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How to Avoid Course Load Burnout While Earning Your Degree

In a recent study, a staggering 71% of college students said they were battling burnout. Between the pandemic and the speed of information, we have a lot on our minds all the time.

With midterms, finals, and the stressors of college life on top of everything else, burnout almost becomes inevitable.

Adam Grant, Wharton's top-rated professor, best-selling author, and former NSLS Speaker Broadcast guest has been on a mission to end this college and work burnout crisis.  

But what is burnout? In Adam Grant's podcast WorkLife, he dedicates an episode to this topic. In "Burnout Is Everyone's Problem," he dissects how burnout has seeped into our culture, while making sure to differentiate between "burnout" and "stress."

Stress is that overwhelming feeling that can be reduced through activities such as: 

  • Meditation
  • Taking a relaxing vacation
  • Listening to a calming playlist
  • Taking a long walk

On the other hand, burnout is more aligned with anxiety and depression, and is often a symptom of long-repeated stress.

According to Grant, true burnout begins to interfere with how you function, leaving you with a feeling of being incapable of making any meaningful impact. In his own words: 

"Deep breathing is a Band-Aid, not a repair." 

Let's explore how you can begin to fix it. 

Learn to Say No (and Become a Prioritizing Pro)

One of the most important things to keep in mind when avoiding burnout is to always be a self-advocate. This can relate to many aspects of your life, but it mostly means having the strength to say no. 

Of course, you can't say no to writing that paper or taking that important exam. But you can say no to things that will open up more time for you to study.

When you're always saying yes, you take on more than you can handle and you won't be able to say yes to the really important things. 

Saying no doesn't have to have a negative connotation. When you say no, you're prioritizing, which is simply a part of life. If you don't prioritize, you're putting your physical and mental health at risk, which is a major issue. In fact, 52% of Gen Z has been diagnosed with mental health issues. 

The first thing to prioritize is your health, so learn to say no or learn to say, "I'll get to this later." Be open with others and communicate your wishes. It will slowly work to restore your brain and lift you out of burnout mode. 

Have a Plan and Set Goals

By creating a to-do list with specific tasks and goals, you'll have greater success in your college studies and in your future career. 

At the NSLS, realistic goal-setting is key to developing leadership skills and discovering what you truly want to do with your life. 

During the Steps to Induction, members set SMART goals to fast-track their success. SMART is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Setting SMART goals is a great way to create a foundation for your future and set pragmatic steps for checking items off your list. 

For long-term, ambitious goals, PACT is great because it focuses on output. This goal-setting technique stands for: 

  • Purposeful
  • Actionable
  • Continuous
  • Trackable

If your goal is to run a marathon, a PACT goal would be to run a certain set of miles every single day in preparation for the main event. 

This technique also encourages you to be able to change course if your original goal changes or seems out of reach. The key word of realistic goal-setting is, “realistic.” 

Focus on Your Strengths

Being a one-trick pony doesn't have to be a bad thing. When you spread yourself too thin and take on a multitude of tasks all at once, you'll never fully capitalize on your natural strengths.  

Discovering your top strengths can lead you to finding your dream job. By doubling down on your strengths, you're constantly improving upon the thing that makes you naturally talented. This provides a greater opportunity to stand out among your peers, especially in a competitive job market. 

Try setting aside a set number of hours each week dedicated to tasks you don't do best. This way, you can compartmentalize and treat them more as items on a checklist and less like nagging tasks getting in the way of your future success.

Celebrate the Small Wins

We tend to set big goals for ourselves. If you're using the PACT method, your goal will be something far down the line and the steps to get there will take a while. It's easy to forget the small wins along the way if you're only looking in the distance.

To put it simply, celebrating small wins will make you feel good more often. As you approach your ultimate goal, you should acknowledge each step as you move forward. This can mean celebrating not only the great presentation you just gave, but also the work that went into it. 

By acknowledging each small milestone, you're forcing yourself to feel that forward movement. This progress principle argues that celebrating small wins will give you the boost you need to take the next steps. 

There are some great ways you can celebrate small wins. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Journal about your wins so you can literally see your progress
  • Splurge on a nice meal at a restaurant you've wanted to try
  • Take some time off, such as a personal day to relax
  • Grab that coffee with a friend, and treat yourself to a snack

The key is acknowledging the progress that you're making.

Empathy Wins Every Time

When in doubt, be friendly and exude empathy. This goes a long way and it also has a way of circling back to you. 

Expressing empathy produces hard-wired physiological effects that naturally calm us and strengthen our long-term sustainability. So, it becomes a benefit for both others and yourself. 

Instead of spending extra time studying when you're feeling burnt out, exercise some self-empathy and rejuvenate the brain. You'll be better prepared to absorb the information later.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Learn to overcome those feelings and gain some helpful insights in our article, How to Stop Self Sabotage by Rewiring Your Brain