Exam season comes a time when students study harder than they have ever studied before, pushing themselves to their limits with willpower and determination, but this highly-stressful process is not sustainable in the long run, causing burnout to occur. The structure of Macleans’ academic year does not exactly lessen the burnout either. The term system compresses considerable amounts of material into around 10 weeks’ worth of lessons, including knowledge from previous terms and what is taught in the current term, creating an intense, pressure-filled environment for students. This burnout is amplified further when students immediately get back onto the grind while suffering from exhaustion after exams are over.

With all this mental exhaustion and going around, it becomes easy to dig yourself into a deep hole where you become devoid of motivation to do anything. So how do we offset or recover from burnout? The recovery process is far more complicated than “just chill” or powering through the exhaustion. So as the exam results start coming back, let’s look at how to get back on track.

Bouncing back and fighting the mental resistance to doing something

After working so hard for extended periods of time, it’s normal to start associating any sort of work with displeasure or negative emotions since this cycle of note-taking, assignments and studying has put you through so much. And as a result, these negative emotions form a barrier preventing you from starting a task at all, resulting in demotivation.

2-Minute Rule

When negative emotions are associated with work, it becomes far more typical to view work as something difficult, disincentivising individuals from making progress, if at all (check). However, such a barrier can be combatted with the 2-Minute Rule, presented by author James Clear. To put the 2-Minute Rule into practice in the face of a difficult task, an individual simply has to tell themselves that they are going to do just a little bit of that task before evaluating how they felt afterwards. For example, if you want to work out, start with one push-up. Or if you have to write an essay, start with a paragraph or a sentence. If taking a baby step in performing one large task isn’t so bad, then you could ask yourself how bad it could be if you just carry it on a little longer. That way, a large task is then broken down into several smaller goals and in doing so, the stakes of a task are lowered so that the negative emotions associated with work become far less overwhelming, thus, removing the barrier that prevents you from getting started.

Going through the motions

As the title above indicates, another way to get through a mental barrier is to simply do what you would typically do to prepare for a task. Exercising? Put on the shoes and clothes suitable for exercise. Studying? Set up the correct environment for focus. Going through the motions should not be confused with telling oneself to complete a task, but rather, being pragmatic; such that you may as well follow through with completing the task properly or part of it since you’re already invested, especially since the benefits outweigh the costs.

Incentivising work with reward

One last way to get past the negative mental barrier is simply to put difficult work and something enjoyable together. For example, you could use video games as an incentive for getting work done. Or using badges as an incentive to stimulate output from the News Committee Writers. This way, negative emotions associated with work won’t be so prominent as you have something to look forward to after everything is complete.

Taking breaks when necessary

Exam periods have likely resulted in hours upon hours of constant work while you try to maintain 100% focus over long periods of time. As mentioned previously, this is simply not sustainable in the long run. This last piece of advice is short and sweet. Simply take a rest when you feel overwhelmed or when you feel like you are breaking focus. It is far better to recover from short rests than to soldier on and dig a deeper hole for yourself. After all, you have worked so hard and you deserve those breaks.

18th June, 2023
Aaron Huang

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