While student burnout is sometimes equated with college stress, UC Berkeley psychology professor Christina Maslach says that it’s actually much more serious than mere stress. According to Maslach, burnout is “a combination of exhaustion, depression and negative feelings about oneself.” Avoiding the pitfalls that can turn into burnout can be like navigating a minefield. However, the same strategies that ward against burnout can also help students find success in college, work and life.
Students are less likely to experience burnout when they are on top of their assignments and are well prepared for exams. Using day planners and smartphone calendar apps will help you prioritize due dates, stay organized and avoid procrastination. By breaking down long-term goals into smaller, more achievable benchmarks, it’s easier to avoid the stress of crunch time, which can build up to burnout.
Reasonable Goals and Courses
While stress is not burnout, it certainly can blaze a path in that direction. Being unrealistic about goals and your ability to meet them, piling on more courses than you can handle and having a social life that leaves little time for work is a bad combination. It’s important not only to avoid too many classes, but also to be sure that you have a mix of courses. Even a student passionately interested in psychology may find taking only psych courses too repetitive for appreciation of the nuances between child and adolescent psychology, for example. Likewise, setting unattainable goals often results in students throwing in the towel rather than persevering.
In addition to eating well and getting enough sleep, adding stress reducers to your routine aids in achieving the healthy balance that will help you avoid burnout. Exercise not only reduces stress, it releases positive endorphins and aids in sleep. Taking yoga or meditating, likewise, can be a calming, effective way to keep things in perspective.
Being constantly bombarded by social media and internet updates can add to overstimulation. Everyone needs a break from school life, and that doesn’t just mean putting the books aside for a day off from studies. Disconnecting from social media is recommended for students and workers alike. Managing Director Jim Link encourages his employees at Randstad to turn off mobile devices and social media when they head home for the night or on weekends. Turning off and tuning out for a bit may be the best way to avoid burnout.
Help Before Burnout
UC Berkeley counseling psychologist Rick Low says that burnout is often about imbalance and that signs of it can include “fatigue, anxiety, loss of motivation, withdrawal from people, a sense of powerlessness and the feeling of being overwhelmed.” However, before students reach real burnout, they’re likely to suffer signs of stress -- and that’s when they should get help. On-campus counseling centers are one resource, but students may also consult friends, family and personal physicians for hints on how to handle stress.
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