Guy with head on books surrounded by coffee

—Kelsey W., Portland State University, Oregon 

First, I want to thank you for asking a question that so many students have but may be too afraid to admit because they want to show others that they can handle the stress of going to college and managing all their other responsibilities.

Second, I want you to consider the following questions that will lead you to determining what solution is best for you to help minimize burnout. 

1. Have I taken on too much?

Be honest with yourself. Have you taken on a full load of classes and a full schedule at work? Are you promising too much to too many people? Even if you feel you must work and take as many classes as possible, you are seeing that the unintended effect is that you can’t do your best at either. Consider taking fewer classes next semester and maybe asking work for a day or two off now so you can devote more time to your studies.

2. Will it get better next week, next month?

Ask yourself if this is a temporary issue. Are you stressed because this week or this month is very busy, but your schedule will be less hectic in the near future? If you can see that your schedule will lighten up soon, you may be able to weather this temporary busy time.

3. Is my “why” and “try” aligned?

Author Dr. Paul Stoltz, in his book Grit, asks readers who are stressed or unmotivated to consider their “why,” or their purpose for pursuing an activity. For example, what’s your reason for earning a college degree? How will it fulfill your life’s purpose? Then, he asks readers to evaluate their “try,” or effort they put in. The goal is to align your effort with your purpose for your life goal. The more alignment you have, the more resilience you’ll have to get through the stressful times.

4. Do I need a (long-term) break?

The last question may be the hardest. Do you need a break? If you do, consider it a temporary time that has a definitive beginning and end. For example, you can take a semester off from college to focus on work, with a plan to return the following semester. Or consider trying out a lighter work schedule for one semester, if possible.