Easier said than done: tips to handle stress

Graphic by Olivia Shan @youngmiddleold

Burnout feels inevitable this time of year, as do tips to help avoid it—but do those “helpful tips” actually work?

It’s 4 a.m. and I’ve just finished my fourth cup of coffee. 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—burnout season. Exams are somehow just around the corner, but you’ve barely recovered from the last exam season. You’re running on fumes and wondering where all the hours in a day go. Inevitably, you’re burnt out. 

And somehow, burnout really does seem inevitable. Harvard Business Review puts it well, saying that this exhaustion “can stem from the demands of an always-on, 24/7 organizational culture, intense time pressure, or simply having too much to do, especially when you lack control over your work, dislike it, or don’t have the necessary skills to accomplish it.” 

(Felt that.)

Our world seems to just be built this way. School prioritizes results over learning, and work prizes productivity over well-being. That realization begs the question: is there anything we can do about it? 

With the end of semester burnout comes a staple of the season: tips and tricks to handle the stress. The issue is that many of these tips are much easier said than done and don’t address the inherent issues within our education system, workforce, and productivity culture. 

To delve deeper, I considered common advice and asked students from various universities and CEGEPs for their thoughts on burnout to find out whether these so-called “helpful tips” are actually helpful at all, and to discover their own personal strategies to manage stress. 

Get more sleep? This is the one I struggle with the most. My roommate, on the other hand, has no trouble prioritizing her sleep schedule. “All-nighters are a scam,” said Georgia C. Leggett, a McGill anthropology student. “I found I did my lowest quality work late at night, so I started making sleep my main priority. It makes me feel better, I get more done, and I buy less concealer.” 

Eat healthy? Nobody prioritizes their health more than Francesca Foy, a McGill finance student who only knows two food groups during exam season: RedBull and Couche-Tard sandwiches. She claims it’s an absolute must for “the grind,” but she does notice a big difference when she makes the time to eat right. She enjoys meal prepping with friends as a social activity: “That way you’re having a good time but also being productive and doing something good for your health. Plus, I suck at cooking, so this is a sneaky way to let my friends do all the work.” 

Stay active? “The problem is that when you’re approaching burnout, every technique feels like a chore,” said Nicolas Lachapelle, who is studying engineering at UOttawa. He and burnout are good friends, so he tackles the issue by going on long stress walks. Personally, I’m a big fan of multi-tasking—listening to your lectures while going for a run, or even doing a reading on a stationary bike can help integrate some movement into your study grind. 

Make studying fun? You can usually find Dylan Badke-Ingerman in the Concordia library (though she’s a Dawson student), distracting me with gossip and suspicious Bulk Barn jelly beans. We’ve taken to hosting regular study sessions, and though we don’t get very much done, the study parties at least make us feel like we’re in it together. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, ” Badke said. “I actually get lots done when we study together.” Well, that makes one of us. 

Find what works for you! Ultimately, you need to find methods and tricks that make sense for who you are and the life you lead. I may never have a proper sleep schedule or a diet that isn’t 95 per cent stolen leftovers (sorry Georgia), but I do have floor naps and Bulk Barn. And when all else fails, I try to remember: school does matter, but not more than health and well-being. So even though I have three more assignments to finish, I think it’s time to call it a night. 

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