The first-year's guide to avoiding mid-year burnout

June 01, 2016
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Uni’s hard and although your high school teachers warned you of this, every uni student you saw flooding your Facebook feed seemed to paint a different picture. Personally, I worked very hard at high school and it paid off, however, as I began first year uni, I found myself spiralling into intellectual exhaustion and feeling a lack of motivation, which ultimately resulted in a major decline in my academic performance. I was on the verge of a first-year burnout.

With the end of semester looming, I’m writing to all those first-years who’re catching the same feels. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re consuming over three blocks of chocolate a week, you’re sleep deprived and you’re asking yourself ‘what am I really doing with my life?’ Can’t relate? How about this: you’re contemplating dropping out and are feeling inadequate.

Never fear - you’re not alone. Here’s how to avoid the first-year burnout.

Master time management

We’re about to enter stuvac - a week where you should breathe and work out where most of your study needs to be directed. It’s so easy to use this week to catch-up on sleep, but trust me when I say that you’ve ample time in the holidays to do that.

For now, drink lots of coffee wake up early each morning and have a plan. Make sure this plan is all about specifics. There’s no use saying to yourself ‘study accounting’, because that won't really help. Rather, explicitly detail the mechanisms of accounting that you must nail for the final exam.


Not all of us are elite athletes. I’m the first to acknowledge this, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to maintain a reasonable level of fitness even during exam period.

Exercise is also a fabulous way to keep things in perspective by keeping your worries at bay. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins and they produce happy feels for your bod. Who doesn’t want happy feels?


The biggest contributor to my ‘almost’ burnout was telling myself that I needed to know every bit of detail on the lecture slides in order to pass a course. PSA: THIS IS NOT NECESSARY OR POSSIBLE! This is unachievable.

If I’ve learnt anything from my almost three years at uni, it’s that lecturers love to include a lot of unnecessary info and it’s the job of the tired and annoyed diligent and proactive uni-goer to decipher what’ll be absolutely mandatory for the final exam. And just a heads up: you'll most likely find some pretty useful info in examples of past exam papers.

Take breaks

This one’s pretty self-explanatory but please, don't take too many! Breaks are a good chance to get some exercise and clear your head of what was previously worrying you aboutt your study. Try it.

Don’t compare yourself to others

School was a pond and uni’s like the ocean. At school you could gage who held strong academic abilities and could align yourself with them. Personally, friendly competition drove me to reach my full potential, however, at uni it’s debilitating.

I’ve got one major tip for avoiding a mid-year breakdown: don’t compare yourself to others – uni’s about learning at your own pace and self-improvement.

Just remember, after you’ve finished exams, you’ll embark on four solid weeks of sleep, play and even more sleep. You’ll have time to reflect and relax without the constant brain fog that seems to loom over your head during semester.

Go forth - know you know how to avoid first-year burnout.

Ailish Parr

Ailish is never happy just sitting still and has a secret love for #qanda. She is studying a double degree at the University of Queensland but always makes time for coffee and socialising. 

Image: Justine ReyesFlickr Creative Commons license