Handling stress and preventing burnout

29 March 2019

Studying can often be exhausting and overwhelming. It is important to deal with stress in the right manner so that you are able to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. Here are some ways to handle stress appropriately and prevent burnout.

girl stretching back holding her head

As humans, we are incredibly good at handling large amounts of stress. Stress often pushes us to do better and most of us feel stronger after we meet deadlines and complete exams. However, prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can lead to burnout.

Burnout is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. In some cases it can take up to 2 years to recover.

We’ve researched the best ways to de-stress and condensed them into 3 core tips to share with you:

1. Look after yourself and your body

This is top of our list for a reason. Your body will not be able to handle stress no matter the strategy, if it is not healthy. This means eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and making sure you get enough sleep, which should be about 7-9 hours a night. Most importantly, if you are ill, you need to rest up! It is always better to sacrifice 2-3 days taking things easy, as opposed to struggling through an entire week only to feel worse at the end of it.

Similarly, to properly look after your body, it is important to relax. This means both taking short 10-15 minute breaks during your studies/work and taking longer breaks throughout the week - you will perform more effectively as a result.

Don't know where to start? You could try listening to this short podcast (under 5 minutes) for an exercise on how to calm your body when you feel tense. For more podcasts for your wellbeing visit the Mental Health Foundation website.

You can also have a look through the rest of the Student Support and Wellbeing blog for articles about your mind, body, wellbeing and mental health.

2. Find the right coping strategy

Think about the things that make you stressed. Finding a coping strategy that works for you will be essential in lowering your levels of stress. This may take some shopping around as not all coping strategies are suited to everyone.

First, let's talk about avoidant coping strategies. These include procrastinating, escaping through substances such as alcohol and drugs, and denial. These can often feel very effective in the short-term, but in the long-term not only make the situation worse, but also perpetuate further stress.

Second, there are problem-focused coping strategies. These are the strategies that you should use when you are faced with stressful situations in your life. Although these strategies can make you feel slightly more stressed in the short-term, they are highly effective at alleviating stress in the long-term. These strategies include analysing the situation, tackling it proactively and taking ownership of results.

3. Leisure time is for relaxing

This is often easier said than done. It is easy to sit down in front of the TV, in hopes of taking a break, but instead your mind is in overdrive as you begin to think about all the studying you have yet to do.

One simple thing you can do to help you distance yourself better is to jot down daily unmet goals. Specify where, when and how these unfulfilled goals will be met, and your mind will be able to rest up.

Similarly, you can work on translating your worries into constructive thinking. Instead of worrying about how you will deal with a stressful task, try to think how you can make that task successful and actively seek solutions. Reflect on things that have gone well for you, instead of things that went badly. Use this handy tool from the International Stress Management Association to evaluate your worries!

Studying can be challenging. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or exhausted please come along to one of our daily drop-in sessions where you will be able to talk to one of our advisers, in a confidential manner, about things that may be affecting you and your studies.

You can also contact your personal tutor who can offer support and encouragement during your time at UCL.

By Natalia Mladentseva, UCL alumna, BSc Psychology

Updated by Student Support and Wellbeing, March 2019