Burnout. We often hear about it when talking about careers, usually when someone suddenly leaves a field that they used to love.
But what is burnout? For some, it’s a sudden lack of passion. For others, it’s exhaustion. Still others call their stress or feelings of being overwhelmed “burnout.”
While actual burnout includes all of those feelings to some extent, clinically speaking, psychologists define burnout as a combination of depression, exhaustion, and negative self-image. Usually, burnout stems from a mismatch between one’s environment and individual feelings and expectations.
After all, working long hours or having a number of competing priorities doesn’t always lead to burnout, even if you are stressed and tired. As long as you still have your passion, and maintain a healthy self-image and a sense of purpose, you’re not likely to burn out.
Burnout is a serious issue in the workplace, but it’s also a problem with college students. College burnout increases dropout rates, reduces classroom performance, and leaves students feeling as if they are wasting their time. It doesn’t have to happen though, and can be avoided with a few simple changes.
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1. Set Realistic Goals
Goals are important, but if they require superhuman effort to achieve, you could be on the fast track to burnout. Taking extra courses to graduate early looks good on paper, but can you handle the extra studying and homework? Or perhaps you want to take all your most challenging courses at once, or several classes that require long lab hours. Can you realistically handle that schedule, or should you spread out the difficult courses and labs to give yourself breathing room?
When you set any goal, be realistic in terms of your time, your abilities, and your resources. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself, or lower our standards, but just be objective in terms of what it will take to get where you want to be.
2. Schedule Downtime
Everyone needs time to relax and recharge. If you spend every second in class, studying, or working, you will burn yourself out in no time. Doing something you enjoy gives you a chance to recharge, such as playing a sport, reading for fun, or just hanging out with friends. When you return to your work, you’ll be more focused and creative — and not quite so sick of studying those theories.
Don’t confuse downtime with procrastination, though. Procrastinating is doing anything other than what has to be done to avoid a dreaded task. Stay organized and on top of your schoolwork, and you can enjoy some downtime without negative consequences.
3. Explore Your Options
College is the time to explore your options and try new things. Don’t limit yourself by assuming that you have to follow a specific path to reach your goals — or even that you have to keep the same goals forever. If you sense impending burnout, try shifting gears for a while. Try taking an elective in a subject you’ve never studied, or look into studying abroad.
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Or perhaps shift gears entirely, and move into another major; if you choose one where you can transfer knowledge and skills you’ve already gained and recover some of your lost passion, such as moving to a special education program from psychology, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted time. There are always alternatives to what you’re doing, so do some research and see if there’s a way to feel better.
4. Take Care of Yourself
When you are sick, tired, and rundown, everything feels worse. We all know that sleep can be hard to come by in college, but make it a priority to get enough shuteye every night. When you’re well rested, you have more energy and can accomplish more each day.
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The same goes for exercise and eating right. Try to eat a few fruits and veggies every day, and get some physical activity a few times a week, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk to clear your head. Not only does taking care of your health keep you out of the infirmary, it reduces stress and improves your mood.
5. Limit Social Media
We know — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are part of your everyday life. But for all of their positives, they can also be hurting you. When you’re constantly online, your only perception of others is their social media persona, which is highly edited and filtered, making you more likely to compare yourself and compete with unreal standards.
Make it a point to log off from social media regularly (perhaps commit to logging out every night at 9, for example) and limit your check-ins. You’ll feel less stressed.
College burnout is a real issue among students, but if you take care of yourself and maintain some perspective, you can avoid it and stay motivated and successful all through your college years!
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.