Guy with head on books surrounded by coffee

—Kelsey, Portland, Oregon 

First, I want to thank you for asking a question that so many students have but may be too afraid to admit because they want to show others that they can handle the stress of high school and managing all their other responsibilities.

Second, I want you to consider the following questions that will lead you to determining what solution is best for you to help minimize burnout. 

1. Have I taken on too much?

Be honest with yourself. Are you taking a full schedule of challenging classes and a demanding schedule at work or in your extracurriculars? Are you promising too much to too many people? Even if you feel you must do these extra responsibilities, you may be seeing that the unintended effect is that you can’t do your best at either. Consider taking fewer difficult classes next time and maybe asking for a day or two off of work or in your extracurriculars so you can devote more time to your studies.

2. Will it get better next week, next month?

Ask yourself if this is a temporary issue. Are you stressed because this week or this month is very busy, but your schedule will be less hectic in the near future? If you can see that your schedule will lighten up soon, you may be able to weather this temporary busy time.

3. Is my “why” and “try” aligned?

Author Dr. Paul Stoltz, in his book Grit, asks readers who are stressed or unmotivated to consider their “why,” or their purpose for pursuing an activity. For example, what’s your reason for participating in your school club? How will it fulfill your life’s purpose? Then, he asks readers to evaluate their “try,” or effort they put in. The goal is to align your effort with your purpose for your life goal. The more alignment you have, the more resilience you’ll have to get through the stressful times.

4. Do I need a break?

The last question may be the hardest. Do you need a break? If you do, consider it a temporary time that has a definitive beginning and end. For example, maybe you’ll want to take a year off between high school and college to focus on work or other passions, with a plan to start college the following fall. Or consider trying out a lighter work schedule for one semester, if possible.