Brain Burnout — Dealing with Learning Overload

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Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

“Do you keep a journal in Spanish?” my student Sunkyung asks me. We’ve been meeting consistently for over 2 years to practice and improve her English speaking, and this is the first time she’s asked me about my personal language study routine.

I hesitate, trying to find the right words.

She continues, “I’ve kept a daily journal for 3 years in English, but with everything recently, I’ve stopped. And I don’t know if I want to start back again.” Her forehead furrows in worry.

“Well, when I first started practicing my Spanish, I did journal almost every day for two years,” I answer. “But I don’t anymore. And I think it’s been fine. I’ve found other ways to practice.”

She nods, taking it in. “Yeah, I’m not sure I have the energy to start up again.”

“Don’t worry. You can always decide in a few weeks. Or, in January, set aside one day to journal about the week. We can come up with a plan for the new year.”

She agrees, relieved.

No matter what you’re learning, sometimes our brains just get overloaded. Especially this year, when maybe we’ve had more time to pick up an old hobby or start a new one —on top of all the other stressors, it’s easy to feel burned out as December rolls around.

And that’s normal.

I remember back to when I taught high school Literature. Right around this time, more than four months into the school year, students were fidgety, anxious, and often had difficulties focusing.

Sure, maybe that’s because the winter holidays were approaching, but many studies show that resting our brains is actually good for our learning. Even throughout a unit of study, why do you think teachers always tell students not to “cram” the night before?

No, it’s not because they want to torture their students with study sessions weeks before the big exam — at least, not intentionally. It’s because trying to “cram” everything into our brains in a few hours does not work. We need to study, take time away, and then come back to the material for it to really take hold in our minds.

The same was true back when we were high school students, and the same is true now. If you’ve been feeling distracted or prone to fidgeting when the time rolls around to practice piano, study German, paint, or simply exercise, it’s normal.

So, take the holiday season to give yourself some much deserved down time.

Step away from the computer, put down the pen, sleep a few extra minutes — let yourself relax.

Once the new year hits, life will be back to the work and school grind, and there will be plenty of time to return to your daily routine and weekly habits.

In fact, it will rejuvenate your energy and may even leave you wanting to do more practice when January starts.

The rest between studying actually allows those new brain connections to form. The learned responses will then become more natural and instinctive when you return from your learning break.

Another upside to taking a rest from studying is that you may forget your bad habits. The two weeks away from always hitting the wrong note or mis-using a false cognate can also help you come back to the task with a fresh perspective.

So stop feeling guilty for taking some time away from your learning tasks.

In fact, your brain will thank you.

Born a Midwestern American, now a permanent Mexican resident. Outdoor adventurer, language enthusiast, and lover of classical music.

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