Treating the Burn (Out)! Recognizing + Treating Burn Out for Students by Lindsey Turnbull

Student with long dark hair and yellow shirt is reading a book. She looks tired. There is a pile of books next to her.
Treating the Burn (Out)!
Recognizing + Treating Burn Out
for Students
by Lindsey Turnbull
What is Burn Out?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “I’m so burned out” in the last year. Maybe you’ve said it yourself! Burnout is that persistent “I’ve hit a wall” feeling. It’s feeling disconnected from things you normally enjoy, exhaustion, and an overall lack of motivation. It can be a nihilistic feeling of “why bother?” or it can make everything feel completely un-do-able and un-inspiring.

Some of the signs of burnout are:

• Experiencing prolonged/chronic stress
• Feeling less capable
• Emotional, physical, mental exhaustion
• Headaches, stomachaches, or other physical pain
• Lack of motivation and creativity
• Increasing feelings of stress and frustration with your activities

Sound familiar?

I wouldn’t be surprised if it feels a biiiiiit *too* familiar.

After all, we’re living in the same world, watching the same events unfold (police brutality, mass shootings, climate change, everything in the news, etc.) and doing it all in a stressful pandemic that’s dragged on for years, leaving us to wonder if we’ll ever get back to our pre-pandemic lives.

That prolonged stress *alone* could be enough to give you that burned-out, unmotivated, blah feeling.

Burn-out is real, it’s overwhelming, and you’re definitely not alone if you’re experiencing some burn out.

A gif of a purple-ish head with flames covering the top of the head and eyes. The ears, nose and red lips are visible. The face is frowning slightly.

Treating Burn Out:

Burn out is common, but it can be persistent. A little bit of self-care can help you feel a bit more in control, especially if you can’t truly take a break (ie: it’s finals week!).  Here are some self-care ideas for when you’re feeling burned out:

✨ Mental: Take breaks where you do something YOU love only for you. Maybe that something is watching cute animal videos. Maybe it involves turning off your phone.

✨ Emotional: Write in a journal or talk to a therapist, friend, or trusted adult. Pour those feelings out!

✨ Social: Catch up with your friends. Talk about what’s got you feeling burned out…or not! Enjoy the company of people who make you laugh, feel loved, and appreciated.

✨ Practical: Prioritize your tasks- not everything needs to be done right this second. Break up your to-do list into small, manageable chunks, and put those chunks into your schedule.

✨ Spiritual: Reconnect with your purpose. Go to your house of worship, volunteer, spend time in nature, meditate, whatever helps you reconnect to the big picture.

✨ Physical: Get some exercise and fresh air, eat healthy foods, SLEEP, and drink lots of water! Even a ten-minute walk can be a huge mood booster. And always remember the healing power of sleep!

Sometimes though, you have to push through. Maybe it’s finals week or you have a huge project due. It can truly SUCK to slog through it. Be gentle with yourself. It’s OK if you’re not thrilled to be finishing your science poster or studying.  Set up a reward and a break at the end, remind yourself there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

While practicing self-care in the midst of burnout won’t immediately cure burnout, it can give your brain a break and help you remember that you are more than your projects, grades, work, and extracurriculars! You can do it and you are worth it!

A gif of a candle flicking out. The words 'don't burn out' appear as the flame dies.

Preventing Burn Out:

The best way to treat burn out is to prevent it from occurring. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that. Try these tips for preventing burn out before it happens:

🔥 Start by recognizing if you’re more likely to get burned out. Perfectionists, people with anxiety, high-achievers, Type-A folks, and even pessimists are more likely to hit the burnout wall. If that’s you, acknowledge it and plan to give yourself extra breaks and self-care in the future.

🔥 Lean into your supportive relationships. Friends, family, people from your community all want to see you thrive. They don’t want you to feel crappy. Make time for the people who matter to you.

🔥 Spend time doing the things you love that have nothing to do with school. Do the things that set your heart on fire and give you a sense of purpose.

🔥 Get curious: reflect back on what caused your feelings of burnout. Too many screens? Doomscrolling? Friend drama? Too many assignments that feel pointless? A combination of a lot of things? There’s no wrong answer! When you know what give you the overwhelming feeling of burning out, you can adjust accordingly.

Preventing Burn Out: Student Success Edition:

🎒 TIP #1: USE A PLANNER. Write down all of your deadlines, exam dates, due dates, etc. Map out your schedule for the term ahead of time, so you’re not rushing around exam/finals time.

🎒 TIP #2: PRIORITIZE. It’s easy to say YES to tons of new things when the school year starts. If you find yourself stretched thin, it’s OK to prioritize what is the most important to you. You don’t have to do it all. Truly. <3

🎒 TIP #3: BUILD IN BREAKS. When you prioritize what’s important and stick to your schedule, you’ll be rewarded with some glorious break time. Regular, work-free, fun breaks are key to preventing burnout! Set a phone timer, block off time on your planner.

🎒 TIP #4: COMMUNITY: Talk to your friends, family, coaches, teachers, and other support system when you’re feeling that burn-out creep in. Venting can be a helpful release.

When you’ve figured out what leads to your burn out, make a plan to address those things the next time they come up. You may have to get creative here, and I believe you can do it!

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Related Reading

7 Easy Things You Can Do Daily to Practice Self Care

Surviving Your First Year of High School by Colleen DeGennaro

5 Back to School Success Tips by Emma Broggi

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