As a college student, it can be easy to get burnt out, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic with restrictions on schools and universities creating sometimes isolating environments. But in a day and age of Zoom and hard work, burnout can be a problem. So, here are 10 steps to beating burnout as a college student.
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What is Academic Burnout?
Burn-out as a term was not officially recognized until 2019 when the World Health Organization (WHO) redefined the word in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). WHO speaks of burnout in an occupational or work-related context, but it is also recognized that burnout in students is a well-known issue, especially in the face of COVID-19, the pandemic.
“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Three dimensions characterize it: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job reduced professional efficacy (ICD-11).”
In an academic setting, students can experience burnout through mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion related to studying and workload in college.
Student Burnout Symptoms
Symptoms of student burnout can manifest in different ways. At the onset, you may start to notice you’re feeling tired or not as motivated as you once were. As time progresses, without any attention to self-care, these warning signs of burnout could quickly escalate, causing mental health problems.
- You can’t seem to catch up on sleep.
- No matter how much rest you get, you’re still exhausted.
- Lacking or no motivation to go to class or get assignments done.
- Increased irritability
- you may notice friends pointing out that you’ve been extra frustrated lately.
- Lack of inspiration or creativity that you once had.
- You have a low immune system all of a sudden and seem to get sick easily.
- You have aches and pains.
- You may notice increased muscle soreness and tension in the body.
- Lack of confidence/lacking opinions in class
- Making mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make
- Increased sensitivity to feedback and criticism
- Inability to meet deadlines
- You’re finding it hard to get assignments done on time or are missing deadlines.
- You can’t focus
- You’re attempting to go to class or study but can’t seem to focus on learning.
- Overeating or undereating
- Lack of interest in activities that used to bring you joy
- Increased anxiety and restlessness
- Sadness, emptiness, hopelessness
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Slowed thinking or body movements
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and self-blame
What causes academic burnout?
A variety of factors can cause burnout from school. It’s often a time of increased stress and juggling many different activities and obligations. Below are some of the most common reasons students might find themselves with academic burnout.
- Too much work/large workload
- Every student has different needs and circumstances, so someone going to school part-time may still experience burnout the same way someone taking 6+ classes would. The amount of work you consider too much is relative and variable.
- Pulling all-nighters/not sleeping
- Pulling all-nighters to get assignments and work done will, over time, begin to affect your health negatively. Sleep is a significant aspect of maintaining our physical and emotional health.
- Neglecting self-care
- Students focused solely on school can often lack a self-care routine to ensure that they are nourishing their physical, emotional, and mental health. School might seem too busy to take a day off or a few hours to do something nice for yourself.
- Poor nutrition
- Consuming food that doesn’t properly nourish and fuel your body will lead to sluggishness and quickly affect your mental health.
- College is often well-known as a highly social time in many young adults’ lives. While this looks different for everyone, neglecting your social life, canceling plans, or not having enough time to make plans with family and friends can contribute to burnout.
- COVID-19 has proven to be a stressful time, especially for students who are now taking online classes. As a result, this once-social learning experience has become PJ’s and Zoom school. As of 2022, some courses are resuming to normal, but it’s essential to recognize the impact of the last two years on students’ mental health. Recovery from prolonged stress takes time.
- Lack of physical activity
- Staying stuck in a classroom, library, bedroom, dorm, or a coffee shop for hours on end studying and learning can be draining on your body. Without physical exercise to keep your body healthy, you can start to feel more lethargic.
- Financial stress
- Students who support themselves financially have struggled in the last two years, especially with restrictions on specific jobs, layoffs, and school shutdowns.
Students who struggle to make ends meet with their finances might feel torn between responsibilities of work and school, which can lead to burnout and increased stress.
Tips for Preventing Burnout
- Take breaks
- Try the 20-20-20 rule, which states for every 20 minutes; you do something at least 20 feet away for 20 minutes. This has been shown to prevent eye strain in people who work a lot on their computers and can benefit those who need a study break.
Breaking up your time with school or even work to do something for yourself, even 15 minutes every few hours, will help you reset.
- Figure out why you’re stressed
- Try to think about reasons you might be feeling overwhelmed and stressed. For example, is it a class, the workload, or multiple courses? Figuring out the source of your stress can help you reduce it.
- Stay connected and engaged.
- Join a club, or socialize regularly to give yourself a positive distraction from college.
- Find work/life balance.
- Create a plan that allows you time to do still the things you enjoy while getting done what you need to. Sometimes asking a friend, family member, or professional can help you figure out what steps to take.
- Say “No.”
- By setting boundaries in your work, academic, personal, and social life, you’ll be able to prioritize your health to-do list and avoid taking too much on.
- Practice good study habits
- Keeping up with good study habits can allow you to stay organized and manage your workload.
- Set realistic goals
- Setting unachievable or extremely hard-to-reach goals may push you harder, but when you fall short of reaching them or a deadline, it can cause added and unnecessary stress.
I have burnout; what now? Tips to recover
- Make some changes to your routine
- Especially if you’ve been able to pinpoint the cause of your stress, examining ways you can make changes to your routine can help you not only switch it up, so it’s less mundane but also find ways to manage your workload better.
- Seek professional help
- Speak to a therapist or other mental health professional. They will work with you to figure out the source of your burnout and provide you with healthy coping skills to overcome it.
If you are a college student experiencing burnout looking for a therapist in the Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh Valley area, Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates is here to help you. We are a team of highly qualified mental health professionals. Schedule an appointment today!
- Don’t ignore it.
- You’ve already taken the first step in recognizing that you may be experiencing burnout. But unfortunately, ignoring symptoms of burnout can lead to worsened symptoms and even depression.
- Stay hydrated and eat well.
- Make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating consistently.
- Get enough sleep
- Even if it means rearranging your schedule, making sure you can get at least 6 hours of sleep a night (although ideally 8-9) will help you recover.
Recognizing academic burnout as a student is the first step to creating a plan to recover from it. By making changes to your routine, practicing self-care, getting professional help, staying social, and setting realistic goals, among other tips, you can help get yourself back on track.