Hi Kaela. We all have the desire to succeed and win and we do not want to get burned out in the process.
Here are 3 signs that you are pushing yourself too far:
You feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. Over-committing is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Do not do this to yourself. You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
You are actually trying (consciously or subconsciously) to do it all. Another major issue that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of busyness is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But, of course, that is not reality. The reality is we are not Superman or Wonder Woman. We’re human and we have limits. We have to let go of this idea of doing everything and pleasing everyone and being everywhere at once. You’re either going to do a few things well, or do everything poorly. That’s the truth.
You have lost track of your priorities. Priorities do not get done automatically. You have to make time for what is important to you —- time for learning, time for exercise, eating, laundry, sleep, mental breaks, etc. Push everything else aside to make time. By saying no to more things that sound really exciting, you get to say yes to more of what’s truly important.
Here are some tips on how to prevent and overcome burnout:
Take the Warning Signs Seriously. First, recognizing the early signs of burnout and to anticipating things that cause it is the first step to freedom. It is much easier and more efficient to manage burnout when your mental faculties are not hampered by constant exhaustion or frustration. Unfortunately, students might not acknowledge or take action on the warning signs because they feel it’s a sign of weakness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. By stepping in early, you give yourself a chance to do better work than you’d ever be able to do under endless stress and fatigue.
So, if you feel like you might be on the road to burnout, don’t take the warning signs lightly.
Learn How to Say “No”. Young, ambitious people are often allergic to the word “no.” We accept any challenge or opportunity that comes our way because we want to impress our peers and superiors by juggling all sorts of obligations. Taking on more work might give you the illusion of being productive and talented. But there are hidden costs: you have less time to think, reflect, grow, and learn. If we don’t draw the line, burnout is inevitable.
Sleep: Your Sanity Depends On It. College culture tends to glorify the “all-nighter”: those 12-hour study sessions where bleary-eyed students chug Red Bull to crank through their term papers or cram for a final exam—as if it is a badge of honor to be sleep-deprived and on the edge of hysteria. We do not glorify the student who got seven or eight hours of sleep the night before and earned a higher grade than the student who pulled an all-nighter. There’s one key difference between these two types of students: one is on the path to burnout and the other is not. Sacrificing sleep might give you the illusion of productivity, but in my experience, I always performed better academically when I traded an extra hour of studying for an extra hour of sleep. But don’t take my word for it. Max Hirshkowitz, chair of the National Sleep Foundation Scientific Advisory Council, suggests that people ages 18-25 should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew. When I was a student, I thought it was always better to have too much work to do than not enough. Truthfully, though, you need to find a balance. A good rule to follow is this: Be willing to challenge yourself, but think very carefully before committing to long-term obligations that will stretch your resources thin. You have limitations, and surpassing them for too long can have consequences. This lesson about moderation is especially important when it comes to determining your course load, considering that it’s the primary cause of student burnout. Cal Newport (a writer all college students should be familiar with) explained this in his commentary about that study we mentioned from the University of Southern Maine: “…you need to be extremely vigilant about your course selection. Choosing your courses is the most important and potentially dangerous activity you perform as a college student. While you’re at it, don’t forget about your extracurriculars. If these become too demanding, even a light course schedule can still induce overload.”
Find the “Off” Switch. I developed a bad habit in college, one that I still struggle with today: I don’t hit the “off” switch when it comes to work. I respond to emails and Slack messages immediately (even if it’s late at night), and I try to knock out assignments as soon and as fast as I can (even if it’s a weekend). Obviously, this isn’t a sustainable system. Left unattended, these long stretches of constant mental activity and periodic interruption can definitely lead to burnout. But recently, I’ve become better at catching myself in this trap and hitting the “off” switch, which in my case entails snoozing notifications and logging out of my working files. When a computer or phone operates nonstop, it glitches and slows down. Your brain is no different. That’s why you need to hit your brain’s “off” switch so it can cool down and recharge. While there will be some days when you just want to binge-watch Netflix or party with friends, I’ve found that the most effective escapes from work are ones where you can have a sense of progress and productivity outside of traditional “work.” This might be exercising, reading, or volunteering. Whatever you decide, your brain will thank you.
Ask for Help. Education and adulthood can often feel like a solitary pursuit. There’s always something being added to the already-heavy load on your shoulders. But you don’t have to go through it alone. If you’re in college, there’s almost certainly a resource on campus whose job it is to help you cope with the symptoms and causes of burnout. If you’re not comfortable with talking to a professional about stress-related issues, sometimes a good venting session with a trusted friend or family member can help you clear your mind and figure out a plan to reverse the burnout cycle. You’d be surprised how many people feel or have felt the same way, so starting a dialogue can be mutually beneficial.
You’re Already Ahead of the Curve. Just by admitting your feelings of stress and taking the time to read this post, you’ve already taken the most important step to prevent or address burnout: acknowledging of the problem. I know way too many people who should read information like this, but don’t: students who don’t have time for a social life, overworked employees who can’t escape the screen, the list goes on.
Burnout is nothing to take lightly, but the earlier you address it, the easier it is to overcome.