Experiencing Burnout as an OT Student

Hey readers! Today I want to talk about burnout. A lot of people throw around the term “burnout”, so I first want to clarify what it truly means. Burnout is a feeling of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue, often caused by continued stress over a long period of time. Healthcare providers are especially prone to experiencing burnout if they are constantly giving to their patients. If you give too much, you will have nothing left to offer. If a healthcare provider is experiencing burnout, they (or their coworkers) may notice that they are detached from their patients and can no longer empathize or connect with them.

As a student, I was nearing burnout last semester. I wasn’t experiencing burnout with patients in the traditional sense of the term, but I felt like I was experiencing it with school. I felt like I had nothing left to give to my classes. I was exhausted and couldn’t get myself to study. I have never been the kind of student to not study or not care, so I didn’t know why I felt that way.

Going straight from undergrad to grad school was the right decision for me, but it was a major transition made very quickly. It also did not allow me any time to mentally, emotionally, or physically prepare for the challenge that is grad school. I didn’t have a break in between, and I was beginning to feel the repercussions of the stress of years and years of higher education. Believe me, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to get my Bachelors degree and now be in a doctorate OT program. But, we all need a break sometimes.

Which brings me to the point of this post: how to decrease burnout and increase motivation as a student. My feelings of burnout were making me feel very unmotivated, and I have a feeling that many other grad students may feel the same. I have been on summer break for a couple of weeks so far and I have a couple of weeks left, so I have definitely been replenishing my motivational tank and preparing to go back to school strong and with the right mindset. Here are some things that I have been doing that I hope will help you as well:

Take a Break

We all need to take a break at times. I hope that you are all in a position where you can do that. For me, this looks like a weekend away where I completely unplug (this explains why I was MIA on the blog for a few weeks). This also looks like staying in on a Friday night with a glass of wine and a movie rather than going out with friends or staying up late studying. I need time to myself to truly recharge. Any other introverts feel the same way?!

Say No

I have a habit of saying yes to way too many things. I fill my plate way too full and then I feel overwhelmed. I have learned over the past year that it is okay to say no to things that don’t bring you joy.

… And Say Yes

At the same time, say yes to things that do bring you joy! If you have a certain friend that you love being around or a certain activity that you love doing, see that friend or do that thing. Take advantage of opportunities that come up, but only if they will add to your life.

Prioritize

This one can be hard, but it is important. With saying yes or no to certain activities or commitments also comes prioritizing what is most important to you. Prioritize the things/people/activities that bring you happiness and let go of the ones that do not. You also may have to prioritize commitments like work or school over fun. At times, this looks like working a weekend job instead of getting together with friends. It also looks like studying so late that I only get 5 hours of sleep. In grad school, this is the reality at times. Just be sure to maintain balance and make time for leisure.

Exercise

For me, exercise is the best medicine when I am feeling stressed or burnt out. It immediately clears my mind, brightens my mood, and resets my day. I love taking Pure Barre classes, and I can’t recommend enough that you find a way to exercise that works for you and that you enjoy. Unfortunately, this tends to be one of the things that I slack on when I am overwhelmed at school.

Make a Schedule

This may seem silly, but put EVERYTHING in your schedule. This may not work for everyone, but it really works for me. I block off time for studying or homework and also for leisure. This holds me accountable to actually get my work done in a timely manner and I am able to ensure that I have free time to do things that I enjoy.

Find Meaningful Occupations

Can you see the trend here? All of my suggestions and things that worked for me are things that bring me joy. Find meaningful occupations that make you happy and actually do them. Most of you reading this are OTs and OT students, so I don’t think I need to explain this one that much. Meaningful occupations = fulfilled life = happiness = OT is AWESOME!

De-Stress

Finally, find ways to de-stress. I feel completely de-stressed when I get to go away for the week or weekend. However, this is not always feasible. When I can’t totally step away, I ensure that I have at least one day of the weekend free for fun. This usually looks like a Sunday spent doing an activity that brings me joy with people that I love. For example, some things that I like to do include getting brunch with friends, going for a bike ride or playing tennis with my boyfriend, walking my dogs, or relaxing by the pool at home. On a daily basis, even when I am swamped at school, I try to at least have one hour of de-stressing each day. This usually looks like taking a Pure Barre class, doing a face mask, reading a book (not a textbook!), or watching Food Network with my mom.

If you are experiencing burnout as an OT student, trust me that you are not alone. OT school is hard, especially if you are the only one in your friend group who is still in school. (FOMO, am I right?!) OT school is a major time and energy commitment, so be sure to give yourself grace. You are doing GREAT and one day you will be a GREAT OT!

Thanks for reading! Comment below any other things that help motivate you when your tank is empty!

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