I'm burned out.
November 17, 2011 7:39 PM   Subscribe

I burned out. Help me get through writing a paper and studying for two exams this weekend.

I just walked out of a calculous quiz and am sitting in the hallway waiting for the rest of the class to finish as I'm typing this. I'm showing classic signs of burn out. I had plenty of time to study for it, but every attempt at studying had me on the verge of tears. The past few weeks had been a nightmare academically and I'm at the end of my rope. I'm a straight A student and can't mess up now that the semester is wrapping up. I have a paper to write and two exams to study for this weekend, so please give me tips on how to cope with burn out while I get things done.
posted by squirtle to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Contact the professor you have to write the paper for and ask for an extension, if you have any sort of plausible reason to do so. The worst that can happen is that they'll say no. And contrary to popular belief, professors are human beings.

(Why the one you have to write the paper for? Because a student asking to take an exam at a different time than everyone else gets us worried about cheating.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:44 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found it's often a lot better to acknowledge the burnout and do something about it rather than trying to push through it. Rather than spending all of the next 3 days writing the paper and studying, slowly grinding yourself down, take an afternoon off. Sleep, watch some TV, clean the house if that's something that makes you feel better. Set aside a clear block of time to just regenerate. Do not beat yourself up over not working, because you are -- the work is making your brain ready to push through these last assignments.

When you're a little more rested, sit down and make a clear task list. Break it down into every tiny step. "Write a paper" is too big; "review relevant notes," "create a thesis statement," "write an outline" is better. The smaller the task the easier it will be to start and finish, and help you gain momentum.

Then as you start to work, take a 10 to 15 minute break every hour or so. Don't think about how you should be working, because it's the same principle as your afternoon off. The trick is to work smarter, not harder.
posted by lilac girl at 7:53 PM on November 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Also, about the straight A thing -- it will absolutely be okay if, when everything shakes out at the end of the semester, you get a B or two. From someone who's been in your position: it feels world-ending now, but in the long run it absolutely will not matter as much as your mental health. A B is not a failure, or a sign of you messing up. I say this because it sounds like a large part of what's tripping you up right now is this sense of being on the razor's edge and one wrong move will ruin everything. No wonder you don't want to start doing anything when the stakes are so high! But you're artificially raising those stakes on your own. Stop thinking about them for this weekend, which is easier said than done but it's at least something to keep in the back of your brain so this doesn't happen next semester.
posted by lilac girl at 8:01 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sigh. I'm there, too.
Burnout sucks.
Gird up your loins and just keep going. Push through.
Good advice for tricks and hacks upthread but just force yourself to keep moving, one inch at a time. That's how anything gets done.
Good luck!
posted by bebrave! at 8:15 PM on November 17, 2011

Seconding lilac girl about the list making and breaking it into tasks. Small pieces that have clear actions. And start with the easy things if you can, just to get into a roll. Good luck!
posted by korej at 8:20 PM on November 17, 2011

I agree with the madcaptenor that you need to to request an extension for your paper. Do it by email if you're too anxious to do it in person. Ask a friend to help you write the email if you can't handle the prospect of reaching out and being rejected (I've been there!). Another option is to drop-in to your University's counselling service and talk to one of the counsellors. In my experience and those of my friends they are extremely helpful to students on the brink - no one wants you to break down!

As for the weekend, set realistic study goals. When you are not burnt out, you may feel like it is reasonable to spend 14 or 16 hours a day studying. This is not the case now. For the weekend, imagine that studying is a job that you work for an eight hour shift. For each of your two exams, study four hours a day. Contrary to popular opinion, cramming is NOT effective. If you study too much, anything new that you are trying to learn is going to interfere with what you have already learned. You will probably achieve virtually the same amount in an eight hour day of studying as you would in a twelve hour day. If you're too burned out for eight hours, make it six. Just do something rather than nothing.

Some A students I know fall into an all-or-nothing trap. If they don't have the time or mental energy to do full out, intense studying, they become so paralyzed with guilt/fear/shame that they don't do anything. Guess what, you can still accomplish something without killing yourself with stress. You might even get As! I struggle with perfectionism myself. I use a cheesy mantra : "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Accomplish what you realistically and reasonably can this weekend and - VERY IMPORTANT - try not to punish yourself for not accomplishing what you think you should be able to do. Tell yourself that you can accomplish something this weekend but you don't have to accomplish everything.

I'm a student myself grinding through a couple of papers this weekend. If it helps you, you are not alone - most students are stressed and burned out this time of year. Everyone I know is miserable. Please feel free to memail me anytime this weekend if you need encouragement to sit down and work. I'll do the same! We can do this.
posted by Ladysin at 8:28 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I find working in short spurts with breaks helps me get started. I use this timer which is based on the Pomodoro Technique
posted by it's a long way to south america at 8:28 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take some time and take care of yourself. Basically, carve out a reasonable chunk of time to do whatever releases stress and forces you to not think about it, even if it's just a few hours. Treat yourself to a good meal and a few hours watching a favorite movie. Get some friends together and split a bottle of wine and bitch about all the things you have to do. Go workout until you're all rubbery-limbed and can't be tense anymore. Or if you just have to be working on things, break everything down into smaller, approachable tasks and give yourself gradually increasing rewards for doing them. Maybe "WRITE A PAPER" is too panic-inducing, but if you got down to the library and got yourself a nice snack/coffee along the way, then all you have to do is a little bit of research. Say, 30 minutes, then you get to do something different and fun for a short period of time. And so on.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:49 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of these suggestions pulled me through the rest of the semester and I made my goal (4.0gpa)! Thanks everyone!
posted by squirtle at 2:31 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

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