Now that midterm season is upon us, I have a lot of college memories coming to the surface. Thinking back, I remember how hard school got after Week 4. I had no motivation and barely had the capacity to eat or sleep because I was always anxious. All the stress led to rashes, headaches, and the inability to focus in class, let alone on my entrepreneurial activities.
On top of all the stress from studying for classes, I also had to work and was trying to start my own business. In fact, right before the pandemic hit, my mental health was so bad that I almost dropped out.
Reflecting on these stressful times makes it very clear that I was not taking care of my mental health the way I should have been, and it was no wonder my business attempt failed. But I don’t regret anything. How could I? Taking care of my mental health was something I didn’t even know how to do.
Was I stressed? Did I burn out? How was I supposed to help myself?
Luckily, I graduated with a B.S. in Psychology in 2022 and have spent the last four years submerged in all things health and wellness. Now, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with you.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 60% of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem and entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to face mental health challenges than the average person. As a student entrepreneur, you will likely experience times of intense stress, so it’s especially important to create a healthy and sustainable lifestyle to protect yourself from stress and burnout.
In this article, I hope to educate and inspire you to create a healthy environment within yourself, so no matter what happens in school, work or life, you will bounce back stronger and faster.
Burnout vs. Stress
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO), officially classified burnout in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Disease. They define burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace/academic stress that has not been successfully managed. To clarify, stress that goes untreated can cause burnout.
What is important to remember is that feelings of stress are temporary, and the faster you recognize feelings of stress, the more likely you are to prevent yourself from burning out. If you are reading this and realize that you are currently struggling with stress, do not fret. Being able to identify what is wrong is the first step in finding a solution!
Here are some of my favorite stress-reduction tips.
Top 6 Tips on How to Relieve Stress and Prevent Burnout
1.Take a Step Back
I know this is easier said than done. But taking a step back doesn’t mean completely abandoning your work; it means getting out of your head and focusing on reality. Your mind is very powerful and it can often lead you to believe things that are not true. So, taking a step back allows you to breathe, recenter, and reprioritize.
To step back from a stressful situation, try asking yourself these questions;
- Why am I so stressed?
- Is this stress self imposed?
- If I cannot control the outcome of a stressful situation, what can I control?
Simply asking yourself these questions allows you to detach from the stress and brings you back into the present moment. According to Evolution Counseling, individuals who are able to take a step back can effectively lower their stress levels without having to change their circumstances.
2. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is one of the most popular techniques used to cope with mentally distressing situations. The reason it is so powerful is because it helps one become aware of all the good things in one’s life. It increases more positive emotions which decreases feelings of stress.
For instance, if you are feeling stressed about midterms, stop and try to think about all reasons why you are lucky to be in college. Instead of focusing on all the negative things you cannot control, think about all the great things you have going for you. Reflecting on the good in your life will make it easier to approach stressful situations with positivity and confidence.
As an added bonus, the National Institute of Health (NIH) also states that practicing gratitude daily can also have positive effects on your physical body too!
We all know how hard it can be to sleep when you are stressed out. However, sleep is a VITAL component in processing information and effective studying. Sleeping six or more hours a night increases your ability to problem solve and helps consolidate memories. The more you sleep, the more information you remember the next day.
The NIH states that lack of sleep decreases your ability to learn new things by up to 40%. Further proving how vital sleep is to daily function and efficiency.
In addition to taking a step back and practicing gratitude. One suffering from stress or burnout should also eliminate all electronics and lights an hour before bed. This decrease in external stimuli will aid in improving sleep.
Sleeping in 90-minute intervals will also help you get the most out of your sleep. There are different stages of sleep and it takes about 90 minutes (1.5 hours) to complete a full sleep cycle. Sleeping in intervals of 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5, or 9 hours will allow you to wake up feeling more refreshed.
All the tips mentioned above are key aspects of self-care. Self-care is taking time away from your work, school, and external obligations to focus all your energy on yourself. According to the Harvard Business Review, self-care is a crucial part of alleviating burnout.
If this means sleeping for 12+ hours, taking more time to eat, or going on a walk, GO DO IT! You cannot expect to perform well in school or at any job when you’re burnt out.
5.Reprioritize Responsibilities/ Manage Your Time More Effectively
We tend to be our own harshest critics. Especially as college students and aspiring entrepreneurs, we expect nothing but greatness from ourselves. This is why most stress, chronic stress, is self imposed. Here is how to take the pressure off yourself and reprioritize.
- List all the responsibilities you must do or accomplish
- Add the due dates next to each item
- Prioritize the top 3 then slowly chip away at the rest of the list
Once you get in the habit of prioritizing your responsibilities, it’s easier to take certain self-imposed pressures off your shoulders. It allows you to shift your perspective and make sure you are spending the right amount of time on the important things.
6.Seek Help and Ask for Support
It is not easy dealing with stress and burnout alone, and there is no shame in asking for help. If you feel like you are stressed about falling behind in class, ask your professors for help. If you just need to cry, or vent, or need a hug, rely on your friends and support system.
If you truly feel like you are losing grasp on your sanity, please ask for help. UCI has a variety of support services, such as the UCI Counseling Center, where you can seek professional support.
Stress and burnout don’t have to last forever. Try out these suggestions to help you reduce stress, gain control over your productivity, and set yourself up for success.
Whether it is school or running your own business, you are only as strong as you perceive yourself to be. You are your greatest asset. As philosopher and educator Willaim James famously said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
So keep your head up, you got this!
By Stefani Rios