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Beating Burnout as Semester Ends

Hi Gaels! Sweater weather is over, and now it’s a more candle-lighting, holiday music-playing, and “Why is the weather so cold and my class so far?” time of year.

We are finally nearing the end of this semester. I will be 37.5% done with my university career once exam season finishes. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, and the thought of winter break approaching is a significant relief. Many of the classmates I’ve talked to have had their fair share of struggles. We can all agree that the winter break is much needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about motivation and gave a short breakdown of Mel Robbins’ fantastic TED Talk, “How to stop screwing yourself over.” The entire TED Talk was an intense session encouraging us to do things we don’t feel like doing to make something of ourselves. I must say, though, that those feelings can only take us so far.

I completed my last midterm on the penultimate Friday of November. Finals are barely days away. I know that these weeks right now are the perfect ingredients for burnout and loss of motivation – we want to stay in bed all day because of the cold, we’re longing for winter break, and the fear of finals is causing us to procrastinate. Plus, lots of us are coming down with colds and flus, and there’s talk of new Covid variants. Eat healthy, get sleep, and wear your masks, people!

While Robbins’ TED Talk may be helpful for us students during the thick of it, it’s harder to stay motivated when we’re nearing the finish line and exhaustion is catching up. And that’s okay. We’ve worked hard.

I want to share some common burnout symptoms and fixes that may be helpful to you, and hopefully, you can catch them before they take root. One of the most frustrating symptoms of burnout is that you don’t want to do anything: homework, assignments, club work, studying, laundry, cleaning your room, or even going out with friends. Other symptoms include (and I’ve been experiencing these too) feeling exhausted despite having a decent sleep, not concentrating, getting irritated and stressed over minor issues that usually don’t affect you, and bouts of depression and overwhelming sadness.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming when all the feelings come at once, and you don’t know what to do. Queen’s has some services that may be beneficial during these stressful times. I want to personally mention the Student Wellness Services counsellors. If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or other illnesses, please reach out to them. Queen’s also has Academic Considerations for these circumstances that would be helpful to research. Lastly, I recommend following the Instagram account @queensuniversitybewell to see some events promoting mental health, including the ever-wonderful Oscar the dog, who hangs out in Mitchell Hall every Friday at 1-2 PM to bring a little bit of joy to us all!

Now, for some simple tricks to tackle burnout before it becomes a bigger problem:

  1. Hide your phone when you’re doing schoolwork. It is distracting. Put it somewhere you can’t see, or you will be looking at it every two seconds. Turn it completely off, put it behind your laptop, or ask your roommates to stash it for you.
  2. Break down your responsibilities to make smaller, achievable benchmarks that you can complete daily instead of working a 12-hour grind the day before it’s due. That way you get a small spike of dopamine from each small achievement—rather than the overwhelming dread of putting things off until the last second.
  3. Set reasonable goals. That might mean just passing. It might mean achieving a 4.0 GPA. Perhaps it’s just submitting all your assignments and quizzes in time (something I, ahem, am not perfect at!. Pick a small and achievable goal for the next few weeks. Being unrealistic just adds more unnecessary stress to our lives.
  4. I always, always, always recommend the term calendar to visualize what significant assignments you have to do within the month. Pair it with a daily calendar to break down your weekly tasks. Scheduling helps prevent burnout because you can plan your time better and set when to achieve the benchmarks mentioned in step 2.

Lastly, in burnout season, self-care is vital. Make sure to spend time drinking hot chocolate with friends, going out to eat and treating yourself, lighting a scented candle or two, or whatever else floats your boat. Talk to a counsellor, talk to your uppers, and speak to your peers to discover how they handle tough times. If there’s anything I’ve learned about talking to my friends about how I cried over school, it’s that they have done the same.

Student sitting at desk with head covered in towel

Here’s a photo of my friend currently going through it.

As one of my uppers once told me, “Chin up, kid. Don’t let your crown fall.”

Good luck on your exams—see you in January!

Liyi