My experience as a Walden student has been—in a word—enriching. I have learned so much about social change, culture, systemic racism, leadership…the list goes on. I love being a student. However, the trouble is that I’m not just a student. Outside of school, I am a wife, a full-time employee, a volunteer, a pet owner, and a caregiver to a parent. In struggling to balance my work, academic, and personal responsibilities, I have often reached a point where I feel like I just can’t anymore.
More than once, doing too much has caused me to burnout: lethargy, avoiding work, burying myself in other pursuits to make myself feel better (such as reading a book that is not related to school), and sometimes anger that gets unintentionally directed at my loved ones are all warning signs that I’ve over-extended myself.
If this sounds familiar, don’t get discouraged. Instead, work to recognize your own signs of burnout and take steps to fight against them. The five tips below are ways that I have found to avoid burnout, take care of myself, and remain motivated, despite the demands of my coursework, job, and family.
- Choose a day of rest
One day per week, I do not allow myself to do any schoolwork at all. This means I have to be extra focused on getting work done somewhere else in the week, but—trust me—it’s worth it. One full day of not worrying about coursework lets me enjoy my time in whatever way I choose and leaves me feeling refreshed. My day of rest is Friday. After a long work week, it’s nice to relax and watch a movie with my husband or play games with friends. Pick the day that works best for you!
- Take breaks
Studying is important but studying for long stretches without taking breaks can lead to physical and mental fatigue. To avoid over-exertion while completing my reading for the week, I set a timer every 20-30 minutes. When it goes off, I make sure to stop studying for at least five minutes. I’ll walk around the house to stretch my legs, roll my neck to keep my muscles relaxed, have a quick chat with my husband, or play with my dog. This short break rejuvenates me and allows me to jump back into my studies with renewed focus.
- Drink water
Experts often tout the benefits of staying hydrated, and we know we’re supposed to drink water. Still, it’s something I struggle to do. However, when I succeed, I notice several differences: I am more alert, my mood is better, I have more energy, and I’m less prone to snacking on unhealthy foods. When my body feels better, so does my mind, and the boost in energy and mood acts as a shield against symptoms of burnout. If you struggle to drink water, there are ways to encourage yourself to stay hydrated. For some, using a straw is helpful. For others, the water needs to be cold. I have found that I need to use a lidless glass or water bottle because the extra step of taking the lid off makes me less likely to take a sip!
Accept that you can’t do everything yourself. Delegating tasks – even small ones – will go a long way in clearing mental space and avoiding the burnout that stems from trying to do it all. Sit down with your family and friends and let them know that you’ll be asking for their help. Find out who is willing to provide that help, and when the time comes, don’t be afraid to delegate! You might assign the chores you usually take on to the kids or to your significant other, or you could ask your best friend to do your grocery shopping, so you can focus on an important assignment. List the things you need help with and ask your support network to pitch in.
- Seek help
If small changes don’t alleviate stress, and burnout sets in, seek professional support from a counselor or mental health provider. If you have insurance through your job, look into your mental health benefits. If not, you can reach out to Walden’s Student Assistance Program. Sharing your concerns with a third party can be immensely helpful in managing the stress and anxiety that lead to burnout. If you are not comfortable with professional counseling, you can also talk to your Student Success Advisor for ideas on balancing your academic and personal responsibilities.
Last year, I experienced a family medical emergency that completely overwhelmed me. However, with assistance from my advisor and counselor, I learned strategies to ask for help, to set boundaries, and to focus on my needs, as well as the needs of others.
We are more than just students. We are mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, employees, and caretakers. Holding these many roles is often rewarding but trying to do it all can also cause stress and anxiety. Learning to recognize signs of stress is critical in taking the steps necessary to avoid burnout before it takes hold. Your Walden journey should be an enriching experience, so I hope these tips help you maintain healthy, balanced habits and make the most of your time here!
Shannon Gentry is currently in the BS in Psychology program at Walden University, with a concentration in Counseling. Shannon’s advice to Walden students is to be vigilant about managing your own self-care. Recognize the signs of stress and take steps to reduce it. Reach out to friends, family, or use Walden services to help you if you need it. And lastly, be kind and patient with yourself.