How to Prevent Grad School Burnout

This post about burnout in grad school may contain affiliate links. For more information see disclosure at bottom of home page

I am hoping you are coming to this page in hopes to prevent burnout in grad school rather than trying to find a cure. Today, I want to share what burnout in grad school is and how to prevent it. I also want to discuss ways in which you can help reduce it, in case you are already burnt out.

What is burn out in grad school?

According to mayo clinic “burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity”. Burnout is pretty much working yourself so much to the point where you lose motivation to do any work, what-so-ever. People that experience burnout usually work quite a lot and are in very stressful fields of work or study. Grad school is one of those fields in which you will probably be working way more hours than full time employees. you will most likely over exhaust yourself day after day. This can lead to burn out.

How do I know I am burnt out?

When you first started grad school, did you feel super motivated? You were ready to take on the world and every project out there! After a little while of working, you started to notice that you didn’t really have the motivation anymore. You may have woken up and found that you really couldn’t do any work at all. At first you may just stay you’re tired, but after a while, you notice that the feeling of being tired just doesn’t go away. This is where burn out comes to play. You will know that you have hit burnout when you just can’t muster up the strength to do any work or accomplish anything related to your studies.

When Will I most Likely Experience Grad School Burnout?

Some of the notorious periods for experiencing burnout would be during finals, during your qualifying exam, and at the very end with your defense. If you are in a Master’s program that is non-thesis, you may experience burnout towards the end of the semester. For PhD students, you may experience it during your quals and definitely during the time you are writing a paper for publication. Towards the end of your doctorate, you will be so busy that burnout is almost inevitable. Luckily, there are ways to combat burnout.

How to Prevent Burnout in Grad School?

The first thing that you need to do when you start grad school is develop a plan on doing non-academic related things. This is just as important as working on your studies. Trust me when I say this “relaxation and recovery are the keys to productivity!” If you work yourself to the bone, you will hit burnout and this can lead to weeks, possibly months of no productivity. So, first things first, establish a schedule to incorporate fun into your life.

Your to-do list

Next thing that I want you to do to prevent burnout is make sure that your list of things to do each day is much smaller than you want. You do not need to be cramming 1000 things into your day. You will overwhelm yourself and this will definitely cause some problems. Reduce the amount of work that you want to get done. Also, remember that a grad degree is a marathon and not a sprint. You can’t complete a doctorate in a day or a week. It takes years and you need the strength and energy to complete it.

Set a Time to End the Day

There may be days where you have to be in the lab until 10 pm, but for the most part, you’ll be done by 5. Treat your studies like a day job. Work from 9 to 5 each day and then just quit. Don’t go home and do work. Don’t stay passed that time to get a little bit more work in. No, just stop. Go work out or go have fun. Call up a friend and go to the movies. Leave work at work and go enjoy your life, Try and make this a recurring thing. If you work hard during the day then 5 pm is a good cut off time anyway. This will help with the relaxation preventative measure as well.

Limit Caffeine

This one may surprise you but it is actually something that I have found causes me to burn out much quicker. I love coffee and it hurts to know it can hurt me. Caffeine somewhat boosts my productivity. After a while, I start to rely on the caffeine to keep me going. You know what that does? It doesn’t allow me to rest. When you work a ton, you may get into your lab a bit tired. This might be your body telling you to slow down. When you have caffeine, you end up perking yourself back up. This will make you productive but even more tired the next day. Repeat this cycle a few days and next thing you know, you can’t get out of your bed and you’re exhausted when you wake up. Be mindful of the caffeine consumption that you have.

What if I am Burnt Out?

So you checked off all of the boxes and determined that you have hit burnout. Now what? Well let’s go through some ways to get out of this terrible time and possibly learn from it.

Tell your adviser

Many times, the reason you got burned out was because of your adviser or the amount of work that you have to do for them. I am sure that you have done a crazy amount of work for them many times. They most likely don’t knowhow much time you spend doing stuff. They may keep giving you work, thinking that you can do it in like an hour when in reality, it takes 2 or 3 days. Talk with them. Let them know that you are overworked and really feeling unmotivated and burnt out. They will understand, I promise. They will also probably tell you t take a few days off.

Take a few days off

Mind burnout may only require a few days of just doing nothing. If it is extreme burnout where you can’t function, you’ll need more time. Towards the end of the semester, you are likely to feel the crushing effects of burnout, after this period, take a vacation. Go on a trip and leave your work at school. Vacations are a great way to get back to your old self and you’ll definitely have more motivation to work after one.

Sometimes just taking a day off to go do something fun during the week is what will get you back into things. When you are severely impacted by burnout, tell your adviser that you are going to take some time off. This is a great time to just get some sleep, catch up on Netflix, listen to your favorite book on Audible, or heck, cook your favorite food.

Sleep more

When I hit burnout after my qualifying exams, I slept in every day for about a month. I had severe burnout and needed the rest. Lately, I have been working a bit more, trying to write a paper for publication, and I have been forcing myself to sleep early. This is a great preventative measure as well as remedy for when you are burned out. Feeling well rested has made me a ton more motivated to do work. It has also resolved the bit of burn out that I was experiencing this week.

Talk with a Therapist

I will always promote therapy. This whole blog is pretty much thanks to therapy. If you are in a position where you are always burnt out and can’t really handle it, I suggest seeing a therapist. I have written extensively about my experience with therapy and how it has significantly helped me. This might be a great thing to do, especially if your insurance allows it. Sometimes the best way to get out of feeling down is talking to a licensed professional.

Final Thoughts

Burnout is common in all industries. We tend to think that working ourselves to death is a sign of strength. No, it’s not. Burnout in grad school is a scary occurrence that needs to be addressed. Burnout can lead to drop out rates increasing, mental health problems, and other medical problems. Your grad school experience should be a good one and not one filled with dread.

If you are in grad school or went to grad school, did you experience burnout? If so, can you tell us about it in the comments?

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

5 thoughts on “How to Prevent Grad School Burnout

Leave a Reply