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How To Avoid Homework Burnout

Why you might feel stressed out right now (and what you can do about it)

Nov 04, 2019

Starting as early as elementary school, students begin to participate in a large-scale competition against one another. This competition is intense, draining, and receiving a gold medal is always just out of reach -- there, in view, calling to those who seek it, but not obtainable. This competition is called the “Busy Olympics.”

In this competition, students attempt to be busier than their peers, taking on more responsibilities and enrolling in more difficult classes simply to prove themselves capable of doing so. However, most students don’t know where their breaking point lies, and, with this competition, students attempt a trial-and-error method in finding out how much they can really do. When this error occurs, students experience “Homework Burnout.”

Learn to recognize warning signs before you hit your breaking point. Learn to recognize warning signs before you hit your breaking point. Courtesy of JeShoots via Unsplash

What is “Homework Burnout”?

When coupled with all the other responsibilities you may face on a daily basis, getting through large amounts of homework can be especially draining. Whether you start your homework right after school, at ten P.M. after soccer practice, or at eleven P.M. after procrastinating all day, homework burnout is real.

Emerson College First-Year Seren Cho defines homework burnout as: "the eventual exhaustion developed from having an extremely heavy homework load from class.” This exhaustion can have negative effects on your concentration levels. If you’re getting tired after the first thing on your to-do list, it will be much harder to get the rest of your homework done. Even if you make it through one night of homework without burning out, you might feel the exhaustion the next day or the day after that as you complete more and more assignments.

In a New York Times article on burnout at the professional level, author Kenneth R. Rosen characterizes burnout as a cycle. It’s easy to get trapped in the routine of overextension -- working late one night, then later the next, then even later the night after that as these small increments seem manageable. For this reason, it’s important to reflect: how much work were you taking on last week? Last month? Last year? How does it compare to how much you’re doing now? Do you feel more tired now than before?

These check-in questions are crucial to understanding how you’re feeling so that you can, eventually, figure out how to manage your stress levels.

Waiting until the last minute is one of the top contributors to homework stress. Start early and give yourself plenty of time.Waiting until the last minute is one of the top contributors to homework stress. Start early and give yourself plenty of time.Courtesy of Pedro da Silva

Breaking the Cycle

“No one wins the Busy Olympics because winning that game means losing at everything else,” says one article from Above the Law, This statement holds especially true for today’s students because it proves that the cycle of homework burnout forces its victims to prioritize work over all other aspects of life. For example, holing yourself up in your room for days on end to complete essays, projects, and catch up on extra-curriculars leaves no room for time spent with friends or family.

The article goes onto explain that being “busy” is a state of mind that occurs when you don’t really know how much work you have to do, and it can seem like there’s a lot more work than you actually have to do. In order to demystify your workload, get organized.

Find a personal organizing calendar app that works for you. Some popular free options include Google Calendar, MyHomework Student Planner, My Study Life, and Chalkboard. These apps can help you input deadlines, make to-do lists, and/or make scheduled reminders.

If you prefer the old-school pen and paper calendar, you still have lots of options. Giant wall or desk calendars with a page per month can help sort out long-term deadlines. Such calendars come in whiteboard form, too. For short-term assignments, portable planners with room for daily to-do lists can come in handy. If you want to double up, make on-desk to-do lists on sticky notes or a piece of paper. If you can only work when a to-do list is super neat, type it up first, then print it out, crossing out the items as you go.

Find a way of getting organized that works best for you. Find a way of getting organized that works best for you. Courtesy of Alexis Brown via Unsplash

Be Mindful

There has been a lot of talk lately about mindfulness practices, but what really works? Generally, we hear about yoga, taking a bath, journaling, essential oils, and meditation. However, mindfulness goes beyond this: sometimes, all it takes is focusing on something other than your work.

The best mindfulness practice is to involve yourself with a task you do not need to complete perfectly, be it working on a coloring book, writing poetry, or completing a puzzle. To decide which practice to complete, you need to ask yourself some questions about how you manage stress.

When you’re stressed, do you like to work on something for which there is only one right answer? In this case, try a puzzle: be it a traditional puzzle, a LEGO set, sudoku, or a crossword. For some people, these straightforward, right-or-wrong practices are appealing and cathartic in times of stress.

Or, when you’re stressed, do you like to do something more ambiguous and creative? If so, try your hand at creative writing or art of another form. Creative writing can be easy to get into. Simply hit an online writing prompt generator and complete a free-write for five to ten minutes. Poetry is also engaging. Look around your immediate area for something that represents a word or phrase that inspires you, such as “light through the trees” or “vase of wilting flowers.” Think about what abstract metaphors your surroundings can represent -- this can get you out of your work brain and help you to connect with your thoughts and the world around you.

Finally, if you’re an extrovert, do you like to spend time with others when stressed? If so, share a meal with your family, go on an adventure with friends, or head to a bestie’s house for fun and games, watching TV and baking cookies while you talk out your feelings of stress.

Spending time with friends, even to do homework, can take some of the stress offSpending time with friends, even to do homework, can take some of the stress offCourtesy of Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash
Have Your Say

Have you ever experienced homework burnout? Are you experiencing it now? If so, how do you break the cycle? Let us know in the comments below.