“Burnout” has been defined by Dr. Louise Theodosiou, a consultant psychiatrist for the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, as a condition that occurs “in situations where people are feeling under a lot of stress, and perhaps where there are very high levels of work.” And juggling coursework and deadlines for multiple classes definitely counts as that type of situation!
However, university burnout does not happen after one all-nighter. A combination of factors contributes to burnout over an extended period of time, leading to weeks or months of exhaustion. These factors can include:
- Too much work. If you have concurrent deadlines, you may find yourself stressing over whether you can get it all done on time… and if you can, will it be good enough? Additionally, putting extra pressure on yourself to achieve a certain grade can add to feelings of stress, and you may feel like you have to work 24/7 rather than finding a balance between studying and relaxing.
- Not enough downtime. Consistently staying up late to finish work, canceling plans to stay home and study, and feeling guilty about taking even short breaks from your books can lead to university burnout. It’s really important to make time for exercise, socializing, and other kinds of self-care in order to prevent this.
- External stressors. University is often a student’s first taste of independent living. With all the responsibility that comes with that, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re struggling to manage your time or have extra worries, you may find yourself stressing more over deadlines. For example, during the pandemic, money and accommodation were big concerns for many students who had lost sources of income and were paying hefty rent for places they weren’t even necessarily living in.
Plus, in the last year, the transition to online learning has left many students feeling isolated. There has been less interaction with classmates and tutors, leaving them feeling like they’re struggling alone. And with many institutions set to continue online classes in the 2021/22 academic year—including EU Business School—it’s more important than ever to recognize the signs of university burnout and talk to someone if you think you’re experiencing them.
Symptoms of university burnout
Thoughts that should alert you to potential burnout include a loss of motivation, feelings of futility (like there’s no point in completing your degree) and a lack of interest in what you’re doing. Physically, you may find yourself experiencing insomnia, chronic fatigue, and mood swings. Feelings of loneliness and a drop in your academic performance are also key indicators of university burnout.
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, the first thing you need to do is to speak to someone. It could be a friend or relative at first, but a professional may be able to give you more insight into ways you can deal with and recover from burnout.
Here are our top five tips on what to do when you’re burned out in college:
1. Know your triggers
If you can identify the specific things that are causing you stress, you (along with your support system) may be able to come up with ways to make them seem less overwhelming. As an example, if you feel like you’re falling behind in a particular class or don’t understand something crucial to the assignment, can you make an appointment to talk to your tutor about it? Often, things seem less daunting when you know exactly what is expected of you and you can make a definite to-do list.
2. Find a balance
As we mentioned above, spending too much time studying can lead to university burnout because you’re neglecting important aspects of self-care, including spending time with friends and getting enough sleep. University burnout is often accompanied by chronic fatigue, so if you are recovering, you might want to take some time off from extracurriculars to free up time to study at a more measured pace and catch up on some sleep.
3. Ask for help
Your first port of call might be your family. One of the advantages of online classes is that you can take them from anywhere, so if you’re suffering from university burnout, consider going home for a little while. This will help alleviate some loneliness, especially if your parents or siblings are also working from home right now! You may also be able to get some help with household tasks, like cooking and laundry, which will allow you to focus on the solutions you and your support system came up with in step #1.
Help is also available at your university, if you’d prefer to stay on campus. Contact student services to find out more about the specific academic, physical and mental health, and financial support available to you through your institution.
4. Take regular breaks
The human brain can concentrate for up to 90 minutes at a time and no longer. However, most studies suggest that, for optimum focus, you should work in 45-minute bursts with 15-minute breaks in between. And the best thing to do in those breaks is to close your books or look away from your computer screen, and do something completely different. Here are some suggestions for what you can do with that quarter of an hour:
- Go for a short walk and get some fresh air
- Have a snack (almonds, dark chocolate, and popcorn are great for improving focus) and a drink of water to keep your concentration up when you get back to your desk.
- Ten-minute dance party!
- Tidy up your study space
5. Totally switch off
Schedule time for work as well as time for relaxation. During your time off, try not to talk about, or even think about, what you’ve got left to do in your next study block. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but if you can agree with your friends not to discuss exam prep for one afternoon, you’ll enjoy your social activities so much more—plus, you’ll be better refreshed and ready to get stuck back in when it’s time to start studying again.