Burn, Baby Burn

Hello, my name is Amanda, and I¡¯m a work-a-holic.

My first twenty-unit quarter was last spring.  It was my most successful quarter to date, grade-wise. Of course, that gave me an unrealistic sense of capability, which I am now realizing halfway through my second twenty-unit quarter.

This time around, I¡¯m taking three upper division classes instead of one and two time-consuming lower division introduction courses. In preparing for this quarter, I completely forgot how stressed out I had been the spring before. I forgot what it was like to spend upwards of 17 hours on campus sitting in classrooms and tacking on an extra 10 hours of work a week. I also forgot that I made sacrifices in my social life to maintain my grades and sanity.

My fatal flaw is that I like to be busy ¡ª too much downtime makes me lazy and unproductive. My attempts to avoid this put me on the opposite side of the spectrum: burnout.

Burnout is a psychological condition. The term refers to the exhaustion and lack of interest that come from doing way too much. A case study done in 2006 by Stephanie Cushman and Richard West at the University of Southern Maine set out to examine what college students attribute to burnout. Using a sample of 237 students, the study found that 49 percent of those students cited assignment overload as the cause.

The stages of burnout include neglecting your own needs, feeling like you need to prove yourself, withdrawal from friends, losing interest in hobbies and depression.   Lack of sleep, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and a faltering social life, which often come as a result of doing too much, can make burnout (and your general state of mental health) even worse.  That¡¯s quite the catch-22!

With the end of the school year in sight and burnout threatening to take over, I¡¯m on a mission to make sure my threats to drop out and join the circus never become a reality.  Here are the things I¡¯ve found helpful so far:

1. F is for Fridays with Friends:

I began the quarter by spending Fridays in with my homework spread out in front of me. I missed spending time with my friends too much to let that last and have taken to setting Fridays aside for whatever plans may spring up. Once I let go of feeling like I should be doing something productive, I realized that lazing on a beach, sitting in a hot tub, going out to dinner and watching ¡°Iron Man¡± with the people I love was actually much more useful than a Friday night pouring over textbooks.

2. Rewards:

Sometimes it¡¯s impossible to start a paper, and not always because it¡¯s hard. To get myself to stay on track with the work I have to do, I promise myself little rewards. For my last essay, I promised myself an episode of ¡°Degrassi¡± if I could finish it by a certain time. I turned on relaxing music and set to work and finished it ahead of schedule so I was free to relish the Canadian high school drama. I also didn¡¯t let my desire to procrastinate take over and make my week even harder later on.

3. Get Ahead:

On the weekends that I can burn through my weekly to-do list with ease, I make a point to read for the week ahead or do an assignment a week early. It takes advantage of my industrious productivity and acts as a buffer for wanting to be lazy later on in the week. Being on top of work and having wiggle room prevents me from feeling bad for mid-week coffee dates and late night conversations.

4. Step Away from the Google Calendar:

I love my Google Calendar, but I love it more when I¡¯m not this busy. For fall and winter quarter, it was a great way to schedule time with friends, meetings with teachers and adjusting my work hours. My Tasks sidebar gave me the satisfaction of assigning due dates and seeing things crossed off. However, this quarter leaves for very little blank space and My Tasks sidebar has a scroll bar to accommodate all the assignments I need to get done. Keeping my to-do list on paper gives me the satisfaction of checking items off and saves me from having to see my utter lack of time.

5. Being Outside:

I give props to Mother Nature for sun and seventy-degree days for this one. Aside from giving us healthy doses of Vitamin D, the sun also does its part to fight off depression and poor health. Fresh air, sunlight and blue skies also give me something to be happy about: the promise of summer.