October for most people means cooler temperatures, pumpkin-flavored everything, enjoying the changing leaves and preparing for the wonderful holiday season to come. For students, it means something a little different…midterms.
For graduate students, midterms can be in the form of an exam or a paper but often times, regardless of midterm expectations, it is simply that time in the semester for lots of deadlines, lots of late nights and lots of coffee. As we near the halfway point in the semester the mounting pile of work coupled with the day-to-day responsibilities associated with being a student and a professional can be a daunting, leading to the one thing all graduate students try to avoid at all costs: Burnout.
Burnout is one of the top reasons students end their graduate school journey before earning their degree. No one, no matter how driven or accomplished, can sustain 110 mph without replenishing themselves both mentally and physically. We anticipate the intense and stressful environment that graduate school presents, but the characteristics of professional growth, learning and fun should be a large part of the graduate school environment as well. To strike a healthy balance between challenge and enjoyment, I have included some tips for you to avoid burnout, no matter where you are in your graduate school journey.
- Start and End Your Day with Something Relaxing
I’m guilty of checking my email as soon as I wake up. This not only hits me with an overload of information to process, but it automatically spikes my stress level before I even have my first cup of coffee. Rather than reach for the phone, try meditating or reading a book instead. You could even turn the act of making coffee into a little “you” time by waiting until the coffee is finished to begin tackling your day. It makes sense that starting your day calmly allows your brain to focus on your tasks instead of feeling overwhelmed immediately. At the end of the day, go for a walk or take a warm bath to wind down. This will help ready your brain and body for sleep, allowing you to catch those valuable zz’s.
Exercise has been proven to reduce stress levels while improving your overall health. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or intense exercise either. You can walk your dog or go for a light jog around your neighborhood. Of course, if you’re more athletically capable, you could attend a kick-boxing class or participate in high-intensity interval training. Exercise also allows your brain to get more oxygen and blood flow, so even if it’s just for 30 minutes, do something to get your blood pumping.
- Get a Hobby
I know, this sounds insane because graduate students have little to no time outside of work/internships/school…but hear me out. If you give yourself a break from all of those things to do something that you enjoy, it gives your brain a chance to reboot, essentially allowing you to become a better student. Ever have an awesome idea come to you while you were in the shower? This tip is a similar concept; doing something that you love outside of school responsibilities allows you more space to develop as a well-rounded individual.
- Talk to Someone
Leaning on a support network – friends, significant others, faculty advisors – can make a big difference in your ability to cope with stress and overwhelming feelings.. Let someone know that you are feeling run down, tired and even helpless, often times they’ll be able to give you a new perspective or a simple shoulder to lean on. Also, don’t be afraid to use the resources on campus, they aren’t just there for undergraduates! Almost every college campus has resources for students, and they’ll be able to give you expert advice on how to avoid or address burnout.
In the end, graduate school is a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I am sincerely enjoying my time growing both personally and professionally. With that said, the stressful times do exist, but I know I can handle it. I’m a graduate student after all!
For more information on resources available to CofC graduate students experiencing burnout, please click here.