies beyond your program of study, even if it’s for 30 minutes at a time.
- Practice stress-management techniques that work for you, and be open to trying something new. For meditation, try using the mobile apps Breathe2Relax or Stop, Breathe and Think.
- As you reflect on the last few months and get ready for spring, make some time to visualize what success looks like to you in the short-term and long-term. This helps bring us back on track with why we are doing what we are doing, and where we are heading.