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Academic Burnout: What it is, How to Avoid it, and How to Recover from it

Written by O'Connor Professional Group
Published on December 21, 2021

Written By Michele Sprofera

No doubt, stress and college go hand in hand–juggling the academic demands of attending classes, completing homework assignments, working on projects, writing papers, and studying for exams presents challenges, even for the best of students. Add in other responsibilities like jobs or work-study, and the totality of all these tasks can become overwhelming. As time goes on and the stress continues and builds, some students lose sight of a healthy work-life balance and eventually enter a state of exhaustion known as academic burnout.

What is Academic Burnout?

Academic burnout is  a concerning condition that involves more than just being drained from pulling an all-nighter or frustrated from working on a project for hours on end. While the term “burnout” has become loosely associated with feeling stressed and tired, academic burnout refers to an extended period of mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes towards oneself and others. 

What Causes Academic Burnout?

Academic burnout usually results from performing at a high level until stress and tension, especially from extreme and prolonged physical or mental exertion or overburdened workload, take their toll (APA Dictionary of Psychology). 

What Are the Symptoms of Academic Burnout?

Recognizing whether students are experiencing the early signs of academic burnout or simply adjusting to the stress and responsibilities that come with college life can be difficult. Rather than reaching a breaking point, students experiencing burnout often continue to push through their exhaustion, and over time, the damaging effects of burnout begin to alter an individual’s functioning. Not only do grades suffer, but burnout can cause a student to lose interest in maintaining a social life, physical health, and overall well-being. 

If you or someone you know are experiencing academic stress, be on the lookout for these signs, which could indicate burnout or other potentially problematic behavioral or mental health issues:

·       Mental, emotional, physical exhaustion

·       Difficulty sleeping

·       Physical manifestations such as headaches, stomach aches, heartburn, or muscle aches

·       Poor concentration and inability to focus

·       Constant worrying and restlessness

·       Feelings of failure and being overwhelmed, of not being able to keep up

·       Increased irritability

·       Doubting previous goals and relationships

·       Losing interest in social and extracurricular activities

·       Suffering grades

·       Trouble meeting deadlines

·       Lack of motivation to carry out everyday tasks

·       Loss of enjoyment in daily activities

·       Feeling lonely, depressed, or anxious

·       Negative coping mechanisms like increased alcohol/drug use, overeating, and the like

Tips to Avoid Academic Burnout

Fortunately, academic burnout can be avoided, and incorporating thoughtful strategies into a student’s college routine can make establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance easier. Students should consider taking the following actions to help keep academic pressures in check.

·       Living a healthy lifestyle including exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water, getting sufficient sleep, even spending time outdoors

·       Practicing self-care and taking frequent breaks to relax the body and mind, and recharge reserves, to sustain momentum in the long run

·       Making time for social activities to connect with others and establish/maintain relationships

·       Setting reasonable goals and being realistic about what they can accomplish, remembering that taking an easier class or not getting a perfect grade is okay 

·       Staying engaged by taking classes and participating in activities that are interesting and rewarding to them

·       Managing time effectively and efficiently by keeping a calendar and planning ahead, recognizing times when they may be stretched thin, breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces, setting priorities, and staying on track with the work, which sometimes necessitates saying “no” to nonessential commitments

·       Self-assessing periodically by taking a step back from their busy lives, acknowledging how they are feeling, and scanning for possible signs of stress

Academic Burnout Recovery Tips

If left unaddressed, academic burnout can burgeon into problematic health issues that negatively impact all aspects of an individual’s wellbeing. Fortunately, however, students can take the initiative to reverse burnout before it becomes a serious threat. First, they need to identify that they have been operating under stress and coping in unhealthy ways and then take some time out to reset and reflect on their situation. Students should understand the importance of:

·       Recognizing the symptoms of academic burnout and not ignoring them

·       Seeking out help and support by leaning on friends and family, talking with professors and academic advisors, and utilizing college help centers and counselling services

·       Developing a plan by identifying the burnout, the sources of the stress, and strategies for addressing it at every level of functioning

·       Setting aside time aside every day to decompress, to rest, relax, and recharge the mind and body

·       Evaluating the situation and making the changes necessary to reduce their stress and reestablish work-life balance, which may include scaling back on commitments

A student experiencing more severe symptoms may require additional help from qualified mental health professionals. If you have concerns about your wellbeing or the wellbeing of someone you know and could use some extra support, contact us today.

O’Connor Professional Group (OPG) offers a breadth of behavioral health services to address the needs of individuals and families living with addictions, eating disorders, mood and personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and other behavioral health conditions. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder or are in need of support, contact us today. Our compassionate professionals are here to help find the resources to support you and your family.


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