Jun 5, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

If you're a PhD student, you know all-too-well the burnout that you face at the end of the semester. The fatigue. The anxiety. The sprint to the end. 

It's not just the reading, as you know. It's the writing. There's a lot of it. And you have to grade it. 

While some opt to assign big writing projects for the end, others take different approaches where they work incrementally all semester, so the end doesn't feel like such a big push. Why? The end is often so disappointing. The "big final project" is turned in. In 5 classes. Now what?

If you're bogged down by that "big final project" and bracing yourself for that inevitable disappointment you'll feel when it's all over, take a look at these five tips to get you through. You'll be glad you did.

1. Take time off (we mean it!)

It may seem counterintuitive to take time off when you're bogged down and exhausted, but it's not. One of the best ways to prevent burnout--especially academic burnout--is to take a break. 

Give yourself some downtime to recover when it's all over.

How? Plan it ahead of time, and get out of Dodge when you say you will.

Give yourself permission to relax. You have a right to take a break, even in academics. Think of this time as a recharge. When your break is over--take at least a week--have a re-entry plan so you know what to expect when you return. 

Can't take a week-long break? Don't fret. Plan a few mornings or afternoons where you're not going to work, look at email, or respond to anyone. Don't work at night. Give yourself a mini-break until you can get in a bigger vacation time. 

2. Challenge the semester structure

Consider your 15-week semester BEFORE it begins. "End" your semester at week 13, which gives students two weeks to turn in their "big final project." Allow those weeks to consist of small group, large group, and individual meetings with students.

Why? By giving students time to work on their projects, you give yourself time, too. You also give your students the option to meet with you if that's something you need.

Here's another strategy: instead of assigning the "big final project" at the end, do it incrementally throughout those 15 weeks. Have different pieces due at different times and look at the "big final project" as a portfolio of the semester's "best" work. 

This limits that end of semester push, at least in your class, ends the soul-crushing feat of grading everyone's big final projects at the end of the semester, and allow you to enjoy that break without collapsing (see #1)

3. Meditate

Yup. For real. 

PhD burnout is so common that meditation, and its close friend, yoga, are regularly recommended to PhD students, especially at the end of the semester.

All you need is ten minutes a day to re-center, re-focus, and recharge your body. With daily practice, you will feel better. 

Think of it as putting your brain on pause for 10 minutes, acknowledging your thoughts and stresses, clearing the noise in your head, and returning back to whatever was causing all the mayhem. 

Give it a whirl. 

4. Sleep

Two qualifiers here: "enough" and "good." That's right. You need enough sleep and it needs to be good sleep.

Like meditation, sleep recharges your body. When you sleep, your body physically purges toxins that you've accumulated throughout your day. Enough sleep helps to keep your body and your mind happy and healthy--and it results in a better mood and better performance. 

How? Give yourself a bedtime and a wake-up time.

If you're one of those people who has trouble falling asleep, stop work at least three hours before you plan to go to sleep and give yourself a headstart on purging your brain of work.

You can do it. Put yourself on a sleep schedule and catch those healthy z's. 

5. Make fewer decisions

When you're tired and burnt and weary, the worst thing you can do is make a decision, let alone a big one. It can be hard just deciding what kind of coffee you want in the morning.

When you're mentally fatigued, making decisions gets harder, and you're more likely to make an unwise or unhealthy decision and take the easy way out.

One way to combat this is to make fewer decisions. Order the same coffee every day. Exercise at the same time. Eat the same dinner.

When the going gets tough, make yourself a schedule, stick to it, and put at least one part of your life on autopilot.

Feel better? You should. Go forth and relax. 

Learn more about earning your PhD.

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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