There are lots of areas within your life that can cause undue amounts of stress: school, your social life, family, work… But while some stress for short periods is normal, stress that continues can have an adverse effect on your performance in school or at your job, or on your relationships. Even worse, prolonged stress can lead to complete burnout. Merriam-Webster, everyone’s go-to dictionary, describes burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”
Those experiencing burnout may notice symptoms like:
- Decreased productivity
- Lack of motivation or passion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of satisfaction from achievements
- Irritability and impatience
If you haven’t experienced burnout but are worried that your stress levels may be rising to unsustainable levels, or even if you’re noticing the early signs of burnout, these tips can help you stay balanced:
Plan “you” time. Although it may seem painfully obvious, this is one of the most effective ways to avoid burnout. Planning time for yourself, either to spend on a hobby or to just spend time caring for yourself so that you look and feel your best, is necessary. Consider activities like taking a walk, exercising, reading, taking a bath, or meditating. Do something you enjoy, and let yourself forget about what’s causing you stress.
Set boundaries. This applies to every area. Set certain times where you only focus on one task. For example, when you are at work, try to focus only on work; when you’re with friends, try not to stress about work or school. This makes it so that you’re maximizing your focus in each area, not spending all of your time worrying about an issue in another realm of your life. This includes making sure that you’re not distracted with work or school during family time, and vice versa. When there’s something in one area that you just can’t let go or resolve, it can leave you susceptible to burnout. If you need to, pick certain days or times that you unplug; turn off your phone, computer, TV, and whatever else, and just focus on the here and now.
Follow your instincts. If your gut reaction is to stay home on Friday night, turn on your favorite show, and order a pizza, don’t let guilt or social pressures convince you to go out instead. It’s healthy to have a balance of activities and only you know what you’re really feeling. If leaving the house on a Saturday before you’ve finished your errands is going to stress you out, elect to finish your errands. If you know that you need to have some time with friends before you’ll be able to focus on homework, schedule a coffee date with your roomie.
Don’t overextend yourself. We’re all guilty of this sometimes; we agree to things we shouldn’t, take on extra projects, and even take work home with us. When we’re doing so much in so many different areas of our lives at the same time, it makes it easy to lose focus on and energy for any one particular thing. Know when to say “no.”
Communicate. When you’re starting to feel stressed or like you’re losing energy, let others know. Start with family and friends: Let them know that you need some time to focus on work or school. Next, if your stress levels don’t improve, talk with your direct supervisor at work or your professor in the class that’s hardest for you. Let them know that you’re feeling very stressed, and find out if there’s anyone else you can share duties with or if there’s anything you can do to boost your grade or better understand the material. No one will know how you’re feeling unless you tell them, and only then can you work together to make changes.
Rediscover your purpose. Consider the things that make you really happy in life. Do you feel a sense of purpose from your job? Do you have meaningful hobbies? Are you truly happy when you spend time with your friends? If you answer no to any of those questions, take some time to figure out what things might give you a purpose, and start trying them. It’s okay to drop an activity you hate or stop hanging out with a person who constantly brings you down.
Practice gratefulness. Sometimes the cynic in all of us comes out. Try to focus on the good that comes from any situation. For example, a breakup gives you the chance to start fresh, being let go from a job allows you a new opportunity somewhere else, and a poor grade may lead you to reevaluate your future career and find something else you’re passionate about. Even when a situation is bad on the surface, adjusting your mindset can make a big difference.
Know when you’re reaching a breaking point. This is kind of a last resort, but if you know you’re about to hit your breaking point, make yourself the priority. Take steps to take the day off, practice self-care, unplug, or do whatever else you need to do to get yourself back in a good place. You’re the priority.
What do you do when you know you’re getting unsustainably stressed?