How to know when to take a break from studying

05 May 2022
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Studying for hours without a break is a sure-fire way to put yourself firmly on the road to burnout. So, how do you spot those early signs and make sure you’re having enough downtime?

I think I speak for most people when I say I know what it’s like to be pulled under by those pre-exam jitters.

At the moment, it seems like your whole life depends on making sure you pass these exams, no matter the cost – and even if your health deteriorates because of it.

That’s why I’ve highlighted some key signs to watch out for when you’re doing too much, as well as a guide on what to do to avoid burnout in the first place.

Because, if you do burnout, you’ve got no hope of getting that studying done, anyway.

Catching the signs

Burnout comes in many forms for different people, so this is just an overview of some of the common symptoms of stress and burnout.

If you know, though, that your grouchiness with your flatmates is coming from a stressful place, then you’ll probably be clued up already.

Things to watch out for include:

  • Tension headaches, stomach aches and feeling nauseous
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Emotional exhaustion (unexpected bouts of crying, quick anger etc.)
  • Lack of creativity or motivation
  • Reduced work performance
  • Constant feeling of negativity towards everyday life

Some of the symptoms here are really similar to a variety of mental health issues and some studies indicate that burnout, while usually associated with work or study, is actually a concern that overlaps with depression.

So, it’s important to be stop any budding problems before they start. How? With these tricks and tips below…

Avoiding burnout

1) Book in time to study

It might seem obvious, but actually creating a schedule for yourself can go a long way towards avoiding burnout in the first place – the important thing is sticking to it.

Imagine it like a real job. Say, between 10am and 4pm, you study (with an hour’s lunch break). After that? Your time is your own.

By allotting that time to chill out, watch your favourite movies or hang out with friends, you’ll feel far less guilty about not studying in your downtime, and actually get to enjoy those hours when you’re not tied to your desk.

Pro tip: Include regular 10-minute breaks throughout your day to step away from the desk, have a healthy snack and refresh your mind.

2) Cram in enough sleep

There’s nothing like losing motivation when your eyes are already straining and you’re starting to get a headache from exhaustion. So, give yourself a bedtime and stack up those hours of sleep.

I usually aim to be in bed by 11pm at the latest, knowing that, when I get up at 7am, I’ll be ready to smash my day.

Don’t forget to put the books down a good hour or so before you want to drift away and give your mind a break by limiting screen time before you tuck yourself in.

If you need help on ways to fall asleep, check out our 29 ways to get a soothing night’s sleep here.

3) Make time to get outside

Studies have already proven that getting outside is good for you.

From reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, to managing stress and high blood pressure, taking that every day walk could be exactly what you need to stay on top of the world.

So, make time for it – even just 20 minutes spent wandering around your favourite leafy space can make all the difference to your mood.

By giving yourself space away from your room, it could even give you inspiration for that particularly tough practice question you’ve been trying to nail down.

4) Visualise where you want to be

Holding onto motivation can be difficult when you forget why you’re working so hard.

That’s why taking a little time out to remind yourself why smashing these exams or passing that deadline is important could give you a little boost. Does passing this mean you’ll be able to pursue your dream of becoming a vet? Maybe get that job in finance that will give you the life you want?

Just be wary that this technique is a double-edged sword.

Yes, it’s crucial to motivate yourself and not lose sight of the final goal – essentially, graduating with the grades you need to kick-start your future. But don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure either.

After all, an exam is just that – an exam. Not a life and death situation.

5) Don’t keep your feelings bottled up

If you’re getting moody with your flatmates, chances are, they already know that you’re feeling the stress.

So, rather than bottle it up and take it out on them, make a cup of tea and have a chat. Get those concerns off your chest and share the burden – they’re probably feeling as stressed as you are.

Just remember that, if you’re feeling particularly bad and you’re worried about your mental health, there are services in place to help you, too.

To find out more, we’ve highlighted some of the key ways you can get support, from national helplines to your university’s support hub.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.