Surviving the Mid-Semester Burnout



It’s that time again. Midterms are well underway, and it’s becoming apparent that we should all start seriously thinking about those final papers and projects that are due at the end of the semester. My problem is that I have hit a wall. I feel unmotivated, uninspired, and I sometimes feel like I want to drop everything and quit.

Once these moments pass, however, I pour myself a nice cup of tea and make a plan. Here is some advice for how to deal with that moment when your motivation and drive have fizzled out, and you are left with several unfinished projects but no energy or momentum to complete them.

1) Take a day to relax: Ok, it doesn’t have to be a whole day, but definitely a big chunk of time. It won’t kill you to take a day off, but it might just drive you over the edge if you keep trucking on. At this point, your mental health may be starting to suffer, but don’t let it get the best of you. Do something for yourself and forget all about school at least for a couple of hours. You need to feel like a human being again! Whatever you do, do not resort to the following advice:


2) Take a day to regroup and organize what you have left to complete this semester: I find it extremely helpful to make myself a timeline of due dates, and then create a a tentative schedule for meeting those deadlines. It’s easier for me if each step of this process is spelled out and clearly defined , i.e. gathering sources, meeting with group members, etc. If you’re not the type of person to schedule in every tiny detail, then at least set weekly goals for yourself. This exercise will get all of that information out of your head, and onto a single page/calendar/google doc/etc. Once all of this information is in one place, and you have a timeline of goals, you will worry less and less about missing deadlines, and you will see that the relevant amount of time you will spend on these projects is much less than you previously thought.

3) Stick to your schedule: In order for it to work, you have to stick with it! However, it is easy to get overwhelmed with a twenty-item to-do list. Instead of avoiding that list, I like to set a task for each day and complete just that single task. Once it’s finished, I’ll set a task for tomorrow at leave it at that. This way, I feel that I have accomplished something without panicking about the remaining nineteen items on my list. It will get done, just not all at once. (Patience, grasshopper).

4) If it’s affecting your performance, talk to your professors: Your professors are there to help and usually want you to succeed. They will want to know if you are not understanding the material, or if you are having a hard time with the workload. If you’re having trouble meeting deadlines, just pop into their office hours for a chat. There’s no need to complain or give lame excises, just be honest.

5) Know that you’re not alone! We have ALL been there. It’s easy to lose sight of the end goal when you’re bogged down with all the details. But many of your peers, and even some of your professors, are banging their foreheads against that same wall. It won’t last forever, and it’s certainly not the end of the world!

On one last note, if your feelings of desperation are turning into serious stress and/or anxiety that is affecting your regular routines, I urge you to visit the campus counseling center! They are a wonderful resource and are designed to assist you in this very capacity. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends as well, sometimes just letting someone know what’s going on relieves a lot of anxiety about the situation.

How do you deal with mid-semester breakdowns, loss of motivation, and/or wanting to throw in the towel? What are some activities or actions that get you back on track?

7 replies

  1. Jasmine, love the single-item to-do list (in #3). It’s been a good way to set priorities, especially now while I’m trying to work ahead on final papers and so on over spring break. Which may itself prove to be kind of a mistake, but oh well. Thanks for this post; I’m sure we all needed it!


  2. My final semester was like this. I was so close to graduating… and so close to quitting. Ugh, burnout.

    The big things that got me back on track:

    1) I contacted my professors and caught them up briefly with why I was behind on assignments (death in the family, full-time job, heavy courseload including internship and thesis/portfolio), apologizing and giving a plan for getting caught up/performing better for the rest of the term. I wasn’t looking for special consideration, but I have heard from professors I know socially that this can humanize the student — especially if it’s an online program without the regular face-to-face interaction that provides context for academic performance. All of them responded professionally and compassionately.

    2) I bit the bullet at work and negotiated 4-day workweeks, using my vacation time, for the rest of the term. (This was really on the edge of what I considered feasible, but I was surprised by how supportive my employer was.) If you’re working while attending school, you may have an Employee Assistance Program that can help with counseling and stress management. I was also eligible for a few days of bereavement leave through my company’s policies, which helped me get through the non-school-related issues.

    3) And I gave up the goal of perfection/straight As for the goal of passing these last classes and graduating while maintaining my sanity.

    If at all possible, get sufficient sleep. It’s the best self-care. Everything else – no matter how busy my schedule – is more manageable if I’m rested.


  3. Thank you for this post! I’m at that point already. I’m so tired, all I want to do is sleep. I keep thinking after spring break, there’s 6 more weeks to go until the end of the semester.


  4. Just fyi, these tips apply to “real life” too, not just graduate school. They work at the workplace, in the home with family, and etc. Sometimes you can only take 10 minutes–but take them, take deep breaths, re-focus your efforts. The important thing: Take care of yourself.
    Thanks for a great post!


  5. You summed up how I’ve been feeling these last few weeks perfectly. Exercise is one of the best things I’ve found to help me de-stress…even if it’s just going for a 30 min walk to clear my head!


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