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How to Avoid Burnout in School and On the Job

Constant stress at school or on the job can lead to burnout—a state of extreme mental and physical exhaustion. While burnout is a potential hazard in nearly every professional domain, it can be particularly prevalent side effect of working in entertainment. Long hours, lack of sleep, and working in a high-pressure industry all contribute to high levels of stress. Thankfully, there are strategies you can employ to combat burnout, both as a student and in your career. We asked two staff members and a grad to share their best tips for managing stress related fatigue.

Feed your creativity.

Good nutrition provides sustained energy, allowing you to work for longer periods and combating mental fog. While it may be tempting to grab something quick and comforting like fast food or a candy bar, the flip side is those types of foods might contribute to a physical discomfort or a sugar crash later on. If a busy schedule dictates that your meals need to be quick and convenient, try taking one night to prepare nutritious, homemade meals for the week.

“There are tons of recipes out there that are super easy, and provide lots of leftovers that do well in the freezer or fridge,” says Jennifer Conley, a Rigging Basics Lab Specialist for the Computer Animation program. “You can bring food with you to school, which would give you more time to enjoy those breaks you get during lecture and lab.”

Mariana Lahud, an Entertainment Business grad working for one of the largest live production companies in Mexico, agrees. “I bring my lunch to a lot of the shows I work,” she says. “How and what you eat reflects a lot on your energy, your mood and overall health, so trying your best to maintain a balanced diet is important.”

Mariana also suggests increasing your water intake and finding time to exercise. “Moving your body increases endorphins, which make you happy. It delivers oxygen to your brain which boosts energy, and it promotes better sleep.” As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can have a huge impact on your mental and physical state.

Set aside time to shut it down.

Nobody can be on one hundred percent of the time. It’s important to remember that pushing yourself in your career doesn’t mean pushing losing track of the other things in life that fulfill you.

“You have to shut it off,” says Jeff Villanueva, a Career Development advisor and Recording Arts grad who’s engineered tracks for Beyonce, Lionel Ritchie, Rihanna, and more. “When I leave the studio, I’ll listen to talk radio or classical music on my way home to avoid listening to my rough mixes.” Jeff says that putting some mental distance between himself and his work allows him to come back to it with a fresh perspective on what needs to be done.

Of course, it can be difficult to find time to feed outside interests amid a hectic schedule. Jennifer suggests scheduling time for interests outside of work and school. “Mark it in your calendar if you have to,” she says. “Treat it like an appointment or a meeting—don’t be late and don’t skip out on it. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t miss a meeting with your boss, right? Well, you’re your own boss. So don’t miss your ‘me time’ meeting.”

Surround yourself with positive people.

A solid support system can make all the difference when it comes to fighting stress. Fostering professional relationships goes beyond networking. It’s also about building a community of people who understand the impact that working long hours in a high-pressure environment can have on a person’s overall mental and physical state, and who can offer assistance when needed.

“I try to surround myself with people who have positive attitudes and similar ethics as me,” says Mariana. “This keeps me happy, focused, and mostly out of trouble.” Focusing on relationships outside of work can also have a hugely positive impact on emotional well being.

“When you start to take your career seriously, the first thing to go is probably going to be your social life. Find time to connect with and visit friends and family,” advises Jeff. Not only will the people in your life appreciate the effort, spending time with loved ones also counts as a mental break from work related stressors.

Set boundaries.

Setting just a few professional boundaries early on can mean the difference between being a team player and allowing someone to take advantage of you and your time.

“Learn how to say ‘no’ professionally and never over promise anything,” suggests Jeff. “Do exactly what you’re paid to do and do your very best. Early on in my career, I would never say no to anyone or any job. I thought making myself indispensible would make me irreplaceable.” It doesn’t always work out that way, he says, and suggests saying no to a project every now and then as a way to maintain control over your free time.

“Remember, you are not a drone. You’re a human, and there are things in your life that you find important other than work or school,” says Jennifer. Ultimately, employers and clients should respect the fact that a healthy dose of outside interests will only serve to strengthen your professional performance.

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