Managing Burnout and Stress
No one likes feeling overwhelmed or stressed, but feelings like that are bound to surface at least once over the course of a 3-4 year degree. What's important is that you equip yourself with the skills to manage your stress even when everything feels like too much!
Why do Uni Students Burn Out?
Uni moves a lot faster than high school - there’s just a lot of content in not a lot of time, so it's crucial that you stay up to date! Skipping on a lab or reading for a week is okay, but then that one week becomes two or three and then the final exams roll around and you somehow have to learn 5 weeks of content in 3 days.
Add to that work, a social life, and any other responsibilities you might have. It's too easy to fall into a spiral of endless work and stress - but it doesn't have to be like that!
Managing Burn Out
Best way to manage burnout is not to burnout! It’s easier said than done, but we cannot emphasise how important it is to stay up to date with your work. Try to finish your computing labs in your tut-labs where you have the assistance of tutors or start your assignments the week they are given out. These small acts of discipline can be the key to leading a balanced and less stressful uni life - and it starts with you!
Other tips would be:
- Use a calendar app to keep track of your due dates and other commitments
- Utilise to-do lists to keep track of tasks for a day or a week, whether it be on a sticky note or app
- Pencil in time to spend time with friends or other activities you enjoy - dedicate those time slots to FULLY enjoy yourself and not worry about uni work! #balance
But of course, here's also what to do if you find yourself burning out:
1) Setting Realistic Expectations
You might come into this degree having gotten 90+ in your high school subjects, only to get a 70-something in your first few courses. Is this the end of the world? Not at all.
The average uni student receives around a 65 (a Credit) in courses, especially if they’re harder courses. But uni is also different from high school - your marks matter significantly less. Hiring companies will usually only note your WAM if it’s absolutely cracked (85+) or if it's below a 50. For anything in between, it’s your skills and your passions that will be most important, not your mark in some random course. From personal experience, your classmates will also be less competitive about marks than in school, and there’s less social pressure to do well.
That’s why I recommend you don’t set your expectations too high for university. Ambition’s not a bad thing, but don’t pressure yourself to the point where it affects your mental health. It’s okay to leave the hardest stage of your assignment unfinished because it would take literally days to get done (and it's only worth 5 marks), or to take the base level of a course (like MATH1131 instead of MATH1141) because you’re not interested in the higher level content. Small decisions like this are what will lighten the load for your future self, and you’ll still graduate with uni with the same degree as your peers. Win-win!
To add onto this, it’s not bad if you drop a course because you feel like it’s too much work, or if you decide to enrol in less courses in the year. It’s not a race to finish your degree as fast as possible. Maybe by dropping a course and retaking it next term you’ll get a HD (85+) that you otherwise wouldn't have gotten, stressed and overstretched in your current term!
2) Practical Self Care
No, not just the basic stuff like, take a walk or drink water (you should be doing those things anyways!) But concrete actions and habits that actually improve your wellbeing long term!
If you’re feeling stressed, it’s a reaction to things piling up in your life. This means a great way to destress is to clear out some things from the pile. Sit down, take out a notebook, and list down everything that’s stressing you out, no matter how small, uni-related or not. Then look at that list and decide: which of these things can you deal with immediately? Which of these can you ask for someone to help with, and which can you avoid dealing with at all?
By doing and crossing off the smaller things that are stressing you out (replies to emails you’ve been putting off, small bits of homework, tidying your desk, and so on), you free up the mental load and gain motivation to tackle the bigger tasks later on.
If your stress is less of a task-based thing and more of an ongoing presence in your life, try another list - what actually relieves stress for you? Don’t just write down things you think should relieve stress, like hot baths and playing League of Legends, but what actually helps you relax and take your mind off things. Exercise, socialising and creative hobbies are pretty common, but you know yourself best. Keep this list around so when you’re feeling stressed, instead of sinking into a slump you have a concrete list of resources to pull yourself out of it instead.
3) Reach Out
Finally, if you’re experiencing burnout, it’s important to look outwards too. You’ll find that most people around you are kind and willing to help if you ask, whether you need to rant, advice, or more tangible help. Remember, lots of people are going through the same thing, so don’t be afraid to lean on each other!
And if you want to see a professional, UNSW offers counselling and mental health services for all students. Even if you think your problems are small, if they’re causing you distress I’d recommend giving them a shot anyway - they’re free, so there’s nothing to lose! Check it out here.
Other great resources would be Headspace and ReachOut.
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