We often hear about work-related stress and its effects on workers’ mental health. But stress and burnout aren’t the preserve of professional people. It can affect students, too.
Student burnout in the United States is a growing problem, with more than 1 in 4 college students reporting high levels of burnout. The causes of this phenomenon vary from academic and financial pressures to social media use and mental health issues. Additionally, increases in online courses and lack of access to on-campus resources have contributed to increased stress among students. To address this issue, universities are taking steps such as providing counseling services, instituting mental health days off, and creating online communities for student support.
In this blog, you’ll learn how to spot the signs of student burnout. You’ll discover ways to recover from it or avoid getting to that stage altogether.
What is burnout?
Burnout affects people psychologically as a result of persistent workplace stress over prolonged periods. In 2019, the condition was recognized by the World Health Organization and officially added to the International Classifications of Diseases 11 (ICD-11).
Whilst students may not be in the workplace (although many do have extracurricular jobs), there are many similarities between the academic world and the professional one. Both have strict deadlines and workloads, challenge your mental capacity and sometimes involve complex social activities and interactions. All of this can take its toll mentally and physically. 1,2
Many students will experience some of the symptoms of student burnout, but that doesn’t mean that they have chronic stress. The main ways that the condition presents in high school and college students are:
What are the warning signs of student burnout?
This goes beyond mere tiredness. It’s never feeling rested, no matter how well you’ve slept. No amount ever feels enough sleep. A poor sleep cycle is another factor. You may undersleep or oversleep and feel extremely tired either way.
Exhaustion also makes you feel depleted or empty. Students may feel worthless and sad for no particular reason.
Then, there are physical symptoms that can’t be explained otherwise. This may include headaches, nausea, and general aches and pains.
Students may become less efficient. You lack focus and find it difficult to concentrate. Procrastination is a common trait, as everything feels harder to do. Work that would normally be relatively easy becomes more difficult.
Nervousness, irritability and anxiety are also common signs. You can forget the simplest thing, again making tasks feel harder to complete.
A general feeling of dissatisfaction with student life can descend, regardless of your academic performance and achievements. You feel a total lack of motivation to participate in study sessions, schoolwork or even extracurricular activities. It’s a distinct feeling of apathy and ‘meh’ towards anything and everything.
Even social activities that you enjoy in your free time no longer hold the same appeal. An internal negative monologue casts shadows over your entire school or college experience.
How do you recover from burnout from studying?
Recognizing the signs of burnout can help you or your friends to overcome it. The three best ways to cope with student burnout are – recognition, reversal, and resilience.
If any of the symptoms of student burnout listed above resonate with you, don’t panic but do recognise that you may be on the path to burnout.
Perhaps you feel like you never get enough sleep or are struggling to focus on your studies. Be aware of these changes to your mental and physical health. The earlier you recognize the signs, the easier it is to overcome.
There are many coping strategies that you can try to reverse the condition. Start by reaching out to others, be that your parents, teachers, friends or professional help. Spend time in person rather than just online.
Take breaks away from study. That may be a total break from school or college to help you recover, or it can be time away from studying during your day. Rediscover hobbies and social activities that you’ve always enjoyed. Make time for things outside of academic work to achieve a better work-life balance.
Once you’re feeling the benefits of recognizing and reversing symptoms of student burnout, it’s important to start building your resilience to it. Daily practices of self-care can help to increase your tolerance to stressors.
Try journaling as a way of getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Record those things that you’re grateful for (no matter how small). It can be as simple as sunshine on a winter’s day or a coffee with a friend.
Chronic stress can cause you to isolate yourself from others. Prioritize your social life, incorporating feel-good social activities into your calendar. Having your tribe to connect with is really important and ensures you have a support system in place through life’s ups and downs.
How can you avoid academic burnout?
The key here is effective management of your stress levels. You can’t eliminate stress from student life entirely, but you can put techniques in place to reduce its impact on your well-being. These five top tips will help you to improve your work-life balance.
Time management – don’t leave assignments until the last minute and then pull an all-nighter to get it done. Break a task into bitesize chunks so it feels less overwhelming and more achievable. If it does feel too much, talk to your tutor about it and ask for an extension.
Set realistic goals – it’s easy to compare yourself to others, but everyone is running their own race. Trying to be someone else will ultimately lead to disappointment. Be reasonable with your expectations and set realistic goals that work for you.
Take breaks – there’s more to student life than studying. Spend at least 30 minutes each day spending time doing things that you enjoy.
Physical activity – get your body moving to boost your physical and mental health. It can be any form of exercise that you like – a run, swim, cycle, basketball game or a yoga session – just get moving.
Listen to your body – learn to spot the signs that you need to rest and recover. Equally, if you’ve been sitting for ages, your body may crave movement. Don’t ignore telltale signs.
Student life isn’t all about all-night parties. Today’s students are feeling the pressures that can lead to college and even high school burnout. On top of studies, college students may be living away from home for the first time and trying to establish a new social life. All of these factors can lead to overwhelm, affecting mental and physical health. But learning how to spot the signs of chronic stress can help you to reverse or avoid reaching total burnout.
If you’d like to try meditation or yoga to help you combat high-stress levels, Beatrice Appay would love to help you. Beatrice is an experienced alternative health practitioner and a huge advocate for the benefits of breathwork, yoga, qigong, and meditation. Contact us to find out more.
1. “Burnout Affects Nearly a Quarter of College Students,” American Psychological Association, May 20, 2021
2. Kyle Ray, “College Student Burnout is More Common Than You Think,” American College Counseling Association, Nov. 12, 2018