Do You Have Vanishing Academic Brain Syndrome?

in Articles from our Newsletter

refrigeratorAt the end of the academic year, it’s not unusual to find refrigerators that look like this  ——————->

OK, probably without the carrot.

One of my colleagues used to post the pictures of her end-of-the-semester refrigerator on Facebook to explain to her nonacademic friends how busy her life was during these last few weeks of the term.

Between committee meetings, grant proposal deadlines, grading, tests, and exams, there’s barely any time for our research, let alone self-care. This is the time we’re the most depleted, and most of us are just looking forward to the summer.

Since it’s only a few more weeks, we may be tempted just to power through and get things done, no matter the cost. But if we keep running around as empty as that refrigerator, we risk entering the summer so exhausted that it will take a good part of it to recharge. Even worse, we overload our brains when we keep moving so frantically. When this happens, we may slip in conversation and say the wrong word, or draw a complete blank during a lecture.

It’s what I call Vanishing Academic Brain Syndrome, and it’s rampant this time of year. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract this, or at least to hold it at bay enough that we can close out the term without completely frying ourselves. We have to restock our mental refrigerators.

  1. Schedule time off! This may seem counterintuitive, but we must take time off, even for just an evening or an afternoon. A whole weekend may not be possible, but a couple of hours is. Think about the times you’re not usually that productive anyway and schedule some downtime then.
  2. Consider micro-meditation. Take short breaks between writing and grading sessions to tune out and go to a place of calm, even if only for a few minutes. [] has an option for guided meditation that you can do right at your computer, complete with calming sounds and images.
  3. Let go of your guilt. You can’t do everything, particularly not now. Say no and let go of the guilt. Choose to cross something off your to-do list or to reschedule it for a few weeks from now when you’ll have more time.
  4. Don’t forget your body. Remember to get as much sleep as you can. Eat well, and if possible, exercise, even if it’s just for a few minutes. We academics tend to treat our bodies as if they’re just things that carry around our heads. Remember that there’s a direct correlation between how well we take care of ourselves and how clearly we can think.

If you take good care of yourself, you can finish the semester, get through everything you need to do, and still keep your sanity. With some planning, you may even be able to reverse Vanishing Academic Brain Syndrome altogether, and avoid its even more sinister cousin, Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.

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