Close to the end of the semester, we sometimes (usually) begin to feel burnt out. We feel exhausted, drained, and so tired of doing any schoolwork. We feel unmotivated, guilty, and frustrated. We find ourselves using phrases like “I don’t even care anymore”, and we cannot WAIT for our last exam to be over. Burnout is a very common issue amongst students, and it makes it difficult to finish the semester in a way that we would want to. This is why it is important to learn how we can cope with send of semester burnout and prevent further burnout.
Part of coping with burnout is being able to recognize it; knowing what it looks like and feels like. Burnout is when we are under chronic stress for a prolonged period of time that causes physical, emotional and cognitive exhaustion. The chronic stress can be because of school, work, or other things going on in our lives (like COVID; more on this later).
Some Signs of Burnout:
Exhaustion, and not just from not sleeping enough
We get sick after exams (or a stressful period of time) ends
A strong feeling of desperation to get work done
Decrease in personal self-care
Decrease in doing activities that you enjoy
Increase in isolation from loved ones
Every person has a different experience of burnout, so it is important for you to recognize your unique experience of burnout so you know when to intervene.
The Importance of Self-Care/Rest/Fun/Sleep
When we are super busy with school, we forget to do activities that help us feel rested and relaxed. Think of our energy supplies like a river. The river drains out into a lake, and is fed by small springs. It needs input for there to be output. If we are constantly draining our river with school, work, and other obligations, then our river will run dry. We need to make sure that we are both feeding our river, as well as balancing the amount of water coming in with the water coming out.
It is important for us to identify the things that give us energy, personally. Some of the things that can feed our river are rest, fun, spending time with loved ones, and self-care. Self-care is anything that helps nourish our minds, bodies and soul. It does not have to be an expensive face mask, bath bomb, or spa day. It can be those things, but it can also be boundary setting with friends and family, alone time, eating grilled cheese in bed, a yoga practice, going for a run, spending time in nature, showering for the first time in days, doing laundry, or making cookies and eating most of the dough. Summed up, self-care is doing things that helps feed our river.
Sleep is also incredibly important in feeding our river. We need to make sure that we are having enough, quality sleep. Sleep is important in stress reduction, balancing our hormones, for cognitive function, and for overall physical health.
How To Improve Your Sleep:
Creating a regular sleep schedule, including waking up and going to bed at the same time everyday.
Creating a bedtime routine so your body knows it is time for bed (ex. having a shower/bath, tea, reading, etc.).
Staying away from screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Creating a good environment for sleep (cool, dark, calming space).
We become burnt out when we give and do more faster than we are able to replenish or own stores of energy and resources that we need for our own well-being. This usually means that we need to start to take things off of our plate to make more room for the things that we need to replenish our energy (e.g., rest, doing fun things, relaxing, etc.). We need to take everything off our plates that we do not need and do only what we absolutely need to. For example, maybe you need to forgo cleaning for a week or two if having that on your plate is too much.
How To Go Bare Bones:
Take everything off your hypothetical “plate” or “to-do list.”
Add back the important, non-negotiable, self-care items (sleep, rest, eating, exercise, etc.).
Add back the important school, work or other items that need to be accomplished in order of priority.
Only add additional items that are nourishing.
Practising good time management will be helpful in making the essential school items on your “plate” easier to handle.
Doing a “Work Back”
One way you can practise time management, is to do a “work back” (the name I’ve invented for this tool). A Work Back is a way of scheduling assignments and studying material in a way that alleviates stress and allows for more rest and self-care.
How To Do A Work Back:
Mark on your calendar when your exam is.
Keep the day before your exam/due date as a review day or “overflow” day.
“Chunk” the material or assignment into manageable sections (see below).
Assign those chunks to days, working backwards to fill the available time you have.
Only do that assigned work for that day and fill the rest of the time with nourishing and enjoyable activities and self-care!
“Chunking” Your Work
One way to be more efficient with school work is to break up your tasks into content-based tasks, versus time-based tasks. For example, “I am going to complete this chapter of biochem today” versus “I am going to study biochem for 2 hours today”. This motivates us to be more efficient with our time to get that “chunk” of work done.
Complete Your Chunks in Time Chunks
Once you have assigned a “chunk” of content, you can complete that entire chunk in “chunks” of time. We are generally more efficient when we are able to take regular breaks. Set a timer for 25 minutes, put your phone away on silent, and then take a 5 minute break. Do this a couple of times before taking a longer break. Do this until the “chunk” of work is complete!
Here For a Short-time, Not a Long Time
An important thing to remember with the end of the semester, is that it will end shortly. As much as it sucks, and it is hard, it is here only for a short-time. Sometimes holding that in our awareness often can make it easier to get through the last couple weeks of the semester.
Role of COVID
As a psychotherapist who works with many students, I have been noticing that students have been more burnt out this year than normal. COVID has made burnout more prevalent amongst students, and more difficult to deal with. COVID has been such a difficult time for so many people, and has caused feelings of burnout in the general population, but it has also heightened and contributed to the end of the semester burnout in students. It is important for you to remember that this is a really difficult time for you as a student, and it is okay if you might be feeling more burnt out than normal. Be gentle with yourself as much as possible during this time. Speaking kindly and gently to ourselves, like you would to a friend or a loved-one, when we are having a hard time can make the world of a difference!