What is burnout? Study burnout is a form of physical and emotional exhaustion, commonly experienced among students under high levels of prolonged stress. If left unaddressed, burnout can have a detrimental impact on both your academic and personal life. Burnout is not a healthy mental and physical state, and should not be interpreted as a positive sign of 'working hard.' As we will show in this article, you can still work hard and stay healthy.  

How do I know if I'm burned out?

Study burnout is characterized by a number of symptoms:

  • Intellectual exhaustion
  • Long-term fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced ability to absorb information
  • Decline in academic performance

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, it is important to deal with your situation as soon as possible. As the stress continues, burnout will only get worse, unless you take active steps of intervention. This may require breaking some old habits and states of mind, such as procrastination and/or obsessive studying. Tackling burnout requires recognizing your limits as a human being and knowing how much is too much. Working adults also experience burnout, so learning how to avoid and manage it now will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Burnout Strategy #1: Time Management

The phrase "time management" gets repeated so often it makes you groan. But if you can grin and bear this worn out phrase, you'll find that it really is on to something. Planning out your study schedule can help you to avoid last-minute studying, which only multiplies stress before an exam or deadline. Also, don't just plan out when you'll study but also what you'll be working on in each session. Lingering for too long on one area and neglecting another will lead to a build-up of stress at the last minute, when you try to tackle all the understudied material at once. Plus, you may not need to study all the material equally. If some information is less important, then you can probably devote less time to it.

Burnout Strategy #2: Exercise, Eat Well, and Sleep

I know...you've heard it all time and again. But honestly, adding 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to your daily routine can work wonders for your nerves, helping you to de-stress. This can make your studying session more efficient, so that despite losing half an hour of time to working out, you may end up saving time in the long run. The same applies with diet. Putting in the time to cook yourself something wholesome and nutritious will help your brain to function more efficiently. Think protein, vegetables, fruit and water, and avoid processed and sugar-filled foods. Research shows that adequate amounts of sleep are required for your brain to properly store information. It also improves your mental efficiency and function. So do your best to get your eight hours. Mens sana in corpore sano: "A sound mind in a sound body." The Romans still have it right.

Burnout Strategy #3: Breaks

You're not invincible. If you plan a 3 hour study session, don't study for 3 hours. Take a couple of breaks, of at least 15 minutes each. Use this time to clear your head. Go for a walk, eat something healthy, and try not to dwell on the material while you're on break. However, don't let yourself get too distracted during your break by other things, causing you to prolong it. Stick to your plan as best you can. If you want a longer break, go for it, but try to plan it ahead of time. If you let your breaks eat away into your study time, you may feel you need to extend your session, which defeats the point of drawing up a plan in the first place. For more tips on working productively, check out 10 Best Tips To Stay Productive.

Burnout Strategy #4: Be Realistic

This is an important one for compulsive studiers. Don't set yourself unattainable goals, such as memorizing the whole textbook or aiming for 100% on the exam. Ideally, you would be able to achieve all these things, but don't mistake ideals for reality. You're only human. Plus, excess studying can lead to lower efficiency, exhaustion, and burnout, which may end up costing you time and actually lowering your results in the long run. For less compulsive studiers, also be realistic. Don't imagine that you can prepare for an exam in a single night, even with a pack of Red Bull at your side. As mentioned above, sleep is involved in cementing memories in your brain. This means that you may have a harder time remembering something if you studied it for an hour during an overnighter than if you'd studied it for ten minutes before hitting the sack at eleven.  

Burnout Strategy #5: Don't Be Afraid to Seek Help

If you've tried all of the strategies above and are still struggling to ward off burnout, don't hesitate to see a counsellor or psychologist. Burnout and mental stress are incredibly common, especially in schools and universities, and are nothing to feel embarrassed about. A skilled practitioner can help spare you from a lot of suffering, and may also save you a great deal of time.

Happy, healthy studying!