As someone who is taking six classes, working, graduating a year ahead of schedule, and is organizing a conference for 500 high school students in April, I am definitely prone to the ever so popular burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” For many individuals in their early twenties who feel the pressures of succeeding in school as well as their professional lives, it is hard to find the balance between taking care of themselves and taking care of their obligations. Over my last three years in college, I have found ways that have helped me to cope with this struggle and have become an advocate for sharing the strategies with my friends who may be falling into the same patterns that I have. Below are some helpful ways to avoid burnout, and learn how to take care of yourself while still ensuring that you're on the right path professionally and academically.
Learn How to Say No
My high school guidance counselor told me that my fatal flaw was that I cannot say no. I constantly wish to please my supervisors and peers by taking on tasks that are not necessarily my responsibility. Perhaps it was my need to ensure that everyone liked me 100% of the time, or that I love a packed schedule and doing things just how I like them. However, taking on responsibilities that are not mine to take on was damaging on my mental health and productivity levels.
One of the greatest things that I have learned over the last three years is that it is ok to say no. People are not going to be upset with you or mad at you if you turn down going to one dinner with friends or one networking event for the sake of personal and mental health. It is often necessary to take time to recharge alone so that you can be a better coworker and friend to those who need you the most.
Set Routines - for everything
When my therapist told me that setting routines is a healthy habit for all aspects of life, I wasn’t necessarily sure what she meant. I’ve always had a routine for school and for homework. I finish as soon as I get home from classes or work so that I can make sure I have the rest of the night to relax. Saturdays are for recharging and spending time with friends and family. Sundays are for planning the rest of the week. This routine has helped me stay on top of my workload since freshman year of high school and has stuck with me through college. Now, I have routines for seeing friends and grocery shopping to make sure that I can stay on top of all tasks without becoming overwhelmed or burnt out.
These routines do not need to be strict. My friends and I know that on Tuesday/Thursdays we do not have time to hang out with each other since we are all busy with class, work, and extracurricular activities. For my friends that go to other schools in the area that are farther away from campus, we see each other only on the weekends -- and that is ok! Setting these expectations has allowed us to mitigate any sort of negative feelings towards each other while also allowing us to give 100% to our work and school commitments. Knowing that I go to the grocery store on Saturdays helps me to plan meals for the week so that I remember to eat healthy and don’t spend money on eating out. All of these things contribute to my productivity and my relaxation throughout the week.
This is probably the most stereotypical tip, but food is energy! As someone who has struggled with a healthy relationship with food since coming to college, I have found that planning meals and making them myself has been a way to eliminate the stress I have around cooking and consuming food. Also, intuitive eating has been a major help in eliminating burnout (it’s not just professional, but also very much mental!). Learning to listen to my body and eat what I want, when I want, has helped me to ensure that I am not stressing over every bite of food going into my mouth.
I have done this by taking one day a week to try a new recipe -- usually something using seasonal ingredients. During the week, I rotate through about 10 staple dinners that utilize many of the same ingredients. This way, I can make many dinners with what I have in my fridge. It’s a simple step, but being excited about taking a break from work to cook something has allowed me to have at least 30 minutes to myself every night.
Sometimes, it feels like burnout is unavoidable, however, finding ways to take care of yourself is the best way to ensure that you are on the right track to succeed both personally and professionally. I hope that these tips will help you on your journey, and that you are able to find small steps that help you become a better, more balanced person.