7 Ways to Keep from Burning Out at Your Summer Internship

Whether you’re working in a lab, an office or at a start-up, your summer internship is the first real taste of what could be the rest of your career. At first you’re enthusiastic about every little detail of your job, and can’t wait to get going. But after a few weeks of living that intern life, you start to think about curling up under your desk for an afternoon nap, or contemplate calling in sick just so you can have a day off to watch Netflix and eat pizza. We’ve all been there. However, internships are hugely valuable experiences, and you don’t want to waste time feeling burned out and tired. These seven tips will help keep you excited and energized throughout your summer so you can avoid that internship burnout.

1. Keep your body healthy

Keeping yourself in tip-top shape is the first step in conquering your burnout. If you’ve eaten, slept well and gotten in some exercise you’re automatically going to have a better day.

Allison Cheston is a career advisor and millennial leadership coach who helps young adults advance their careers. She has tons of advice about how to maintain your best self during your internship. “Not getting enough sleep is going to make you tired and unfocused,” she says. “Then add letting your body get hungry, and you’ll be thinking more about how much you want to leave and eat instead of being grounded in your work.  Also, keeping yourself in strong physical shape will help you survive long days. Overall, taking care of your body will help you combat exhaustion and help you perform at a higher standard during your internship.”

Sorry collegiettes, but all-nighters and ramen won’t cut it anymore. This summer is the chance for you to get to bed on time, practice healthy meal prep and start getting active for at least 30 minutes a day.

2. Fix your eyes on the future

You may feel exhausted and totally done, but don’t let those negative feelings undermine the worth of your internship. Even if this internship isn’t what you were expecting or it’s taught you not to pursue this career field, now is not the time to give in to lack of motivation. Though it may seem monotonous on the day-to-day, everything you’re doing is contributing to the bigger picture of your career.

Katie Gezi, a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, knows the struggle of trying to stay positive through burnout. “I had a publishing internship, and I got over it pretty fast,” she says. “I literally had to wake up and remind myself every day that it was worth it to go because it would matter when I’m trying to get a real job. Thinking about that helped me push through a lot of my burnout and actually made me stoked to go to my internship because I just kept imagining myself in a big publishing house and living my dream one day.”

Find work inspiration by looking ahead. It’s sure to keep you motivated in your current position.

Related: 7 Ways to Improve Your Focus at Work

3. Know when to say no

The point of your internship may be to gain as much experience in a profession as you can, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree to every task you’re given. Obviously, you should be taking advantage and jumping on opportunities, but if your burnout is feeling extreme and you know you’re close to the edge, explain to your boss or coworker that you feel overwhelmed and have enough on your plate already.

Cheston emphasizes that interns have a right to feel overwhelmed and vocalize it.  “I always tell students to emphasize the hours that they’re unavailable, and to use them for self-care and fun,” she says. That means no going into the office or working from home on weekends, or putting in extra time because you feel pressure to be over the top. Bosses are understanding and less scary then you would expect. They’re very courteous when you tell them that they’ve over-assigned you work to do.”

If you take on too much, it’s inevitable that your burnout will lead to one big crash. Do your best at work, but don’t overextend yourself. Make sure to set a time every day where you shut your work down and just relax.

4. Take advantage of your free time

Before internships dominated your time, summer usually meant hours spent by the pool, lots of sunshine and an amazing vacation. That carefree lifestyle may not be possible right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some summer relaxation.

Use your free time before and after work to fit in some de-stressing activities. Get in lots of social interaction with your friends and family to get your mind off what’s happening in the office. Most importantly, use your time to have some spontaneous fun. Try taking a mini-vacation for the weekend. We’re not talking going to the Bahamas, but going on a day trip or even spending a few hours at the spa is enough to have you feeling rejuvenated.

Balancing work and pleasure is going to create a comfortable stability that will prevent burnout. It’s way harder to have a cranky day in the office when you have an outing with friends or a yummy dinner waiting for you after work.

5. Set a weekly goal

Besides just completing your daily workload, pick something each week to accomplish for yourself. Whether it’s chatting up your supervisors to learn something new, completing an additional assignment or setting a personal goal, this extra little push will give you something to look forward to. The point is not to tack on more work for yourself, but to undertake something that makes your internship more fulfilling.

It’s easy to feel stagnant at a certain point in your internship, but by setting personal goals and undertaking projects to help yourself grow, you’re not only being a better intern but also adding fun and personalization to your experience.

Related: 8 Next-Level Things All Great Interns Do

6. Change up the scenery

Ask your supervisor if you can work somewhere new. Maybe your office has a community space or a nice sitting area outside. Even ask to work remotely for the day and spend time in a coffee shop or even from home. Changing up the atmosphere may give you a fresh perspective and energy boost.

Katie Gezi has more to share about conquering internship burnout. “When I got tired at my internship last summer, I’d go sit in this little atrium that was attached to the office,” she says. “It made me feel like I got to start the day over again with new vitality, and totally perked up my mood. I think switching up your work space from time to time can really help you avoid burnout.”

A new atmosphere may be all you need to keep up your internship liveliness. Test it out and see how it goes!

7. Reward yourself

Do not let your hard work go unrecognized. You may not have your boss handing you a golden trophy for completing an internship assignment, but treating yourself to a new pair of shoes or letting yourself take that extra SoulCycle class is great too.

“Rewarding yourself works similar to best utilizing your free time, but this has more of a punch,” explains Cheston. “Set rewards for yourself as checkpoints at the end of each week (or daily if you really need it) so that you’ll not only have something to look forward to, but you’ll be recognizing your own effort.”

Giving yourself a reward is the ultimate form of self-love during those rough internship days. Plus––everybody loves presents!

We promise that your internship burnout is completely valid, but we also encourage you to triumph over your fatigue. Opportunities like what you have don’t come around every day, and however cheesy it sounds, you should try to make the most of it. Whether it’s by making some changes in your work environment, talking with your boss about it or giving yourself a reward each week, you have the power to muscle through it. Enjoy your summer work adventures, and have fun!

About The Author

Gina is the Associate Editor of Her Campus. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2017, where she studied English and Theater. As an undergrad with Her Campus, Gina was a national contributing writer, first ever national viral editor, editorial intern, and editor-in-chief of her chapter at Cal Poly. In her spare time, Gina enjoys cuddling her friends and family, petting other peoples' dogs, and eating donuts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ginasescandon.