If you borrowed money to complete your education, you may be ready to make some big sacrifices to pay off your student loan debt as soon as possible (especially if it’s a sizable amount in comparison to your annual salary). While this is a laudable goal, it’s important to make sure your desire for a debt-free life doesn’t get in the way of your health and sanity.
Watch out for these important signs of debt burnout, and prioritize scheduling fun and relaxation into your life—even if you have student loan debt to pay off.
Burnout sign #1: you’re exhausted all the time
We all get tired and occasionally have long weeks. Particularly if you’re a recent graduate who now has a traditional 8-to-5 job, you may find that getting up early every day for work is exhausting. Tack on a long commute and this new schedule may take some getting used to.
However, if your fatigue is all-consuming and every non-working moment is filled with sleep, then you may be working too hard for your health.
Burnout sign #2: you’re not as motivated as you used to be
When you’re just starting out in your career, the world is full of possibilities. You have many short- and long-term goals that need to be met, much to learn about your industry, and new colleagues and mentors to get to know. And if you’re trying to build a side gig as well, you have a lot to learn about becoming an entrepreneur.
This is an exciting time—at least, it should be. If things that used to excite you no longer seem appealing or you’re having trouble motivating yourself to get through your to-do list every day, then you may be experiencing burnout.
Burnout sign #3: you’re not giving yourself space for inspiration
Sometimes the best ideas occur during downtime, when you can go from not thinking about anything in particular to being completely energized about a new possibility in an instant. For that reason, it’s important to build downtime into your routine so that lightning has a chance to strike.
If you don’t make the time to relax and synthesize your daily experiences, you won’t always recognize opportunity when it presents itself, or have time to reflect on and learn from your mistakes.
Burnout sign #4: you’re not spending much time with friends and family
Friends and family are not only important because of the memories you share with them—they’re a vital sounding board for you to work out problems and explore new possibilities. Having the time to go out with friends or see family is a must because it’s fun, but these are also the people who have insight into your talents and interests. They may think of something that can benefit you in your career that you may not otherwise have considered.
If you are working so much that you’re unable to spend time with these influential people, you’ll not only feel isolated—without their input, you may not recognize when a change needs to be made.
Ways to avoid burnout
If you’ve been experiencing one or more of the signs outlined above, you may need to find ways to work some fun and relaxation into your routine. While participating in social events and practicing self-care can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips for building downtime into your life without compromising your debt payoff.
Maybe you get overtime at your current job, or maybe you have a side gig fills your spare time. Whatever the case, it’s important to set work limits in advance and not go beyond them.
For example, perhaps you only work overtime every other pay period, or you work on your side gig for two hours a day in the weekday evenings to keep your weekends free. Maybe you jettison the clients who are too demanding, or who don’t pay invoices on time and in full, in order to work with clients whose expectations are reasonable and who don’t get behind on their bills.
Take whatever action is necessary to carve out some free time, and then actually schedule that free time on your calendar. This can remove some of the guilt we sometimes feel when we take time for ourselves. You can also set limits on how much you’re willing to spend on relaxing activities, or find creative ways to have fun on the cheap.
Find a quiet space
It’s all too easy to rush from appointment to appointment, and to always have TV or music on in the background even in those few moments when you are alone. Silence is not always easy to find, but having access to a quiet space can help you decompress and relax.
There are numerous meditation apps that you can install on your phone or computer that remind you to close the door, tune out the noise, and breathe. Even taking only a minute or two can be valuable. If meditation isn’t your thing, taking a short walk once or twice a day can give you some much-needed quiet time in the fresh air.
The bottom line is that your monthly budget isn’t the only thing to consider when making your loan payments. Debt payoff becomes too expensive when your health and happiness are compromised. While no one can do exactly what they want every minute of every day, finding time for what makes you happy is what recharges you and makes your hard work (and student loan payments) possible in the first place.
It can be tempting to say that there will be time for fun once your debt payoff is done, but depending on the size of your debt, that could be years or even decades away. Find inexpensive ways to build a reasonable amount of relaxation into your life in the meantime. Scheduling time for yourself may lead to increased motivation, career advancement, a higher salary, and a quicker debt payoff after all!
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