Unfortunately, many of us will experience burnout sometime during our four years here at Princeton. For those of you who may not have heard this term before, the definition is in its name: burnout involves losing that spark of motivation that previously might have kept you pushing forward through your workload. Keep in mind that burnout is distinct from things like anxiety or depression that may also be impacting your academic performance in a similar way. If you think you are struggling with these instead, you can contact Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to seek longer-term professional help. They also offer urgent consultations for more immediate situations. Burnout specifically deals much more with the ebbs and flows that can happen as stress builds over the course of a semester. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat and minimize the negative effects of burnout. If you have a few overdue assignments, slept through a few lectures, or just generally feel you are not quite as on top of things as you may have been when the semester began, here are some of my tips for getting out of an academic slump.
1. Get enough sleep.
I know that you have been given this advice a million times before, and you may even be rolling your eyes seeing it here. Once you have implemented healthy sleep habits, however, there is no going back. I’m speaking from experience: in high school, I would stay up late because it was the only part of my day where I truly felt I could relax by myself, neglecting sleep in the process. Once I started sleeping eight hours a night, my mood improved so tremendously that I promised myself I would never compromise on sleep again.
Getting enough sleep in terms of quantity is not the only step to feeling well-rested. It’s also important to go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day. I recognize that this can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but this is part of why it’s important to think about course timing as you plan your courses for next semester. A solid, consistent routine can make a big difference in terms of your mood and energy.
2. Communicate with your instructors.
If you keep finding yourself in a situation where sleeping for eight hours a night does not feel do-able because of your workload, it is probably time to communicate about where you are struggling with your instructors. If you have never been to office hours before, this might seem daunting, so consider starting by setting up a meeting with a TA rather than a professor. It is not only important to know when to ask for extensions on specific assignments, but also when to reach out for recommendations about how to effectively study for class long-term. Different professors treat extensions differently. As a rule, however, it never hurts to ask. If you are struggling on an assignment from a professor who won’t give you an extension, it may also be worth trying to get an extension in a different class.
3. Schedule one-on-one meetings.
Setting up one-on-one meetings that will have direct repercussions if you cannot make it (unlike skipping a lecture where attendance may be optional) can be a good way to hold yourself accountable and get back into the swing of things. Appointments are also incredibly useful for getting specialized support during the tough parts of a semester. Beyond going to office hours, there are all sorts of free programs on campus that will allow you to meet with other trained students. McGraw offers one-on-one academic consulting, and the Writing Center is a great place to get help on your next big paper at any step in the writing process. Meetings don’t have to be academically focused, either. Scheduling a coffee date with a friend or joining a club with mandatory practices (whether a club sport, musical group, dance group, etc.) can be a great way to relieve stress and connect with both old and new friends.
4. Spend some time outside.
Recently, everyone has been complaining about daylight savings, myself included. I hate the feeling of leaving class in the afternoon to see that the sun is setting, knowing that I have hours of homework ahead of me. With the sun going down earlier and earlier, I try to spend time outside during the middle of the day. With classes, this can be a little bit more difficult. One of my favorite strategies for building in more time outdoors is taking roundabout routes to class. I rarely want to go out for a designated walk without a specified destination, but if I am already going to be walking somewhere, taking a longer path can turn an ordinary walk into a deeply enjoyable mid-day break.
5. Learn how to prioritize.
Not every assignment needs to be perfect. If you have a ton of work, chances are you will inevitably end up rushing some of it. You might as well plan out which assignments you should prioritize! Most professors will list the grading distributions for assignments in the syllabus, however, you can always refer back to the course listing on the registrar website for a big-picture look at how your grade will be weighted.
If you are procrastinating all work because you are really dreading one small assignment, just start working on whatever task you are most excited about. Personally, I really hate writing discussion posts, but I enjoy writing essays (if I’m not experiencing too much of a time crunch). I might put a discussion post due in a few hours on pause to begin outlining an essay due in a few days, just to get myself started on work, and then return to the discussion post once I hit a block in my outline. This can also extend to non-homework related tasks; even if all you bring yourself to do during a slump is to put a load of clothes in the laundry, doing one small task can go a long way in terms of turning around a low-energy day.
If you are struggling beyond a bad week here and there, it is important to reach out for support from professionals, as mentioned earlier. I am not a therapist, and while I do really recommend all of the above tips, knowing how and when to use them can only go so far. With that being said, I hope that this advice can help you to bounce back from any potential signs of burnout, especially as we enter the final push of the fall semester.
Enjoy the break this week! You deserve it.
— Kate Weseley-Jones, Humanities Correspondent