It’s the end of July, and you’re right in the middle of summer break. You should be completely refreshed and ready to go...shouldn't you? You're feeling totally ready to start your test prep and/or college visits and/or college application essays…right? After all, you’ve had a whole month—maybe even month and a half!—off: no homework, no testing, no needing to wake up early.
But let’s be honest: have you caught your breath yet? I know I haven’t!
Phew. Sometimes just recognizing that you're stressed out even when you feel like you should be relaxed can be really helpful. So let's take a moment here, right at the end of July, to pause and take stock of the summer so far. Summer burnout has this sneaky, insidious way of creeping up on me…and I see it creep up on lots of my students and families, too.
It's that thing that happens when you start to give up on all the ambitious lists and plans you made...or the thing that keeps you going like crazy all summer long until you find, just as the school year is set to begin, that you're every bit as stressed out as you were when it ended. Summer burnout can hit when you're loading yourself up with plans, expectations, or tasks, which a lot of us do.
Here's how it works for me: I get Grand Ideas about summer. It always seems like it's going to be a paradise of wide-open time to do everything I've been putting off or dreaming of, both work and play. The moment the June SAT and ACT are finished, I figure I can tackle my next projects: writing an SAT Math Etiquette book and the blog posts for the next year. All of them. That would make next year so much more relaxing! But of course, those aren't my only projects: there are also conferences to attend, workshops to host, and research to do on new developments in the standardized tests that I need to stay on top of! And there's summer fun to have, too: I want to see all my friends, take a few trips, explore my other interests, and take advantage of all the cool concerts and events NYC has to offer in the summer. While planning a wedding. Oh, and of course I'm going to continue to see my students as people get serious about test prep in August.
...and then I wonder why I feel stressed out.
Reading that list is enough to make most anyone feel burnt out—and I know I'm not the only one who gets those kind of summer Grand Ideas! Lots of the students and families I work with both think of summer as their chance to unwind even as they cram it full of all the stuff they haven't had time for during the school year. And it's fine to space out some of that important stuff by scheduling it into your summer! The summer is a great time to accomplish a few important things. But be careful: if you can’t create some balance in your June, July, and August, you’ll be running on fumes by the time September rolls around, and you’re expected to jump right into your junior or senior year.
So let's not think too hard about this one. This is a practical, pragmatic list of ways to beat summer burnout. These tips will keep you running smoothly through the summer, pacing yourself to make sure that you're ready to start junior or senior year strong and energized, running on all cylinders.
Tip #1: Don’t overschedule your summer break.
If you’re doing a 40 hr/week internship for 8 weeks out of the summer, you might want to think twice about ALSO taking driver’s ed 4 days a week for 3 hours each day. And you’d REALLY want to think twice about deciding you’ll just “start tutoring” for the SAT or ACT on the days you don’t have driver’s ed! I know it feels like summer is the time to pack it all in because you assume you'll be more relaxed then, but how will you find time to get more relaxed when you're just cramming everything you can think of into your summer?
In general, it’s okay to work hard (even during the summer)...if you also have stretches of time when you play hard. Are you going on a 2-week beach vacation with your family? That would be the proper antidote to going straight from a packed and high-pressure school schedule to a summer that's mostly loaded with scheduled elements like summer programs or work.
However, you also need some stretches of time when you don’t have ANYTHING planned! No vacation, no program, no classes, no job. Even if it’s only a week, you need to have some time when you can just let your mind wander and reset. Your brain needs a break just like the rest of you.
Burnout-Beating Tip #2: Stay (or Get!) Physically Active
Some of you are already hardcore athletes and will likely have pre-season to contend with over the summer. But for everyone else, use this time of fewer obligations to take care of your body! Take a jog, go swimming, explore your neighborhood on your bike, take a hike, experiment with that adventure sport that you’re almost too scared to try.
Your mind tends to work better when you can turn it off at times. And exercise is the perfect way to get into your body and out of your head!
Burnout-Beating Tip #3: Switch Up Your Routine & Environment
If your typical non-working summer day includes SoulCycle across the street, lunch with your best friend, and binge-watching “13 Reasons Why” AGAIN in your dark room, it’s time to shake things up. It doesn't even have to be anything major: try making a plan to get together with a friend you haven’t seen in a while to do yoga in the park, or catch a movie that isn’t your typical genre.
When you switch up your activities and environments, it stimulates your brain and forces you to really be present and observe what’s going on and react to your surroundings—instead of thinking the same loop of often angst-producing thoughts because you have your every move already memorized and don’t have to actually think about getting into “2nd position”!
Burnout-Beating Tip #4: Go Outside! As In, Embrace Nature!
Sometimes I'll force myself to take a quick drive to the beach—for only 30 minutes of beach time! Even if I don’t “make a day” of it, the change to my routine and environment—as well as the vitamin D!—immediately puts me in a grounded, calm mood that lasts the rest of the day. (And sometimes the next couple of days, too!)
Sunlight, fresh air, trees, ocean waves, a change of scenery—hopefully while having your devices on silent!—can do wonders to help you relax after the hectic calendar of the school year. Not only can communing with nature hit all the points I've already mentioned, it also makes you calmer and more peaceful—and quickly.
So take these tips as the permission, or the kick in the pants, that you need to finally rest your brain during parts of your summer break.
Rest is a task too—athletes call it "active recovery," and it's important to meeting your long-term goals. So remember to prioritize relaxation! And just remember, even if you still have a fairly busy schedule, take a few minutes here or there to try something new, go somewhere new, go outside, or work out—the effect is cumulative! Whatever you can do to give yourself some active downtime will help you stave off summer burnout and help make sure you're making the most of your summer and be ready to hit the ground running when the school year rolls back around.