How to Deal with Burnout

Winter semesters can feel long and especially stressful, but they don’t have to be! There are many ways to alleviate stress and prevent burnout.


Dealing with Stress and Using Coping Mechanisms

As pre-meds, we tend to have stressful schedules full of tough coursework and plentiful extracurriculars. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete everything we want, which causes us to experience more pressure. Stress has been assumed to be a “necessary” part of the pre-med lifestyle. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to sit back and live with the stress.


These are some healthy coping strategies + habits to help manage stress:

    • Get enough sleep: Prioritizing sleep isn’t always easy, but setting up a designated bedtime where you are getting enough sleep will ensure that you are well-rested/prepared for the day and may even push you to manage your time productively.
    • Journaling: Take some time each week to write down the highs and lows, whether it is related to your pre-med experience or not. It can be a relief to get everything out of your head and you may even see a pattern of what things may be causing you stress, allowing you to take action.
    • Talk to someone: Sometimes it helps to talk to someone, whether it’s a friend or family member. Everyone struggles sometimes, and it’s nice to have support from people who can talk through your stress and encourage you through rough times.
    • Participate in physical activity: Staying physically active is important to relieve stress and stay healthy. However, this doesn’t have to mean something strenuous like lifting weights. It can also be as simple as going for a walk with a friend or a bike ride.
    • Take a time out when stress appears to be taking over: Go for a walk, watch some TV, or even just take a nap. Stepping away from the stress can help clear your head and alleviate stress.


Learning to take care of yourself now is an important step to becoming a good physician. You will do a better job of taking care of others if you’re taking care of yourself. So, make sure that you are treating yourself kindly and dealing with your stress!


Time Management and Self Care

Self-care is a topic that is often overlooked when it comes to being a student in college. While learning how to care for yourself is not often taught in a standardized way, it is essential to all aspects of well-being for anyone, especially during times of stress and burnout.


One strategy to incorporate more self-care into your daily schedule is to budget time for it. Whether it helps to write it down in a planner or block off some time in your Google Calendar, planning self-care activities in advance can be a useful way to not only ensure that you are maintaining a balanced lifestyle but also to hold yourself accountable to doing so. Also when you feel burned out, it is sometimes helpful to list out what is on your to-do list or what is stressing you out and reflect on why they are causing you stress. Oftentimes, things seem a lot bigger in our heads, but once we write it out, we realize that things actually will end up being okay.


That being said, there are certain things that can affect a person’s ability to focus on self-care. For instance, comparison is a habit of many students that can deter you from a path towards wellness. Seeing other students working up until the early hours of the morning or pulling all-nighters to study can definitely cause you to question your own productivity and want to stretch yourself thin. Comparing scores and grades, to which we often attach so much of our self-worth, can make you want to work harder or beat yourself up for something that you didn’t or couldn’t do, which is the opposite of caring for yourself. Constantly feeling inadequate and unproductive as a result of comparison with peers is one factor that can lead to the feeling of burnout by school (as the proverb goes, “compare and despair”). When you feel the urge to compare yourself to others, I encourage you to reflect on whether comparison will truly make you feel happier in the long run. Also, most of the time, the version of your peers that you witness is only a highlight reel of their lives, which can lead to a negative self-image.


Caring for yourself can look different for everyone. For some, it’s taking a long shower or meditating, for others it’s watching TV or listening to music. Things like taking regular breaks to eat a snack or refresh during your study session can all qualify as forms of self-care. Whatever self-care means to you, I encourage you to take time to dedicate yourself to learning how to spend time away from your schoolwork because you deserve it!


Organizational Tips and Helpful Reflection

Staying organized is a key component to help reduce stress and burnout. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of things you’re trying to accomplish as a pre-med, especially when it seems like there’s not enough time to do them all. That stress can be mediated by keeping your coursework, extracurriculars, and other commitments separate and tackling each component one at a time. 


Here are a few organizational tips that can help get you started:

    • Make yearly calendars with goals and plans to help you stay on track for med school.
    • Create folders for documents related to each pre-med component to help you find and save things quickly.
    • Maintain a spreadsheet of the hours you spend on student orgs, volunteer work, research, and other activities to visualize your progress.
    • Keep a journal, notebook, or document to reflect on the activities you are doing. Ask yourself why you chose to do them. This can help you think critically about your activities.


It is important (and challenging) to reflect on your time commitments because it gives you insight into where your stress or burnout is stemming from. Good questions to ask yourself are:

    • Do you enjoy the activities you are participating in? Are they adding value to your day-to-day life?
    • Are you taking on more responsibilities than you can because you think you’re doing too little? (Hint: there is no right number of activities to be involved in. It’s about quality, not quantity.)
    • What daily tasks take the most energy to accomplish? Why are they taxing? Is there a way to help manage the stress associated with them?


Planning Out Your Semesters and Pre-Med Timeline

Planning out your semesters, including classes and the extracurriculars you want to be involved in, can help prevent stress later on. Knowing what to expect for your term can help you better prepare and do well in all your activities. Additionally, planning each semester plays a large role in organizing your pre-med timeline, which also prevents worry and anxiety during the application cycle. It can be helpful to plan out your activities early on and decide what you want to be involved in before the term starts. As your classes start picking up pace and you get adjusted to the workload, you can decide how much time to dedicate to your classes and how much time to dedicate to other activities. It’s good to have a plan and an outline to follow, however, it’s also okay to modify your plan as you learn more about different things and get involved in different extracurriculars. As you make your way through your time at UM, there’s no doubt you’ll learn about different things you want to get involved in, things that may not have been in your original plan, and it’s okay to adjust according to that.


These are just a few that can help alleviate the stress that comes with being pre-med. Taking control of your mental and physical state, finding a support system to lean on (family, friends, student orgs), and staying organized and proactive can significantly improve your well-being in college and beyond.