So last week I talked a lot about what graduate school burnout is, and some warning signs that you might be experiencing burnout. This week I will be talking about what to do if you are experiencing some of the signs of burnout. Below are some helpful ways to help battle burnout and help you regain your passion for your field, knowledge, and your future career trajectory.
Give Yourself a Break
Before you even try it, no, I would not consider taking a 20-minute Starbucks run so that you can stay up half the night working on your dissertation a break, but really allowing yourself time for yourself. Allow yourself an opportunity to give yourself the tender love and kindness that you deserve for all your hard work. Spend an afternoon doing something that you enjoy, whether that be lunch with the girls, going for a hike, or watching reruns of reality TV in your underpants. This last stipulation for really allowing yourself to take a break is probably going to the hardest part for all of you over-achieving graduate students, but when you do take this break, try your best to do it guilt free.
Learn to Say No
Just because someone asks you to do something, does not mean you have to say yes. Learning no, however, does take skill and practice. The first step in learning to say no, is knowing when you need to say no. A good indicator that you might need to say no is that you are already feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. So once you’ve decided that you need to say no, you will need to find a way of saying no that works for you. Some helpful hints in saying no without burning bridges or future opportunities include explaining that you would like to be involved in whatever it is that is being requested of you. Also, explain that your current schedule would not permit you to give the project the attention that it would require to do your best. Lastly, be sure to express an interest in future opportunities when your schedule will allow the time needed to give the project the attention it will require.
A wise mentor of mine has a saying that I will never forget. “Social support,” she would say, “is a buffer against all things bad.” And while on the one hand, your fellow grad school friends will no doubt be key to your success in graduate school, it is also important for you to have social support outside of your graduate school circle. Anyone who has hung out with their grad school friends knows that the conversation will inevitably end up being about – ok, complaining about – graduate school. While this type of venting is helpful, and truly only your graduate school peers will be able to fully understand the madness that is graduate school, it is also really helpful to have social support outside of graduate school, so that you can have social interactions without the slightest thought or mention of graduate school. Many graduate students do find that their social circle gets smaller and smaller during the years they are in graduate school, so consider joining clubs or groups of people with common interests that have nothing to do with grad school or your field of study. And with all the social groups available online, it has never been easier to expand one’s social network.
For a lot of people, having a connection to something greater than themselves, can help give their life a sense of meaning, which can help with the day to day stress and pressure of life – not to mention the confounding pressures of graduate school. The great thing about spirituality/religiosity is that it can mean whatever it needs to mean for you. Whether you ascribe to a particular Faith or Religion, have spiritual practices, or simply find beauty in the interconnection of all living things, allowing yourself time to explore and practice whatever spiritual/religious beliefs fit you can be a great way to let go of some of the stress and pressure of graduate school.
Seeking Professional Help
For many, graduate school can be a very difficult time full of stress, pressure, and anxiety. Additionally, when first entering graduate school, many people often struggle with their sense of identity and self, and it may be beneficial to talk to someone about these very common and normal struggles. Furthermore, many universities offer free counseling services, so even if you do not have the funds or insurance to see someone, you may still be able to find someone to talk to about your problems.