The Reality Of Academic Burnout and How To Prevent It

It’s a common cliché that college will be the best years of your life. Between Greek life, student organizations, riveting courses and campus-wide events, that may be true.

However, in the thick of the semester, increased feelings of demotivation, exhaustion, homesickness and frustration may arise from having too much on your plate.

Combatting burnout starts with having a great support system, study plan and knowledge of how the condition can emerge.

What Is Burnout?

Whether it’s academic, professional or personal, burnout is a condition that indicates the loss of meaning of one’s work and interests, increased exhaustion in multiple areas of life and the effects of long-term, unresolved stress.

In the National College Health Assessment of 2019, 80% of students felt overwhelmed and 40% felt depressed past the point of functionality.

There are usually five stages of burnout:

  1. “The Honeymoon” – This phase typically refers to the excitement of accepting a new assignment, job role, project or other tasks. It is the initial commitment and eagerness to prove oneself.
  2. Early Stress – The second phase may become more apparent when the initial optimism begins to fade and the anxiety, fatigue, neglect of personal needs and other unusual symptoms occur.
  3. Chronic Stress – What started as minor irritability turns into aggressive behavior, missed deadlines, procrastination and social withdrawal along with escapist activities, like drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.
  4. Burnout – Many of the symptoms that appear in the fourth stage become obvious to friends and family. There may be an obsession with overwork, a desire to “drop out,” and increased social isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout – At this point, the condition has likely become a long-term issue and led to chronic fatigue, depression or other severe symptoms.

Other common symptoms of burnout may include:

  • Long-term fatigue
  • Inability to absorb new information
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Demotivation and pessimistic outlook on life
  • Detachment from personal relationships
  • Physical and mental exhaustion

Preventing the Burn

academic burnout student relaxing

Perhaps you’ve experienced the condition personally or observed the student who seems to practically live deep within the library

It’s important to remember that burnout doesn’t develop overnight.

Because of certain stereotypes surrounding certain majors, you might think it’s normal to be overtired or overstressed from coursework.

However, preventing it in the first place is an important line of defense.

Here are some tips to prevent burnout and have the most enjoyable college experience.

  • Break up assignments – Given the rigorousness of college coursework, it might not be the best idea to try to absorb 100 textbook pages in one night. Create a schedule based on the amount of work given and your schedule.
  • Improve note-taking skills – As tempting as it might be to check your phone or scroll through the web during class, pay attention during lectures. Taking active, helpful notes can prevent cramming and trying to memorize the textbook the night before the test.
  • Get to know the professor – If you’re overwhelmed, having a good relationship with the professor can make stressful moments seem less intense. Being on good terms makes them an even more valuable resource for exams or personal conflicts.
  • Don’t study unneeded material – Though you may be inclined to over-prepare for exams, try to get an early sense of how the professor structures tests and what information is likely to make it on an exam.
  • Know personal limits – Despite the pressure of being over-involved on campus, remember that expectations and personal limitations are different. Say no when needed and take responsibility for your schedule and commitments.
  • Get sleep – All-nighters might seem like a rite of passage in college but pushing your body to cram might not actually be beneficial. Prioritize a full-night’s sleep so the brain can rest and have a chance to retain information.
  • Be aware of mental health services – Almost every campus has a counselor or therapist available to students. Because burnout is often damaging to a student’s psyche, taking advantage of these services can help throughout the semester.

Don’t Fizzle Out

Confiding in friends or joining a study group can make schoolwork feel more achievable. Prioritizing mental health and self-care often counters anxiety and depression.

Take advantage of resources, whether they are in person or virtual, and prevent burnout before it occurs to make your college years truly unforgettable.

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