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Finding Balance: A Mindful Approach to Burnout and Stress for Graduate Students

Last updated April 30, 2024

By Robert Mullikin

In the hustle and bustle of academia, where deadlines are critical and expectations run high, burnout can creep up on even the most dedicated graduate students. In a recent episode of the Go Further podcast by Furman’s Office of Graduate Studies, Sarah Waylett, assistant director for the Center for Innovation and Leadership at Furman University, shared insights on how mindfulness and design thinking can be powerful tools in preventing burnout and managing stress.

Waylett—drawing from her personal experiences with burnout and stress and building her business, Dreamgarten—highlighted the universality of burnout, emphasizing that it’s not exclusive to the realm of work but can infiltrate various aspects of our lives, from school to relationships. Burnout, she explained, manifests as a sense of overwhelming exhaustion, accompanied by cynicism and a diminished ability to cope with daily challenges.

Sarah Waylett, assistant director of the Center for Innovative Leadership at FurmanRecognizing the early warning signs of burnout is crucial. From disrupted sleep patterns to heightened anxiety and a feeling of detachment from one’s work, these indicators serve as red flags, signaling the need for intervention before burnout reaches its worst stages.

Practical mindfulness techniques form the foundation of Waylett’s approach to combating burnout. Taking just 10 deep breaths can be a game-changer, offering a brief relief from the pressures of academic life, she advises. Incorporating movement, laughter, or creative expression into one’s routine can further alleviate stress, providing a much-needed outlet for emotional release.

Finding balance is key for graduate students navigating the relentless demands of academia. Waylett emphasizes the importance of self-care and prioritizing mental health, urging students to cultivate practices that foster clarity of mind and emotional resilience. By embracing mindfulness and design thinking, students can reframe challenges, identify stress triggers and develop effective coping strategies.

Knowing when to seek help is immensely important. When burnout and stress become unmanageable and daily tasks seem insurmountable, reaching out to campus resources or trusted individuals can provide invaluable support. Waylett underscores the importance of forward-thinking behavior, encouraging students to understand the root causes of their stress and actively work toward prevention and self-compassion.

Incorporating self-compassion into daily life is a transformative practice. By challenging negative self-talk and grounding oneself in the present moment, graduate students can gain emotional strength and navigate challenges with greater ease. Waylett reminds us that amidst the pressures of academia, it’s essential to extend grace to ourselves, acknowledging our humanity and embracing the journey toward holistic well-being.

As graduate students embark on their academic pursuits, they’re urged to embrace mindfulness, design thinking and self-compassion to find balance and fulfillment. By prioritizing mental health and adopting proactive strategies, they can prevent burnout and thrive in their academic and personal endeavors.

To learn more about burnout and stress management from Sarah Waylett, tune into the “Go Further” podcast episode, “Sarah Waylett – Burnout and Stress in Graduate School.”